The ending was sudden and shocking. By the early stages of Sunday’s Game 6 of the NBA Finals it became clear that the ride was over for the Miami Heat.
Within days, Goran Dragic would be on a flight to Slovenia, the veteran guard, after months in the NBA’s quarantine bubble at Disney World, to be reunited with his family.
While there was plenty of baggage to pack, including the awareness of having to work back from the torn plantar fascia in his left foot, there also was, Dragic said, a lightness from where the ride of 2019-20 had taken him.
Before moving on to whatever the next chapter might deliver as an unrestricted free agency, Dragic spoke to the Sun Sentinel about the ride though a most unexpected of seasons.
Foremost, even at 34, there is a belief there is more to offer.
“I don’t feel old, if I’m honest,” he said. “But it does affect you in a good way, when they say you’re old, because then I want to prove, ‘Yeah, OK, you can say that I’m old, but I can still play basketball.’ “
He paused and laughed.
“I do have to admit, in my case it doesn’t help this gray hair that I have,” he said. “But 30, 40 is just a number.”
What most has changed, he said, is the ability to adjust to curves thrown his way, which well could assist with the latest injury setback.
“Basically, I’ve cleared my mind. I’m just there to play,” he said. “I have great connection with Jimmy (Butler), with UD (Heat captain Udonis Haslem), and with all those young guys.”
That, as much as anything, he said, is what this 12th season proved to be about, as he adjusted to a regular-season reserve role under Erik Spoelstra.
“I’ve got to be honest. I was not always like that,” he said. “When you’re younger and you think you’re the best, you think you should play all the minutes. Then this is my 12th year in the NBA, and then you see that sometimes you’re wrong. And you need to accept that, too.
“I’m really happy that I can be coached by Spo, because he teaches so much stuff, not only about basketball, but life, too, that sometimes you just need to accept when you’re wrong. Life is not fair. You just need to move on and try to find that thing that you’re going to enjoy again.”
What happened just over a year ago, Dragic said, is when he said he recognized that he could find a different comfort in the game
“At the beginning of this season, it was really tough for me, when Spo told me, ‘G, you’re going to come from the bench,’ “ he related. “You know, it was not easy. I was in shock. I was angry. And that was sad. I was sad.
“Then, I looked at this, ‘OK, you can do two things: I can go against Spo and prove you were wrong, ‘I should play more minutes.’ Or I can just give in and get the best out of this situation.’ “
He chose the latter.
“And I did exactly that,” he said. “I kind of said, ‘OK, let’s try to be Sixth Man of the Year.’ Why not?
“And this is something, I really think I grew up as a player and as a human being, too.”
Eventually he returned to a starting role in the playoffs. Then came the foot injury that progressively worsened and kept him out of Games 2-5 of the NBA Finals, the best-of-seven series the Heat would lose 4-2 to the Los Angeles Lakers.
But the overall experience of a season that took more than a year to complete left him departing with ample emotion.
“It was something that I’m going to cherish for the rest of my life,” he said, “and, you know, can’t wait to get back.”
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