Najera, Rajakovic Both Set to Make Basketball History In Same Game
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When Texas Legends coach Eduardo Najera and Tulsa 66ers coach Darko Rajakovic step on the floor on Friday for their NBA Development League season openers, they’ll both be achieving a first. The very same one.
At roughly 7:30 p.m. ET on Friday, Nov. 23, Najera – born in Mexico – and Rajakovic, born in Serbia, will become the first coaches from their regions to coach a game under the NBA umbrella.
"It’s a big deal," Najera said. "Ultimately you want to make history at any level. That’s just what you want to do. That’s what great players do – they want to change the game – and great coaches do the same thing. This is another part that can’t go unnoticed because it is a big deal for ourselves individually and I think it’s a big deal for the NBA and the NBA D-League as well."
Both coaches were hired this offseason, and both come with extensive resumes.
Najera, who’ll become the first Mexican-born person to coach an NBA or NBA D-League game, played 12 seasons in the NBA – five with the Dallas Mavericks, the Legends’ NBA affiliate. The 33-year-old Rajakovic, who’s set to become the first European-born coach under the NBA umbrella, began his coaching career when he was just 16. He most recently was the head coach of Espacio Torrelodones in the Spanish EBA League
Having these two coaches, born nearly 7,000 miles apart, make history the same game underscores just how much the NBA as a whole has taken the game worldwide.
"The NBA D-League is a part of probably the best organization in pro sports, doing stuff the right way, and making basketball a global sport and developing basketball in the whole world, not just in the United States." Rajakovic said. "It’s something that seems to be one of the top priorities of the NBA office and the NBA D-League office."
Najera echoed that sentiment, using yet another continent as a frame of reference.
"Once our commissioner said that that was our goal, I think it kind of blew out everywhere," Najera said of basketball going global. "Once China opened their doors, this game became global in terms of players but also coaches. Now you see more scouts, more people representing different franchises or being affiliated with different NBA franchises from different parts of the world."
Rajakovic said he feels incredibly honored to be a part of the Oklahoma City Thunder franchise, Tulsa’s single affiliate, since it is one of the most highly respected franchises in Europe.
And while these prestigious jobs can raise each coach’s profile, the fact that they are in these positions of power can also help NBA D-League get looked at overseas. Rajakovic says that he is in daily contact with friends and basketball associates in Europe discussing the NBA D-League.
"I can say that many top European teams are following the D-League closely and searching for the right players that are the right fit for their team," Rajakovic said. "The NBA D-League has done a great job in the past and players playing in this league have more and more talent and potential. Each and every year the competition is getting better and the D-League is something that has been a big benefit to both the NBA and European basketball."
Najera and Rajakovic say they have a great deal of respect for one another and already had a chance to meet each other when Tulsa was in Dallas for exhibition games. And, in pure international fashion, Rajakovic – who’s fluent in six languages – was actually able to speak with Najera in his native Spanish.
The other thing binding them, however, is basketball, and on Friday these two men, born an ocean apart, will see their basketball lives converge on an NBA D-League court. And pleasantries (in any language) and history aside, once the games starts, it will become about nothing other than winning.
"I don’t take it personally, this game," Rajakovic said. "But playing against Coach Najera, I have such a high respect for him and or everything he’s done, but definitely I want my team to compete and try to win the game."