Catching Up With: Dino Radja

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There have been many international talents who have suited up for the Boston Celtics over the years, and Dino Radja was undoubtedly one of the best.

The Croatian big man spent just four years in the NBA – all with the Celtics – but he certainly made an impact during that short time span.

Radja was drafted by the C’s in 1989 and spent a handful of seasons overseas before eventually joining the team in 1993. He started off his NBA career with a bang, averaging 15.1 points and 7.2 rebounds per game as a 26-year-old rookie. He also possessed an infectious personality and sense of humor, which quickly enabled him to become a fan favorite in Boston.

During his four seasons with the C’s, Radja put up career numbers of 16.7 points, 8.4 rebounds and 1.3 blocks per game. His most affluent campaign came during the 1995-96 season, when he led the team in scoring (19.7 PPG), rebounds (9.8 RPG) and blocks (1.5 BPG).

The two-time Olympic silver medalist went on to enjoy a lengthy international career, before eventually retiring from the game in 2003.

Radja has not, however, stepped away from basketball completely.

Following his retirement, Radja became the president of his hometown team, KK Split of the A-1 Liga. He served that role for roughly a decade, and now holds a position with the Croatian Basketball Federation.

It’s been nearly 20 years since Radja suited up for the Celtics, but he returns to Boston – his home away from home – as much as possible. Recently, Radja brought his wife and three sons to the city, and he made sure to stop by Causeway Street to catch up with Celtics.com…

Celtics.com: Dino, what brings you and your family back across the Atlantic to Boston?

Dino Radja: I love it here. Last time I was in Boston was two years ago when I saw the Patriots play Detroit. Every time when I land here, there’s a smile on my face. It was a great four years and I made a lot of friends that I’m still in contact with. A lot of moments still bring tears to my eyes because I had a wonderful time and I was accepted here. People still recognize me in the street, and in the airport, and the hotel. I just love coming back.

Celtics.com: It’s been almost 20 years since you played for the Celtics, but do you still follow the team closely?

DR: Of course! Every morning when I wake up, the first thing I do is open ESPN and look at what the Celtics did, what the Bruins did, what the Patriots did, what the Red Sox did. It’s something that’s just automatic for me every day. I can’t tell you how many nights I’ve stayed awake watching games or following games on the Internet. So many times I stayed sleepless all night, especially in a championship series.

Celtics.com: You spent most of your career overseas, but how did you benefit from your four-year NBA stint in Boston?

DR: It helped me a lot. First of all, I grew up as a person and it was an amazing experience. Also, you are playing among the best and against the best, so it’s unbelievable how much you improve your game. And it was really a great time playing in the old Boston Garden. Being at the old Garden is like going to visit the most famous museum in the world. Like in Paris you go to see the Mona Lisa. Here you had the Boston Garden. You come in and you see all these banners and the old parquet, the no air conditioning, the ugly dressing rooms and everything. But still, it’s history, and I was a part of history. I’m so grateful for that.

Celtics.com: You got quite a taste of NBA talent the summer before coming to Boston when you played against the Dream Team in the gold medal game of the 1992 Olympics. What was it like playing against guys like Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson and Larry Bird, all at once?

DR: It was great, especially because we were a new country. We were just born, so nobody knew who we were. Whenever I tell somebody I’m from Croatia, they have no idea where that is. So 1.5 billion people watched that game, and us playing there was a remarkable success and experience. And, all respect to the other Olympic teams, but that was the only Dream Team ever.

Celtics.com: The Celtics just drafted a big man from your hometown of Split, Croatia. Do you know anything about our first round pick, Ante Zizic?

DR: Yes, he’s a really good player. He’s young, but he’s got some good stuff. He’s a guy who never stops; he doesn’t have a second of time out. He’s always active; he’s always on the ball. He might not grab every rebound, but he’s always there. He’s running very well, he can pass, he can play with his back to the basket and shoot from close range, but he’s young, so he’s very raw. There are a lot of areas where he can improve, but he’s a good, good talent. I’m working with the national federation [in Croatia] so I’ll be involved with him a lot and I will follow him closely. But what I’ve seen so far is that he can become a really good player.

Celtics.com: Looking ahead to the upcoming Celtics season, what do you think about the direction the Celtics are headed in under coach Brad Stevens?

Dino: He’s definitely a good coach. He did an amazing job with the team when many people counted them out, and they have made some good moves this summer. I think they’re going to be very competitive, and you never know what can happen in the Playoffs. Who would have thought that Cleveland would beat Golden State [in the Finals] after they were down 3-1? So basically what I’m saying is that anything is possible.