Audie Norris: “If I had been in another team, mi career wouldn’t had been as successful”
Tall and impressive, Audie Norris has a sincere and natural smile that can soften anyone. He was the 80s most famous pivot in Spain and his time in Barça changed the history of this sport in this country. We have had the privilege of having him at Cambrils Park Sport Village as the patron of the Mare Nostrum Basketball Tournament, so…we have asked him some questions. Would you like to get to know him better?
You are one of the most emblematic Barça players. You are remembered as one of the 80s legends and your legacy changed the course of history in Spain…When you look back, what do you feel most proud of?
He sighs like if he were seeking the most suitable answer in an ocean of possibilities: “About lots of things! But mainly about the luck I had to have good teammates. And to reach the highest level in this sport. I could play in the NBA, the best league in the world, and then, in Europe, with the best teams in Italy, in Barcelona and in Greece”.
Your nickname was “Atomic Dog” We would like to know the story behind this nickname.
A nostalgic smile is spread across his face: “This nickname is from my time at the Blazers. My friend Mychal Thompson gave me this nickname after a couple of amazing dunks in a game against Dallas.”
Mychal Thompson was the first non-American born player drafted number 1 at the NBA draft and he is Michael Klay Thompson’s father, who is an NBA Golden State Warriors player.
After playing in the Portland Trail Blazers and the Benetton Treviso, you arrived at Barça, where, as you have stated more than once you grew as a man and as a player. What did Barça give you to say such a thing?
It is true. I grew in this club. They trusted me and my way of playing. If I had been in another team, mi career wouldn’t had been as successful…I had a lot of injuries while in Barça, and the club could have gotten rid of me due to my physical problems… Nevertheless, for 6 years they trusted my skills as a player and my rapid capacity to recover from each injury. They made me gain more confidence in myself.
Coming from the NB to Europe, with a different game philosophy… Was it difficult to fit in with your style of play?
My time at the NBA helped me become a more professional player. I learned a lot of tricks. In Europe, they didn’t have that mentality and that was an advantage. I had fast movements in the low post, for example. I seemed to be a slow player, but I was fast and here they weren’t ready for my basketball style.
I think that the NBA gave me a big advantage to come to Europe and be successful. I even remember that other team’s coaches would study my game and my movements… Ultimately, that was also nice, to feel that I was bringing basketball new things.
We would like to remind you a statement made by Kobe Bryant and to know your opinion: “Europeans are more skilled. They have learned to play in a more appropriate way since a young age. We need to teach our kids. The AAU (Amateur Athletic Union) is horrible. They don’t teach our kids how to play. They don’t know the basics of the game”.
I agree with Kobe. Before, basketball in the United States was like this. The basics weren’t practiced, and coaches would look for more athletic, strong and fast players, that would have noticeable individualistic game. By contrast, here clubs practice basketball basics since childhood and they keep applying them while they are professional players. That is why, European players that play in the NBA, do well. Because their playing style is something that they don’t expect there, look at Ricky Rubio, José Calderon…
Before signing for Barça your where about to sign for Madrid… But a laughable economic disagreement ended up changing the course of history. Do you believe that Destiny brought you exactly where you were supposed to be, that you had a mission to accomplish at the Palau Blaugrana?
“It was the best thing that could ever happened to me!” He laughs out loud and adds: “I was ready to sign for Madrid! I went there, I got on well with Mariano Jaquotot and Lolo Sainz. They were nice people and convinced me.
But when I went back to Treviso, my manager called me saying that the president didn’t want to sign the contract. We weren’t talking about a big change; the disagreement was only 10.000 dollars. But that was, exactly, what changed the Spanish basketball history, because next year Barça called me. And the rest you already know it. To me, it was the best signing of my career.”
Your court fights with Fernando Martín from Real Madrid have become part of the Spanish basketball history… you were pure adrenaline for spectators…. How do you remember them?
He nods his head and smiles like if he were saying “I know what you are talking about”. Bearing in mind that it might had been mentioned thousands of times before, we couldn’t miss the opportunity to listen to his version in person:
“From the first day I signed for Barça, my teammates explained me the rivalry between Barça and Madrid. I came ready to win championships and to be the best. Thus, I realized that we had to fight them. But… Madrid had really good players, obviously…. That is why I was up to sign for them! Anyway, we also knew that we had a good team, so we had to fight hard.”
And he adds: “When there was a game with Madrid, the previous practices were brutal. Even harder than game. We would prepare ourselves for the fight and all the team would be focus on their duties. On the game day, the fights between Fernando Martín and me were brutal, because we both wanted to win.
In those days there wasn’t any derby as exciting as a Barça-Madrid, and when we played the TV rating points were huge. The fight between Fernando and me was physical and that hooked a lot of people. Even today, everywhere I go in Spain, people stop me to let me know that they got interested in basketball thanks to those fights with Fernando and my playing style.”
Even, despite the years have passed by, you have never set yourself apart from basketball. Among other things you have just started the Audie Norris Basketball Academy at Cambrils,and it is the second year that you patron the Mare Nostrum Basketball Tournament at Cambrils Park Sport Village. In addition, we know that you are willing to do more things such the Mare Nostrum Basketball Tournament for boys and girls in wheelchairs. What can you tell us about it?
“They are boys and girls in wheelchairs, but they are passionate about basketball and are athletes as well. They also want to compete, go to campus and to have the opportunity to learn. I myself played in wheelchair when I retired. I had a serious problem with my knees and couldn’t play.
I was in a clinic in the Unites States and there I met a man who played basketball in a wheelchair. He encouraged me to try it and help raise funds for his league. And I did it. I played for a year with them and it was fun. It helped me physical and mentally, because I was sad for having to stop basketball being so young. They taught me to see it from another point of view and helped me to keep enjoying basketball”.
Without a doubt, it might had been a great learning experience… We say goodbye to Audie with a bittersweet taste, we would like to keep talking and sharing anecdotes for hours. But, what about saving something for the next occasion?
Thank you Audie!
Photographs: Audie Norris