Undrafted in 1999 coming out of Arizona State, Mike Batiste went on to have an exceptional career over in Europe. The “small” big (6’8, 245lb) from California became the center of attention in Panathinaikos for a decade, including three European crowns in 2007, 2009 and 2011.
League MVP in Greece in 2010, and Finals MVP that same year, Batiste was undoubtedly one of the most dominating players in Europe during the 2000’s, until his departure from Pana (for one season) in 2012.
Currently part of the Brooklyn Nets coaching staff, Mike Batiste agreed to open up his box of memories with us to expand on his glory days with the Greens.
Mike, was it a tough decision for you to leave for Europe after you went undrafted in 1999, out of Arizona State ?
“Well, it was not my initial thoughts. As a young kid, you grow up in America, you want to play in the NBA. But I knew basketball was on another side of the world, so I was always open to that. I got my chance to play in Europe, in Charleroi. I ran with it. And we all know the story and the career…”
How did it go in Europe for you ? How was it to adapt to another way of life ?
“A little bit different. In America, things are a certain way, of how you live. You know, we are creatures of habits. To take me out of my comfort zone was a little bit different. And I was young, so I didn’t know how to cope with it. But I’m good now. I’m better off now.”
You had an opportunity in the NBA a little later, with Memphis. What do you think went wrong ?
“I don’t know. I was one of the last guy on the bench. I think I got caught up in money things, and roster situations. I believe it was not my abilities, not because I couldn’t play. I think the team was thinking other things. They started thinking something else. I got a good deal from Panathinaikos and took off and went to Greece.”
Through all the success you enjoyed in Panathinaikos, did you think of going back to the NBA at some point ?
“I did. I can’t lie, I am human. But, at the end of the day, I knew what was better for me. Having fun and winning bring a lot of joy to the game and I wanted to keep having that joy and that fun every single year.”
Tell me about your experience in Panathinaikos. Did you know any of the history of the club before you arrived there in 2003 ?
“I didn’t know all the history, but I knew a little bit about it. When I came in here, they just came off a European championship a couple years before [in 2002, with Dejan Bodiroga named as the Final Four MVP, ndlr]. But I knew I was getting into a situation where we had to win. And from the very beginning, my mind was sold on winning and bringing as many titles as possible to Panathinaikos.”
You won three Euroleague titles, in 2007, 2009 and 2011. Do you have a “favorite” ?
“I mean… All three of them. But if I had to choose one, I am going to say that 2009 year. Nobody really thought we were going to win it. But toward February on the way down to end the year, we peaked at the right time and we won the triple crown that year.”
Who was your closest teammate during those years ?
“Everybody ! We’re all brothers ! It’s still a brotherhood now. I miss them dearly. We talk every now and then. I still talk to Drew Nicholas and some other guys. But as you know, I’m busy !”
Your former teammate, Dimitris Diamantidis just retired and he was the subject of a documentary. Have you seen it ?
“I did, I did ! And it kinda made me sad ’cause I felt like he was the last of all of us there. Now that he’s gone, a little bit of that had died with me. But Panathinaikos is going to go on forever. As I’ve always said in interviews before I came here : it’s a great organization, a championship organization. And I knew that after I left, they will be the same thing and fight for titles.”
How was your relationship with the Greek fans ?
“Unbelievable ! Those fans are loyal. They would die for you, if they had to. They are the most loyal fans I’ve seen in the world. You could win by 30 or be down by 30, and they’re still going to chant for you.”
What memories do you keep of those high-intensity games of finals in Greece, Final Fours in Euroleague ?
“The passion ! The passion is unbelievable. You really don’t get that a lot here, in America. The passion there was unbelievable.”
You played for coach Obradovic, what did you keep from him ?
“Just being responsible. Growing up and being a student of the game. Coaching yourself. Putting more pressure on yourself to succeed. That’s the type of things I took from coach. And they still stick to me now.”
Which Panathinaikos team was the best according to you ?
“Ah, I am still going to say 2009 ! Great year for us. We were not a great seed to win it. But, as I said, we won the triple crown. It was a great year for us.”
Who was your toughest opponent ?
“It’s another number, it could take 20 minutes, man. The European competition is one of the best and that is why some of their players are coming to the NBA now.”
Interview in Portland