It was one of the dumbest injuries in recent times and one that could seriously hinder Italy’s hopes at EuroBasket this September. Nicolò Origgi looks at how Danilo Gallinari’s moment of madness was a rare moment of his issues in a blue jersey being of his own making
The latest chapter of Danilo Gallinari’s troubled relationship with his homeland’s national team has made headlines around the world over the past days. Although not self-inflicted like this already infamous accident, the various issues that have prevented the Italian forward from helping his side in a major international competition were already a significant number before last Sunday. An ill-advised dunk attempt in the waning seconds of an already decided friendly against Latvia cost him his potential Azzurri debut at the 2007 Eurobasket due to a right knee sprain. The following year, the start of his NBA journey took him – as well as his fellow compatriots already emigrated to North America – away from the steep road to Poland 2009 that ultimately rejected what remained of Italy. After skipping also the following qualifying round because of an individual training schedule arranged with his employers, Gallo finally stepped on court at the nightmarish 2011 Euros mostly remembered for coach Pianigiani’s epic rants in the middle of desperate timeouts. A short-lived redemption followed in a flawless campaign that secured a spot at the 2013 continental championship, but bad luck knocked on the door once again as the then Nuggets forward tore his left anterior cruciate ligament in a late NBA regular season game.
With Italy narrowly missing out on a World Cup berth in Slovenia, Danilo had to wait until 2015 before donning the prestigious light blue uniform again. Boasting what was unanimously labelled as the strongest roster ever – the supporting cast for the NBAers included the likes of Luigi Datome, Daniel Hackett, Alessandro Gentile, Niccolò Melli and Pietro Aradori – in spite of the country’s great past achievements, the national side turned some heads by downing ever-winning Spain and German hosts on the heels of a truly inspired play by the man from Graffignana, but could not overcome a tough Lithuanian hurdle in the quarterfinals. The harsh yet composed words said immediately afterwards – well summarized by the “I’m sick of losing” line – seemed a testament to the whole team’s strong will of succeeding after so many disappointments and the Rio 2016 qualifying tournament held at home was too good of an opportunity to prove that. The court, however, was the strictest judge as always and such resolution alone could not win the most important game against Croatia – a do-or-die contest where the former Knick had to watch from the bench the deciding moments after fouling out prematurely.
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All the abovementioned details have not been presented for the sake of doing so, but should instead help put the recent self-knockout punch in perspective. Why such an unquestionably good player with such an unfinished-business kind of history and such great responsibilities within the team would let this happen? Coach Ettore Messina as well as thousands of disgruntled fans still cannot explain it. While the target of the aggression has tried to offer his take by downplaying the episode to an overheated reaction out of frustration for the unexpected Italian struggles in the game, Gallinari’s opinion is slightly different and denotes an absurd attempt to somehow justify his misbehaviour as an act of self-justice on behalf of the whole team in response to alleged dirty plays made by the Dutch up to that point – an high elbow to the throat is not funny at all but it is also a legit basketball play as long as there are no consequences other than some healthy intimidation. Had this really been the case, however, the Rooster’s actions would be even more inexplicable since even the most random courts often conceal a good amount of annoyance for your average Joe in the form of imaginary foul calls and more or less explicit threats by local thugs. If losing your cool in such environment is already a silly thing, doing so on the biggest stages is dramatically worse as any gesture is magnified in the good as well as in the bad and, most importantly, might have disastrous effects on those who either count on your precious help on the hardwood or invest big money – from management to supporters – to see your team succeed. Of course, had Gallinari broken his opponent’s cheek instead of his thumb while getting away with a small fine and/or disqualification in the process, not a single word would have changed as a first-class athlete is always supposed to lead by example and not only by punctually dropping buckets or dimes. However, the message might have not been as loud as it is now and everybody would have likely forgotten this controversial sequence at the first good play by the number eight in the first official game.
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Only time will tell Italy’s fate at the upcoming EuroBasket without their guiding light. A good result, however, would be the best thing both for them and for Danilo. As a matter of fact, neither the hardest criticism nor the deepest regret for what cannot be changed anymore could be a better lesson for him and, at the same time, a new fuel to finally settle the ever increasing debt – from a mere sports standpoint – towards his country. Karma, in that case, will have done a better job than anyone in blood and flesh could have.
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