For some time now, Niko Mirotic didn’t smile too much. As if black clouds were haunting his head, rejoicing more in the failures than celebrating the successes. His return to Europe was not turning out as successful as he had expected. Many setbacks and no titles in a year and a half. Until this Valentine’s Day at the WiZink. “It has taken a while, but I hope it is the first title of many,” he proclaimed on Sunday night when he finally gave free rein to all his joy.
It is his first crown with Barca, although it was not individually a bells tournament for him. He left great details, like his baskets in the snatch against all the fierceness of Deck’s defense. Pure class on the post. But then the physical problems took their toll on him and he even had to leave the bench for a while during the second quarter. The star was Higgins and Niko himself recognized it at the time of the MVP delivery, pushing his partner to glory. Before, in the minutes leading up to the final, he had been seen to be especially motivated, chatting with each of his teammates, especially Brandon Davies. Gone are the troubles, especially the ACB final lost at La Fonteta last summer against Baskonia, with one of the worst performances in memory.
But also the two Super Cups against Real Madrid, even the setback of the last Cup in Malaga against Valencia in the quarterfinals. Of course, Niko had seen his fang against his former team, the club in which he grew up until he made the jump to the NBA in 2014. Already in the last ACB duel he cruelly punished the whites (26 points, 10 rebounds), showing that the day he was received at the Palace shouting “rat” and “traitor”, on his first visit for Barça, in November 2019, a rivalry had started. On Sunday night, however, he was graceful in the win. “Madrid must be congratulated for being in the final and playing this good game despite the losses it had. We must be humble, celebrate this victory and keep working,” he said. He even joked on social networks with those who have constantly reminded him of his Blaugrana drought.
If Pesic had seen a more individualistic Mirotic, the arrival of a Sarunas Jasikevicius – the hug between them at the end was significant – who was faced in white, has meant a point of sanity and commitment in the squad. The Lithuanian has made it clear that the fundamental thing is the work of the collective and that the stars must adapt to that and, of course, then solve in the hot moments. Like Sunday in the final. And yet, despite Barça’s obvious step forward since the arrival of Jasikevicius and Calathes, their defensive excellence, things weren’t going quite right for Mirotic. Mainly for non-sporting matters. On October 11, he was infected with coronavirus, which took him off the court for a couple of weeks. And then, citing personal reasons that never came out, he left the team for another 15 days.
Niko has just turned 30 years old, he is the highest-paid player in Europe by far and he struggles to be the messiah that will return to the era of Real Madrid’s dominance. “I want to mark an era here,” he announced in his presentation. A task full of responsibility for which with the conquest of the Cup – the third of his record, he was already MVP of 2014 one – he laid the first stone.