26 December 2011
As someone who covered Rudy Fernandez during his four years spent playing in Portland, the love, respect and honor he has toward Fernando Martin is all too familiar.
You just have to remember back to the 2009 Slam Dunk Contest when Fernandez donned Martin's Blazers jersey to understand the impact -- the first Spaniard to make it to the NBA in 1986, with the Blazers, only to die in a tragic car accident in early December 1989.
He was just 27-years-old.
Now 22 years later, Fernandez continues his NBA story with the Denver Nuggets playing for George Karl. Both take the time to pay tribute to Martin.
This story really has come full circle for both Fernandez and Karl.
Fernandez is fresh off a long offseason where he played for Real Madrid, and had notions of staying with the team and closing the door on the NBA. A 5am phone call from Karl to Fernandez after the trade between Dallas and Denver changed those plans. In return, Karl coached Martin during his days with Real Madrid as Benjamin Hockman of the Denver Post nicely details with, "Denver Nuggets Coach Karl has another special Spaniard in Fernandez".
"Fernando Martín opened the doors," Fernandez said, "and the people loved him because he worked hard every game. It didn't matter if he was playing the worst team or the best team."
Karl then describes a scene coaching Real Madrid in the game after Martin's passing with his team down 19 points at halftime.
"I said, 'No one expects you to figure this out. Other than Fernando. He thinks you're a bunch of (wimps) right now.' "
Real Madrid went on to win by 19 points.
Karl's prediction now for Fernandez: this could be his break out season. And if he is finally at peace with his decision to return to the NBA, it's a good chance Karl could be on to something.
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