San Antonio Spurs News

The Legend of Rasho Nesterovic: Remembering the Former Spur

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Launching a ‘Where are they now?’ piece can be an intimidating task.  You never want to be in a “me-too” position where you find yourself writing a style just because others have before, and you feel it to be a psuedo-mandatory check-in-the-box.

Lots of writers do a ‘Where are they now’, and we’ve seen broadcasters dedicate entire shows to the topic.  However, we have to balance the want to stay original with the fact that we, as readers, need these types of columns.  We need them for the “ah-yeah” moments, or perhaps we need them to satisfy our need to be witness to the horror-show that has become our former athlete.

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While you can’t debate how entertaining it would be to find out that the same guy who was a 7.4 PPG swing-man is now hocking tires in Oklahoma, we have to establish some level of rigor to this study.  We have to keep it professional.

It can’t be all soap-opera, although as I’m writing this, I’m pretty sure that is where we will end up.

My target will be Rasho Nesterovic.  I’m thrilled to do this article because this is one of my all time favorite journeymen-turned-Spur.

The promise of Nesterovic was so great that we were almost accepting of David Robinson’s retirement.

The upside to the Slovenian 7-footer, as he was never referred to, (although his given name is Radoslav, which is equally as funny) was nearly limitless.

A 7-foot center to fill the space next to a young Timmy D, taking the defensive pressure off our star, seemed like a great idea.  It was in fact.  Review the Gregg Popovich era and see how many versions of the Radoslov-type center you can count.  See, I told you.

The formula was there.  The talent was sort-of there.  So, we were well on our way to another title- right?  Exactly right.

Our story begins with perhaps the most humble beginnings that you will ever hear.  In what could only be a made for film-noir story, our setting with be Slovenia, 1976.

Rasho Nesterovic was born to Cedo Nesterovic and his modest wife Branka in May of 1976.  Cedo, after working endless hours for the Slovenian railroad, and Branka, a mid-wife (see, I’m not kidding.  You can almost feel a dampness reserved for the former USSR) the couple would sit down for a bowl of steamed desperation with baby Rasho and talk to him about his dreams.

Dreams of leaving Slovenia and becoming a star.  Of course this is before the time of Slovenian-Idol, so Rasho settled on basketball.  An excellent choice.

Proud papa would finish his shift on the railroad, wipe the sweat from his brow, and get home quickly then rush Rasho off to practice.

Rasho Nesterovic took to the sport expertly.  He was an intimidating post player with eyes on playing club basketball for Slovenia.  However, the politically charged Yugoslav Wars forced Rasho to move to Greece, where he continued his basketball dreams with the Greek team, PAOK.\

Further success was destined for Rasho Nesterovic and the NBA took notice as a result.

It was here that Rasho Nesterovic was forced to become a naturalized citizen of Greece, and according to league rules, change his name to include a Greek surname.  Radoslav Makris was born.

For the 1995- 1996 season Rasho Nesterovic returned to his hometown to play Union Olimpija.  Rasho was on fire being fueled by the passionate Slovenian crowd, carrying his Union Olumpija team with a 17 PPG and 14 RPG average.  In the stands sat a proud Cedo, and wife Branka, who cheered the 7-footer as he lumbered up the court.

In the summer of 1996, Rasho Nesterovic was honored as the MVP of the FIBA Under-20 Championship.  In Rome, his Olimpija team reached the Euroleague Final Four.

Further success was destined for Rasho Nesterovic.  The attention garnered from his success in the Euroleague made him a target for the Italian League powerhouse, Kinder Bologna in the summer of 1997.  He brought the workman-like Radoslav production of 11.2 PPG and 8.4 RPG as Kinder took the Euroleague title that year.

The NBA took notice.  As the Minnesota Timberwolves selected Rasho Nesterovic as the 17th overall pick in the 1998 NBA Draft an icy tear could be seen in the normally stoic Cedo’s eye.  Peeking at the right time in 2003 (11.2 PPG and 6.6 boards), Rasho hit the market and joined the San Antonio Spurs in 2004.

If you were in the San Antonio area during the 2003 run, you were well aware of the impending retirement of the beloved David Robinson.  The Admiral, ending his run with an NBA Championship – which is an incredible difficult trick to pull off – was leaving a big hole in the defensive scheme.

By insisting on playing Duncan and Robinson together Popovich had created a formidable front court, well deserving of the ‘Twin-Towers’ moniker.  The vacuum left from one of the towers retiring, was quickly filled by the promise of Rasho Nesterovic.  This role was a familiar one to Rasho who had spent his career to this point playing alongside future Hall of Famer Kevin Garnett.

Spurs fans saw the 11 PPG and 6 RPG and thought this guy could quickly get to a 10 and 10 player.

We shouldn’t forget that by the final season in Robinson’s career he averaged 8.53 points and 7.9 rebounds in 64 games.

At this transitional point, one could argue that Rasho Nesterovic was the better player.  He was certainly the younger one, and youth means a lot in the NBA.  We, as fans, were told that we would have the pairing of Duncan and Rasho for years to come, recreating the ‘Towers.’

A buzz that was hesitantly accepted by the fan base, and we began then Rasho Nesterovic-experience in San Antonio.

Year one saw a dip in Rasho Nesterovic’s scoring average to a 8 points per game while his rebounding average went up to 7 boards.  It was evident that San Antonio had its preference in low post go-to man in Duncan (23 PPG).

The Duncan legend was being built, and that had little room for the Slovenian Hammer (no one called him that). However, Rasho was a nice compliment on the defensive end with just over 2 blocks per game.

Defense was going to be the calling card for Rasho Nesterovic.  He was consistently a top defensive player in the league throughout his career.

This was the start of a Spurs formula that still exists to this day.  These other players have filled that ‘other big man’ role for the Spurs since Robinson left in 2003:  Nesterovic, Nazr Mohammed, Fabricio Oberto, Melvin Ely, Ian Mahinmi, Theo Ratliff, Tiago Splitter.

It isn’t too difficult to see the trend.  Duncan is your offensive player in the post that you pair with a primary post defender.  Duncan plays the help side defense role.

Year two delivered San Antonio another championship.  There were a few other pieces to the run, but this is Rasho’s story.  If you recall, he was hampered for most of the season with a lower leg injury, yet he played through, and earned the Larry O’Brien.

Rasho Nesterovic’s impact on the Spurs did not end in 2005.  He was eventually traded in a blockbuster deal with the Toronto Raptors bringing the Red Mamba, Matt Bonner, to San Antonio.  Eric Williams and a second-round pick came along with the trade.  That second round pick was Jack McClinton who went on to do nothing.

Rasho Nesterovic had a nice NBA career.  In 811 games he shot 58% from the field and averaged 1.2 blocks per game, 6.8 points, and 5 rebounds.  I’m not sure where that ranks him all time, but the key is longevity.  He had a 12-year NBA career, which isn’t too shabby for a kid from Ljubljana.

Nesterovic stayed in the NBA through the 2009 season, where he earned $1.9 million from the Raptors. He then transitioned back to the Euroleague, and Greece’s Olympiacos.

So, what did our man Rasho do after basketball?  This is where the imagination has to take over.  There just isn’t that much out there on Nesterovic.  Wikipedia confusingly states that he Has a sister and three children.

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Stephen A. Smith rants about him (look it up), and Skip Bayless recently included Rasho Nesterovic on the Mt. Rushmore of basketball, much to the chagrin of Stephen A.

Rasho has indicated that he has no future plans in basketball.  Instead, he chooses to work with children because, “They get you, you get them and most importantly things are more relaxed with them.”

Rasho Nesterovic has gone the way of the caribou.  Trails have faded.  Memories of the Slovenian Tsunami (no one called him that) have faded.  But his legend continues.  The next time you are in the restroom, shut off the lights, look into the mirror, and say his name three times.  I dare you.

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