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Rising basketball star reflects on Swiss roots

Thabo Sefolosha plays for the team made famous by Michael Jordan

(Keystone Archive)

Thabo Sefolosha, the first-ever Swiss to play in the NBA - the world's toughest basketball league, has stimulated interest in the sport in his homeland.

Sefolosha talks to swissinfo about life in one of the planet's most hyped sporting leagues and how he sees his future.

swissinfo: You come from a mixed-race background. Your mother is Swiss and white, your father a black South African. Did you suffer from racism in Switzerland?

Thabo Sefolosha: There were little things, but nothing serious. I was treated differently because I was the only black child, or one of the few, at my school. People would look at you differently, or say something unpleasant. Once I was even asked by the police to identify myself.

swissinfo: You've been living in Chicago since September last year, where racial tension sometimes runs high. Have you had to face racism since your arrival?

T.S.: Not at all. The Chicago Bulls also have players from Latin America and Europe. Basketball in the United States is somewhere where all races meet.

swissinfo: The Bulls' trainer said you had great physical qualities that many other players in the NBA don't have.

T. S.: It's true that I rely a lot on my athleticism and I think I was drafted because I play good defence; I'm tall and I can move fast.

swissinfo: You are the first Swiss to play in the NBA. Do your teammates and your fans know much about Switzerland?

T. S.: Not much apart from watches and chocolate. But I think it's normal because Switzerland is a small country.

swissinfo: Do you miss Switzerland?

T. S.: A little bit. The NBA season lasts eight to ten months, so I spend a lot of time away from my family and friends. But I speak with them regularly and this year I'm lucky enough to have my girlfriend over here.

swissinfo: After starting your career in Switzerland, you played in France and Italy. How do you compare European basketball and the NBA?

T. S.: In Europe, it's about playing as a team. In the US, play is more often one-on-one. There are superstars and the other players who are mainly there to help them. American basketball is also about attacking play, something more physical with bigger, stronger players than in Europe.

swissinfo: Are you bothered by the money and the advertising surrounding the NBA?

T. S.: Not at all because that's how basketball is run here. It's a real business. It's different to what I knew previously, but that's the way it is.

swissinfo: How long do you think you'll be able to play at this top level?

T.S.: That will depend on my body, how it will resist all the wear and tear. We have long seasons with 82 games. That means you play every two to three days against players who weigh 100 kilograms and don't hesitate to use their bodies.

swissinfo: Do you think of life after basketball?

T. S.: Not every day, but I do think about it seriously. A basketball player's career is fairly short. Most retire around age 33 or 34. So I have thought about what I will do afterwards and made a few contacts. I'm interested in a few things, such as coaching as well as other sports activities.

swissinfo: You have two tattoos on your arms. What do they represent?

T. S.: One says the game chose me; the other God guides my steps. The first one means that being Swiss there was nothing that indicated I would play in the NBA. The other one speaks for itself. I'm not baptised, but god and spirituality are important for me.

swissinfo-interview: Marie-Christine Bonzom in Washington

In brief

Thabo Sefolosha was born on May 2, 1984 in Vevey, canton Vaud. His parents, a South African and a Swiss, moved there from South Africa just before he was born.

His path to the NBA: Blonay, Tege Riviera Basket, Chalon-sur-Saône, Angelico Biella, the Chicago Bulls.

He went to the Bulls on the 2006 NBA draft day, traded by the Philadelphia 76ers who originally selected him.

During his first year in Chicago, he played in a total of 80 matches – playoffs included - averaging 3.6 points during the regular season.


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