He left the game as quietly as he played it. This week with little fanfare, glam or glitz Rasho Nesterovic announced his retirement from the game of basketball.
As someone who has followed the Raptors from their inception I can say with conviction that Rasho was one of the best big men this city has ever witnessed and one of the great under appreciated players in the NBA.
Rasho wasn’t a flashy player. He didn’t score points in buckets or block shots with machismo, he simply did his job. He played sound defense and was always there on the help side to back up his teammates. He grabbed boards and made easy lay-ups when he was called upon. He led by example and never complained about his role as a starter or sub.
In the NBA too much is often made of players that score the most points or play the most flashy basketball. Rasho did what he was supposed to do. He knew his role wasn’t to score the most points or take needless shots. He just had to perform when called upon. And he did. His jerseys never flew off the shelves at Christmas time, but his name was on one for 17 years.
His 17 year NBA career is a testament to his hard work and the ability to fit into whatever system his coaches asked him to play.
When he was acquired by Toronto for Eric Williams and Matt Bonner I was pissed. Matt Bonner was a huge fan favourite and Bryan Colangelo was trading everyone left, right and centre. I couldn’t understand bringing in a player who many considered to have one of the worst contracts in sports.
Many times during his playing time in Toronto, especially in 2006, I openly questioned starting Nesterovic over Bargnani. But when Rasho wasn’t in the starting five you would see a dramatic change in the defensive intensity of the team. They were out of position, didn’t come over to help, and hung around the perimeter.
Steady inside. Never failed to foul hard when a player went into the paint. Got open under the basket for easy lay-ups (yes he missed a few of those too). He ran the pick and roll to perfection. He didn’t take shots away from others. Rasho did his job.
Rasho was a smart, smart player and one of the reasons that the Raptors were able to find so much success in that amazing 2006 year.
As his career continued in Indiana he was asked to come off the bench and act as a role model for younger players and again when he returned to Toronto for his second tour of duty. He did not balk at this opportunity and simply carried on doing his job.
In a city that has a lot of anxiety over the way basketball players feel about it, Rasho was a breath of fresh air. He loved this city. He came back as soon as he was able to and accepted a minimal role to be in a place where he was happy.
There aren’t a lot of NBA players like Rasho Nesterovic. He was panned and picked on by ESPN analyst Stephen A Smith, writers often questioned his value. His teammates did not.
In San Antonio’s championship run in 04-05 he was a main contributor and remained the starting centre all year. Let me repeat: he was the starting centre on the NBA championship team. Many of his Spurs teammates credit him as being one of the main reasons they won the championship that year.
NBA players rarely get to play in the league for 17 years. To reach that length of time you need a combination of skill, luck and talent. Nesterovic was consistent in his ability, lucky to never sustain longterm injuries and talented enough at his position to keep coming back year after year.
His contributions on the Slovenian national team really helped that country develop its National team program and the Slovenians are never considered a push over in international competition.
Rasho hasn’t asked for any fanfare upon his exit from the league and his subsequent retirement. He deserves some though.
For a player who never once argued with a coach, fought with teammates or demanded the ball or playing time he deserves recognition. There aren’t many around like Rasho Nesterovic. Unselfish players willing to teach and learn are a rarity in this star driven league. Toronto fans were lucky to experience his integrity and dedication to teamwork.
Toronto was fortunate to have Rasho bring his talents to Cherry beach.
A true gentlemen and a pleasure to watch.
Thank you Rasho.
The Zan Tabak Herald