Fernando Martin, the Precursor

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In the 80s, Fernando Martin was the first Spanish talent of the decade. A legendary player whose life was cut short by a fatal accident. His memory came to me while I was thinking about which players of the old times were ahead of his time, and Fernando certainly was. But he was more.

We did not forget you, Fernando Martin.

Your class, your technique, the charisma on court, passed away too early on that cursed curve of the M30, while you were going to watch a game of your Real Madrid you wouldn’t have played, for an injury.

If the gods hold the heroes dear by calling them, certainly you are, tragically, a hero. Young, beautiful, magically gifted in any sports you played, you, Fernando Martin, landed in Spanish basketball at the end of the 70s, when a teacher at school, an Estudiantes coach, spotted your talents during the physical education hours.

At 2.08 mt, you stood above the others, nevertheless you possessed an agility and a speed few could match. You had already been 5 times swimming champion of Castilla and played handball, therefore your body, trained and perfectly coordinated, found itself at ease with basketball.

In the early 80s in Europe, a new name began to be known. A new player was coming from Spain, one about whom the people said wonders. A modern center, able to move quickly, with great coordination, altered the perception of the role. With his mobility and his skills, he troubled the established leaders of the game.

At the time, you couldn’t watch images of players everywhere. A young boy of today struggles to understand how hard it was to find basketball on tv, with a few channels, all busy with football. Anyway, rumors spread about this young player doing wonders.

And you kept your promise. You won the Liga and the Copa del Rey, when Real did not dominate in Europe like they do now. NBA scouts’ raising eyebrows looking for new talents in Europe raised. The first Real in which you landed displayed Mirza Delibasic, Juan Corbalan, Wayne Brabender. But it had to fight against San Epifanio, Solozabal, Chico Sibilio, of Barcelona, that so many times blocked the way to the victory.

In 1985, the New Jersey Nets picked you, to send your rights to the Portland Trail Blazers, where you landed in 1986. But it was too different, you couldn’t adapt. A player like you, used to lead the capital of Spain, at his best, did not have time to learn all that the “Professionals” wanted to teach you. It was too early for a European, too late for you.

Portland is a crossroad, where several names meet. In 1989, Drazen Petrovic would land there, and, paradoxically, do the opposite walk you did, traded to the the New Jersey Nets, where he had the opportunity to flourish again.

But you had already come back, to play in Real Madrid, and one year play with Drazen, with whom you won a Winner’s Cup Cup, in an incredible final that sealed a whole decade.

That was your last triumph. On December 3rd, your car finished out of bounds on the M30, and you died in a car accident. Four years later, Drazen Petrovic would die in another car crash.

Long queues of fans honored you at the Real Madrid court. There was the sense of a loss, like that of a young hero whose death leaves the people scared of the future. And for some years you were missed, the person and the player. You can’t easily replace such a figure, on and off the court.

Montero, your opponent in Joventut Badalona and a teammate in the National Team, said: “we always remember him. He’s present in all the players of our time because he made the path in advance. He was a reference point, ambitious, courageous, and owned an overwhelming personality. He was a great teammate…”.

When a player dies in his heyday, he leaves a breach that does not seem to close. A light in its place that goes far, and makes his memory stronger. When a player is as important as Fernando was, this builds a legacy and a legend, and makes you think of what “could have been”.

Fundamentally, we don’t know. And it does not matter. The death of the man Fernando is much more important than the death of the player Fernando. The legend of the player will forever be in the eyes and the memory of the fans, while the intimate thought of the man Fernando will accompany the family and friends who really lost him.

The only thing we can do is remember. And we remember you, Fernando Martin, Great of Spanish Basketball, lost too early and still in our memory.

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