American basketball fans can sometimes think of the NBA as the only league a respectable basketball player should strive to play in. That opinion is perfectly normal, given what we watch on an everyday basis, but it also isn't very accurate. For many foreign players, playing in Europe affords a more comfortable way of life, both in terms of familiarity and a bigger role on the court.
Lithuanian big man Darius Songaila played in the NBA for nine seasons with five teams, but since 2011 he has plied his trade in Europe, most recently signing with BC Donetsk in Ukraine just two days ago. That deal comes on the heels of a very strong performance in the Olympics, where Songaila played well enough to keep highly touted youngster Jonas Valanciunas on the bench. From this vantage, Songaila looks to have several years ahead of him in high-level European basketball, even at 34 years old.
However, Songaila wants to return to the NBA. Except he's not aiming for that goal just to reach the highest level of pro basketball, but to be closer to his daughter. From LithuaniaBasketball.com, with translated quotes from an interview with lyrtas.lt:
"I don't want to spend the whole year somewhere in Europe far away from my daughter. It would be much better if I could live in the States, where I could visit her without too much effort," the player told lrytas.lt.
Songaila decided to pass up on better offers from around Europe and agreed to a short-term contract with BC Donetsk in Ukraine. "The short-term contract was my idea. I didn't want to just sit at home, because NBA training camps start only in the end of September, while the actual season doesn't begin until November. We signed a contract that would allow me to leave," said Songaila. [...]
"My role will probably be different than before. There are plenty of veterans out there, whose main goals are to help the team in practices, work with the young players and to still be able to show some skills on the court if needed. That's how I'd imagine my comeback," said Songaila. [...]
It has been quite an eventful year for the experienced player, who not only announced retirement from international basketball after the Olympics, but also went through a divorce with his ex-wife Jackie earlier in the year. However, the toughest part is living away from his daughter: "There's nothing I love more than my daughter. She brings out feelings I've never felt for anyone else."
This is a touching reason to want to return to the NBA, but it's still notable to hear a basketball player talk about the league as a manner of practicality rather than as a dream. While Songaila would likely love to reacquaint himself with the prestige of the NBA, he also speaks about it here as a means to an end. Even his description of his role on an NBA team focuses on everyday tasks rather than the glory of in-game competition.
Songaila is a veteran who's played for a lot of teams in both the United States and Europe, so it makes sense that he would be practical in these matters. But his desire to be closer to his daughter can also serve as a reminder that basketball players are people with lives outside of what they do on the court. For many, winning as many games as possible at the highest level of competition is not the only goal. That doesn't mean they're losers — it just proves that they're as complicated as anyone else who must balance the professional and the personal.