Jonas Jerebko in his own words: Rebuking Real Madrid, Ben Wallace paying his fine and more


My name is Anders, and I live in Sweden. I’ve been a Piston fan since the mid-1980s, when I lived in Detroit for a year (long before Detroit drafted the NBA’s first Swede, even though I was thrilled when it happened).

In Sweden, it’s a tradition in the summer to let various "famous" people host their own show on the Swedish National Radio – about an hour and a half, nationwide, to talk about their life and experiences. Actors, musicians, politicians, industry leaders or everyday heroes participate. This year, one of the shows was hosted by Jonas Jerebko.

I transcribed the show and translated it to English. Please remember that it is my translation, and English is not my native language. I have tried to stay true to what’s being said in Swedish, sometimes at the expense of correct English. And some of the nuances may have gotten lost in the translation. If so, it’s on me and not Jonas.

As told by Jonas Jerebko on Swedish National Radio (Aug. 8, 2012):

"I’m sitting in the stands of Madison Square Garden, New York City, the world’s most famous sports  arena. Next to me are my mom, dad, sister, agent, family and friends. We hear names being called out, phones are ringing continuously and agents are talking nonstop. There must be 10 000 people here. The place is oozing of expectations.This is the moment I’ve been waiting for my entire life. To be drafted. To be picked. To play in the NBA. A chance no Swede has ever had before.NBA – National Basketball Association – is the world’s best basketball league and the goal of my dreams. And that makes it even more exciting. It is now it will be determined.The draft is a complicated story where the 60 best players in the world are picked by different teams in two rounds. Depending on how good or bad each team did last season, they are assigned a  number. The closer to the bottom, the earlier the team gets to pick.Draft numbers and players are exchanged all over the place. My agent, Doug, is in full control. If you get picked in the first round you are guaranteed four years and a spot on the roster. In the second round you only get two years, if at all.I was pretty sure to get picked at 28 by Minnesota after a private workout with them a few days earlier. It had felt good and I think we connected. So I’m up in the stands. Tensed, excited but above all tired. The last eleven days I’ve worked out with eight different teams all over the US.I came directly from Los Angeles to New York the day before the draft. The time difference has made my body really jet-lagged. I can’t remember the last time I had a good night’s sleep. I feel worn but put on a new suit for the occasion.My dream is about to come true. In a few hours it will be determined. And I wonder when my name will be called. More thoughts than I can count are spinning in my head and the only thing I can do is sit here and wait. Picks number 1, 2 and 3 are made. 10, 15, 25… It feels like an eternity. Twenty eight is coming up and Minnesota picks – not me! They pick Wayne Ellington. Now my head spins. Now where will I go? My agent calls and tells me to stay calm. If I fall to pick 40, Charlotte has promised me a spot on the roster. A guaranteed spot is something everybody wants. So I’m starting to hope that no one will pick me before Charlotte. Pick 39 is called out and the Detroit Pistons will make their third pick. I remember it as if it was yesterday. Adam Silver takes his place on the podium on stage. A man in suit, thin face and glasses. Only one number to Charlotte and the 40th pick, I thought. And Adam Silver says: “With the 39th pick in the 2009 NBA Draft, the Detroit Pistons selects Jonas Jerebko”. When I was younger I wasn’t very tall. I was thin and as tall as everyone else, which was sort of strange as my dad was 196 cm and my mom 182. I was a very kind, caring and quite boy. But there was one thing I couldn’t stand – losing. No matter what it was; card games, video games, sports in school. It didn’t matter. Losing was NOT my thing. I saw everything as a competition where it was all about winning.Since my dad is from Buffalo in the US I often spent the summers there when I was a kid. I couldn’t speak English very well, but it did of course improve over the years. Me and my cousin Paul, who was a year younger than me, played basketball all the time. Paul was really good and we always competed. Every summer we used to ride our bikes, with the basketball on the back, to the park to challenge other kids – 2-on-2. Two skinny and frail boys who often didn’t lose a game. It was always fun to see the looks on our opponents’ faces after the game. We were always told: “These two skinny kids can play”.Every summer, Paul and I went to different camps. We always played together and Paul was always the better one. He was stronger, taller and bigger. But after one summer when I was about 14 or 15 I grew a lot and came back to US and surprised my whole family. Suddenly I was bigger and better than Paul. He took it well, but I could tell he was surprised. “How can he grow so much in one summer?” After that more people knew who I was. “That tall kid from Sweden”. My name is Jonas Jerebko. I’m 206 cm. The thin little Jonas had become “That tall kid from Sweden” over one summer. When I came back to school in my third year all of my friends wondered what I’ve been doing. I said I’ve been to the US and nothing more. But that wasn’t what they meant. They were referring to that I came back 10 cm taller than I used to be.I always thought when I was younger, that I would be tall thanks to the genes of mom and dad, but you can never know for sure. But somewhere there, when I passed 2 meters I realized that biology had run its course. And for me it meant better chances of becoming a good basketball player.But there are a couple of drawbacks with being tall. I can’t find clothes in a normal store. Airplanes are very uncomfortable and it is nearly impossible for me to be seated in a normal seat.Another thing is that I can hardly ride anything at the theme parks. The limit is almost always 195 or 200 cm. But it helps me play basketball. But being tall isn’t enough. To get somewhere in basketball you need something else. A good shot, good defense or something.For me focus has always been on being the best basketball player I can be. So I have practiced everything. I have put up more shots than I can remember. I spent countless of hours in the gym.Something I always had is my winner instinct. It has helped me get to where I am. I always want to be better or best at what I do.I don’t know how many times I’ve heard people say: “If I was as tall as you, I’d also play in the NBA”. But the answer to that is quite simple. “No, you probably wouldn’t”. Tall is a good start, but I think it is my commitment and hard work that is my real strength. In Sweden, playing in the NBA is considered impossible, but I don’t believe that. When I went to school I played for “Borås basket”, at that point in the first division [ed: second best league in Sweden]. It went well and I was considered a great talent and somehow Real Madrid got ahold of my dad. They invited us both to Madrid. I was 18 and from a small place in Sweden no one ever heard of – Kinna.I went to Spain and was shocked at their practice facility. In Kinna I practiced in a gym which had room for some 300 people and there were lines for every sport on the floor; floor hockey, handball, badminton, volley ball, etc. In Madrid the gym had only lines for basketball. And it had room for 15,000 people which it also filled almost every game. This was after all Real Madrid. Known in Sweden through soccer and players like Beckham, Zidan, Raul and others.I was stunned. It was an enormous experience to be in Madrid. When I got back to Kinna, the phone rang and I was offered a six years contract by Madrid. Not in my wildest imagination had I dreamt about such an offer. I was only 18 and still in school. But I decided to move to Luleå [ed: way up north in Sweden] and Plannja [ed: Basketball team of Luleå] instead.Now you probably wonder why I chose northern, dark, cold Sweden over sunny, professional Madrid.If I had known which path would lead to that chair in Madison Square Garden and a promise of an NBA draft, the decision would have been much easier. Now I had to trust my gut instinct and it told me to stay in Sweden and play the top league. The step to Europe was too big at that point.To instead go and play for the best team in Sweden and learn from the older, Swedish, stars Håkan Larsson, John Rosendahl, Jim Enbom and Fred Dreins would prove to be a very good move. I’m 19 that Saturday evening when the airplane lands at Kallas. I remember it was light all the time. I’m used to it being light in the evenings also in Kinna, but not this light. Then winter came and it went pitch black instead. It didn’t really matter. I spent all the time in the gym and there the lights were always on. Fluorescent lights humming comfortably 10 meters up in the ceiling.I came to Plannja, nowadays “LF Basket”, with no preconceptions about anything. I wanted to play. I wanted to win. That’s all. I learnt a lot in Luleå. About myself and what it would be like to be a professional basketball player. It was a good start for me. And it was a big adjustment to move from safe little Kinna. Now I had to go shopping, clean, and do the laundry myself. It was a lot at once.It was a big adjustment to live by myself and the first few months were hard, but I knew this was just a short stop in my career. I’m not going to lie, there were many nights in the beginning I felt lonely and ready to move back home. But I knew I was very fortunate to play basketball for a living. And I know I had to make a lot of sacrifices to get where I wanted.To practice and hang out with players that have been part of the Swedish elite for many years, players like Fred Dreins, Håkan Larsson, John Rosendahl, helped me tremendously. The thing I remember most about Luleå was how well the organization and my teammates took care of me. I could always pick up the phone and call a teammate and ask for help or support. We were like a big family and that was a large reason we won the championship that year – the teams sixth.We beat “08 Stockholm” in Stockholm in game 4. It is one of my best basketball memories, to in the fourth quarter make a few important threes to bring home the championship.I always liked northern Sweden and Luleå will always have a special place in my heart. To ride the winner parade through the city and be celebrated by everyone was very special. That was my tune in Luleå, the one they always played when I ran out on to the court.It was very interesting to see all the people that felt they needed to make my decisions for me and told me I made the wrong decisions. He should play College. He should play in Europe. He is too old to stay in Sweden. They were all wrong. When I moved to Plannja there were a lot of people that thought it was stupid to go to a championship team where I probably wouldn’t get much playing time.When I, the year after, left for Italy they said the same thing. Why is he leaving for Europe after only one year in Sweden? And after two years of playing in Europe and it was time for the NBA, the same doubters said I wouldn’t get any playing time in the US and would probably be sent back to Europe. They were wrong once again!I always liked to prove people wrong. It is thanks to the people doubting me I get better. While my friends in Kinna went to university, got their first job or traveled through Asia, I spent more and more hours in the gym. Put more and more shots up. Did more and more workouts. I was living in a bubble. I was doing the thing I love most and knew if I tried a little harder, practiced a little more, I would get to where I wanted. It will work!Summer of 2009, after a tough season in Italy I helped take my Angelico Biella to the final four, something never achieved before in franchise history. I whetted my appetite. My years in Italy formed me both as a player and a person. To move to Italy was an even greater step than moving from small Kinna to Luleå. A new country, new language, new culture and new teammates. In Italy I can definitely say I grew up. At this point I was a well-paid basketball player in Italy. Naturally the loneliness came creeping during my first year, but my view has always been that this is just a small step. It is in the NBA I want to play.The basketball experience of playing for Biella was great, but the life-style made as deep of an impression on me. Above all the food and the warm, friendly people of Biella. Biella is a small town about 40 minutes out of Milan. I became part of their family. I was invited to dinner to people I never met. I discussed soccer when I hardly knew the language. Everyone took care of me and that I will remember for the rest of my life. To sit down and have dinner for hours rather than 30 minutes. To take the time needed. In my bubble of lovely people, good food and new impressions, my self-confidence grew even stronger after the final four experience. I went on a two day pre-draft camp in Treviso for European talents. I played one game and I hardly missed a shot in front of all the scouts from the NBA. After the game I left straight for the US. I flew all over the country and practiced with as many teams as possible. In the end it was eight different teams in eleven days. There was no time for more. My body never adjusted to the time difference. I tried to sleep on airplanes where I didn’t fit and in taxis between different practice facilities. Days were a blur and I had no idea what time of day or day of the week it was.Tired, worn out and completely on automatic pilot I just wanted a good night’s sleep. To crash in a bed for more than seven hours. At this same time it was the best thing I ever did. So much was at stake and I wanted so much. My dream was about to come true.Then there was the big day. I finished a workout with LA Lakers in Staples Center in Los Angeles the day before the draft. Went straight to the airport to catch the plane to New York and Madison Square Garden. Here all the greatest have been, waiting anxiously. Michael Jordan, Larry Bird, Kobe Bryant, Shaquille O’Neal. They all been here, waiting to be picked. It gave me the goose bumps just thinking about it. To be in the same seat they once was. Not that I necessarily will be like them. Will I get a spot on the roster? Will I get any playing time?Lots of thoughts were running through my head. My path through Plannja and Italy has, against all odds, led me to this chair in Madison Square Garden. Without knowing it, or deep down I guess I always knew that it is in the NBA I belong, but I never dared to believe it. But here I am. Very nervous. Palms full of sweat. Trying to act cool. I look at my mom, she looks back. She’s as nervous as I am.Then the Detroit Pistons are about to make their third pick and Adam Silver enters stage and says the words I will never forget: “With the 39:th pick in the 2009 NBA draft, the Detroit Pistons selects Jonas Jerebko. And he is actually here tonight.”I glance quickly at dad and then give mum a hug and a kiss. I cannot describe my feelings these few seconds. It was sheer happiness. It was an incredible feeling to be the first Swede ever to be drafted in the NBA. More people have walked on the moon than Swedes playing the NBA! When I signed my two year contract with Detroit I was the happiest man alive.The average time for an NBA player is four years. Early on, I decided this was not going to be my case. I’m here to stay. I’m not content just to be drafted. I want to make an impression! It is October of 2009. I’m 22 years old and it feels like my life has just begun.When the first game of the pre-season against the Miami Heat is about to start and I get to put on my jersey for the first time I have no idea if I’m going to play or not. But usually the rookies and others invited do get some playing time so I’m still pretty hopeful.Big Ben Wallace just signed with us after a few years with the Chicago Bulls and Cleveland Cavaliers. Here I am, on the same team and bench as Tayshaun Prince, Rip Hamilton and this Ben Wallace. The same players that won a championship five years earlier and always reached the playoffs. I had to pinch myself to realize it is for real. I’d be ok just to sit here the whole game.When there is about 15 minutes left of the game, and I’m not as star-struck anymore, coach calls my name and tells me to get ready. On shaky legs I start playing and with about five minutes left of the game I go for a rebound.I really try to relax despite the 25,000 people in the audience and the whole place is filled with the crowds’ noise. Maybe I’m a bit overexcited. I’m trying to rebound against Jamaal Magloire – a veteran who played in the NBA several years. I got the ball, we both fall down and a get a shot in the mouth. My first reaction is to hit back. I don’t want be soft just because I’m new. The moment after we hit the ground the referee blows the whistle and we are both ejected with technical fouls. There was a hot, tempered moment and my teammates came in-between and stood up for me. It was a good feeling. Our security guard had to lead me off the court at the crowds’ cheers. I was an odd feeling to take a shower before the game even ended. After the game one of my role models and nowadays best friend and teammate Ben Wallace walked up to me, pat me on the shoulder and said: “Good job. I’ll pay!”In the situation and the interviews afterwards I didn’t know what to say. Media in the US are a bit different from Sweden. More eager and hungrier. I guess I said something like “He got me and I got him” and the papers picked it up immediately, both in Sweden and Detroit. The difference was that here in Sweden it was more about me blowing my chances and it was incredibly stupid. In Detroit it was more about it was a fighting spirit the fans have been waiting for and that I wouldn’t let anyone push me around. I was suspended for my first real game against Memphis in Memphis. If you are suspended you can’t even be in the arena. That was the start of my season. A restaurant in down-town Memphis. A very different start of the season. I didn’t get any playing time the first few games after the incident with Jamaal Magloire. Then I got a few minutes in the third game and after that that I was told I would start the next game. All the practices had gone well and we had an injury on one of our key players, Tayshaun Prince. It was at home against the Orlando Magic. I remember it as if it was yesterday. I was to defend one of my idols – Vince Carter. A player known for his spectacular dunks and strong offense. He is also a player I often played with on my X-Box home in Kinna. I didn’t score but played defense very well. Vince only made 15 points that game and we won, 85-80.After that I started 73 games of the 82 played in a season. It was the second most games started by a rookie in Piston history. I was in the shape of my life and I had reached my goal. I began to like it in Detroit and it felt like home. I got accustomed to the idea of spending a few years in the US. It felt good, but knew this was only the beginning. I wanted more. During my first year I started 73 games, averaged 9.3 points and 6 rebounds a game. I was selected to play at the All-Star weekend, which was held in Dallas this year, where the ten best rookies played the ten best second-year players. Normally the second-year players win, but we went in with the intention to beat them. It hadn’t been done in over 10 years. We won! Definitely one of the highlights in my career so far and proof that I actually had something to bring.During the season I got the chance to play against Kobe Bryant, LeBron James, Dwight Howard, Kevin Durant and other superstars. I gave all my doubters a thought and thanked them for bringing me all the way here. Proved them wrong. Hate to lose and all of that.At that time I was a rookie trying to prove myself. Now I know I belong here. Now it is time for the next step. People may think it is not typically Swedish to think like that, but I have always believed in myself and always done it my way. 2010 was my year. That’s how it felt when I was playing with the Swedish National team during the summer. I had a great confidence entering training camp that would help me during the entire season. Now it would be established, once for all, that I was not one who left the NBA after only four years. The first game of the season came. I was trusted to be in the starting line-up in the first pre-season game against a Miami Heat that during summer had been reinforced with something that throughout the world of sports was considered the best signings ever – LeBron James and Chris Bosh. Together with the teams superstar Dwayne Wade they are called the Big Three. We were the first opponents for this new Miami that was expected to blow out all teams in the league.  That’s how the media wants it and that’s where the Miami hype starts.I play defense on Chris Bosh. We play well. I play well. Then something happened. I get the ball on top. I fake a shot, Chris Bosh goes for it. I go for a layup with Joel Anthony in front of me. He goes up for a block, but misses. I attack the basket as I always do. Joel Anthony falls over me and I get 120 kg over my right leg and elbow. Instantly, I can tell something is wrong. I remember the pain in my elbow overshadowed everything and I realized I couldn’t go on playing. I walked to the bench with our strength coach Arnie. I sat there for a minute, but the pain in my elbow was too great so I limped to the dressing room with Arnie.  Arnie was looking at my arm and told me I got a big blow but nothing was broken. My right leg was numb, so I asked Arnie to have a look. My Achilles was torn. I couldn’t even feel my right leg. Arnie first wouldn’t say anything, but I realized it was serious when I saw the look on his face. Then I understood what it meant. My first question to Arnie was “When can I be back? When can I play again?” Arnie told me not to worry about it.I flew home with the team and landed in my quiet apartment. It may have been the longest flight of my life. There were a lot of thoughts, but I knew one thing. If I got this far I can’t give up. The day after I had an MRI to see what happened and what needed to be done. The day after that I had surgery. The Achilles was stitched together with Kevlar and the doctors said the surgery went well. So far so good.Later, when I got home and took my seat in my couch in front of the television, I realized that this was what I would be doing for the next couple of months. From a life filled with basketball, sports, practices and activity I was now immobilized in a couch without being able to even go to the bathroom by myself.I got an email from Patrik Sjöberg [ed: famous Swedish high jumper]. He said he knew what it was like and I should take the time needed and come back strong and keep my head cool during rehab. And there were others too who contacted me. All the encouraging words made me realize how many people really cared about me. Shortly afterward, I moved in with my strength coach Arnie. I guess it is not that common for a player and a coach to have that kind of relationship, for a player to move in with him, but Arnie and I have always gotten along well and he opened his home to me. For that I will always be grateful.At Arnie’s place I got a lot of help. He gave me vitamin baths and tanning sessions to help strengthen he body and everything else to make it work. Perhaps this says a lot about Arnie. Together we started the long journey back. Step by step. If there is ever one person’s advice and help I never would have made it without, it was Arnie’s. He’s not just a regular guy. He is, according to me, the very best at what he does. We developed something greater than a player and coach relation. I consider Arnie part of my family. For what he has done for me, and still does every day, I cannot thank him enough.Now it was time to learn to walk again. When I finally was allowed to start rehab I was in the gym all the time. Me and Arnie started with the littlest and most ridiculous things. Things as moving your toes, lift the foot in tiny angles and then repeat again.I don’t know how many exercises I went through, but I was always given an explanation of why and what it was good for. I wanted to lift weights. I wanted to be strong. Arnie held me back and made me focus on what was important. Namely to train the right muscles and prepare the body for the load and exercises to come. It was a tough time, but I think the hardest of it all was to sit on the bench every game and not being able to help your team. But you can’t rush the healing process. It has to take it’s time. That was explained to me about 600,000 times!It was a Tuesday morning when Arnie came and said I could start shooting free throws. Standing still. No jumping. Just the arm movements. It was a fantastic feeling. I know Arnie could tell how much I wanted back and how frustrated I got by all the exercises without the ball. So putting up free throws became my award. We set up new goals every week and I was awarded more and more time on the court. That season I didn’t play a single game. There were moments during the season when I just wanted to pack up and go back home and spend time with my family. But I was here. In the NBA. Injured or not, I wouldn’t let anything stand in my way. I realized that my love for basketball was so strong I couldn’t live without it. So I came back. I did it my way with the help of all the people around me. With the support from family, friends, other athletes and the coaching staff of Detroit. To all of you listeners I also want to say thanks. Your support has made the road back much easier and helped me stay focused.Now it was finally my turn, but once again there was something stopping me. Like a great road block in front of my comeback stood just one thing. An NBA lockout that no one knew how long it would last. The lockout lasted six months. During that time I couldn’t talk to anyone in the NBA. Not to Arnie, not to his family, not to anyone connected to the NBA. I had to manage my own training and had no idea how this would end. My two-year contract was coming to an end. One year of playing and one of rehab. And now a healing Achilles that no one knew if it would hold and not a single game played for a whole season. And I had been so determined to establish myself in the NBA. I did not want to be one of those who only played for only four years.Every day I called my agent Doug and asked for updates about the lockout. Days, weeks, months passed. I knew the coaching staff had faith in me and how I took care of my rehab. But as I couldn’t have any contact with anyone, the questions started mounting in my head. There was only one thing I could do. Stay focused on my practice on my own and be prepared. My friend Christoffer and I travelled all over the states to work out. Vegas, Chicago, Washington, Detroit, waiting for a new season. When Christoffer woke me up at 6 a.m., November 26, and told me the lockout was over the adventure started all over.On my way home from a tough week of practice in Chicago I got the call from my agent that I had been waiting for. My new contract proposal. Four more years in Detroit. Four more years to prove I was here to stay. After signing the contract in my gym clothes I started practice with the team less than a minute after I signed. Before the ink had even dried up I had taken my first shot. I hadn’t played 5-on-5 for over 16 months. We had a new owner. New coach again. New teammates. But I had a will to be back and show I belonged on the team. To show the fans in Detroit I was back. To show everyone back home I was back. My city Detroit, or the Motor City as it is called, used to be booming with music, cars and industries. It got hit hard during the financial crisis and many companies went out of business or had to downsize. The car industry that used to be the heart of Detroit stumbled and crime rates increased.I remember when we played the Atlanta Hawks. As always after the game I went outside to meet Paul and Chris. With them was a young boy named Mike. His eyes lit up when we took some pictures together and I wrote a few autographs for him and his team. After that Mike told me his story. One day after school he was playing basketball in his front yard. A car drove by and Mike heard gun shots. He was hit in the chest and arm and rushed to the hospital. His arm couldn’t be saved and right there his basketball career ended. At thirteen! I instantly got taken by Mike and his story and chose to sponsor his whole team with new outfits other things.I went with Mike to a practice and I have never seen kids so grateful for the little I had done. When I later got the opportunity to do something I always dreamed of – to host my own basketball camp – I never hesitated to invite Mike and his team for free. Finally Mike had an opportunity to play ball again. My camp was a huge success and we had 107 kids, between 7-15 years of age. Fifty were paying and the rest were kids that never would have gone to camp otherwise. It was a fantastic feeling to be able to give them that and watch the smiles on their faces. Many of them couldn’t afford food or transport to the gym. We took care of everything. I also got the chance to tell Mike’s story to all the kids and their parents and that was something that money cannot buy. If I’m going through a tough time I think of Mike and how strong he has been. And he’s only thirteen. He definitely helped me become a better person. Thanks Mike! I’ve been in the NBA for three years now. One more to go to the average time. But you know – I love proving people wrong and hate to lose and all of that.48 minutes. That is the time that counts every night. That is the time all the practice, all the preparations and my life is all about. 48 minutes of basketball and I love every second of it.My name is Jonas Jerebko and I am a basketball player from Kinna with the Detroit Pistons. And now me and my teammates in the Swedish national team will take Sweden to the European Championships.Thanks for listening and I hope you have an awesome summer."