Sasha Vujacic made the decision to leave the NBA because he didn’t want to wait to play basketball. But once he was out of the league, getting back required patience.
During the 2011 NBA lockout, Vujacic inked an overseas deal with Anadolu Efes in Turkey. He was focused on finding game action and there was plenty of it in Europe. Vujacic was in a rush to find certainty in a time of unpredictability.
“The lockout happened and I wanted to play basketball; I didn’t know how long it was going to take,” Vujacic told Basketball Insiders. “Impatiently, I signed over there. I locked myself there for longer than expected.”
Vujacic didn’t just want to play, he wanted to win. He had made three consecutive NBA Finals appearances and captured back-to-back championships with the Los Angeles Lakers in 2009 and 2010. Vujacic couldn’t shake the desire for more. He found, however, competing outside of the NBA didn’t have the same sensation.
“[I missed the NBA] almost immediately,” Vujacic said. “The thing is, once you’re here for so long and you win something, your thirst never stops. After we lost and won and won, I wanted to win again. It’s a little different winning in Europe than winning here. When you’re on the biggest stage, nothing can compare to it.”
Vujacic attempted an NBA comeback in 2014. He signed a 10-day contract with the Los Angeles Clippers that February, but the team let him go after it expired. The following month, he traveled to Italy to join Reyer Venezia. The next season he played in Spain and Turkey.
All the while, Vujacic kept his eyes open for avenues to return to the NBA. He wanted to play for a team where he felt like he would be a “good piece of the puzzle.” He found it this summer. The New York Knicks signed him to a one-year, veteran minimum contract. Vujacic had been teammates on the Lakers with Knicks head coach Derek Fisher and was familiar with the system.
“He’s great,” Jose Calderon said of Vujacic. “We know what to expect from him. He came into camp ready to go, ready to contribute … When he goes out there, he’s going to do good things for us.”
Now 31 years old, Vujacic has a different outlook on basketball.
“Being back with the Knicks is a privilege, I’m very grateful for it,” Vujacic said. “In your 20s, you’re learning and you make mistakes. You’re impatient a lot of times. You have to learn from your mistakes or you’ll never be able to grow. I’m feeling more mature and playing with a great system that is good for me.”
Even though he went overseas and is now competing in the Eastern Conference, Vujacic never strayed far from his Lakers foundation. He had played his entire career with the team before being traded to the New Jersey Nets during his seventh season in February of 2011. Vujacic made Los Angeles his home and returned there from Europe in the offseason. He appreciates the support he still receives when he encounters Lakers fans.
With that time playing in L.A. comes unforgettable emotions about their playoff battles against the Boston Celtics. Speaking at his locker in the visitors locker room of TD Garden, Vujacic still is impacted by the Lakers loss to the Celtics in 2008. On the flip side, he relishes in their 2010 victory.
“It’s sour at first but sweet at the end,” he said of being in Boston. “We obviously lost here and then we won, so the memories will never go away. It’s great to play at the Garden. It’s great to be here with the team from the East Coast now playing for the Knicks.”
One decision and four years later, Vujacic has returned to the league he has missed. He is on a new team with a new role, but the sense of belonging hasn’t changed.
“Coming to the NBA when I was 19, I was here for seven years and it suits me better,” he said. “I think I fit better here. I’m just excited to be back.”
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