On the surface, Tiago Splitter is a very traditional Spurs success story. Born in Brazil, he was drafted 28th overall by the Spurs in 2007 but continued developing overseas in Spain before coming to the NBA in 2010. He bided his time his rookie season before breaking into the main rotation his second year and played a big role in their 2014 championship, becoming the first from his nation to win one along the way.
Then, injuries set in. Calf issues and the need to open up cap space for LaMarcus Aldridge led the Spurs to trade him after the 2014-15 season, and he would only play in 44 more games over the next two seasons with the Hawks and 76ers before retiring due to deteriorating hips. However, there is much more to Splitter than a relatively short but successful NBA career.
In a moving article written for Brazilian website UOL, Splitter details the trials and tribulations he went through during his basketball career, which began with making the tough decision to leave his family at age 14 and heading to Spain. Little did he know that at the height of his ten-year European career, he would lose his sister, Michelle, to leukemia.
He was still in mourning when he came over to the Spurs later that year, where he then had to adjust to the transition of being one of the top players in Europe to a bench warmer in the NBA. He didn’t complain, but Gregg Popovich noticed he seemed down, so Pop did what he does best by pulling him aside and reassuring him that his time would come.
- Sit here. Are you sad? Are you mad?
- Yeah, I’m sad and I’m mad.
- Is it because you’re not playing? - Yeah.
- Well, then you’d better not stay sad because you are not going to play. The team’s ready. The team is set. It’s the same guys as last year. Keep training hard. You’re training well. Keep working and next year you’ll play more.
Just as Pop said, Splitter would break the rotation and go on to have a successful career with the Spurs, but then injuries set in. He details the struggles he went through with three calf tears and needing an artificial hip if there was any hope if playing again, only to find out that the other needed replacing too. It was then that he decided it wasn’t worth putting his body through that much pain again (not to mention doubling the number of hip replacement surgeries he would need every 20 years for the rest of his life) and it was time to retire and peruse a new career.
As is typically the case with professional athletes, we as fans can often only see the player on the court and observe whether he/she is playing well or not. It can be easy to forget that they are human beings with the same struggles in life as us, often with a lot more physical pain. If you want to get to know the human side of Tiago better, be sure and give his entire article a read. It will truly give you a newfound appreciation of him.
The good news is he sure enough has found his next calling card as he continues to climb the Brooklyn Nets ladder, from scout to newly-promoted player development coach. Keep up the good work, Tiago! Spurs fans everywhere are rooting for you.