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RealGM Interview: J.R. Holden

It's been more than a year since two-time Euroleague champion Jon Robert Holden’s retired from playing professional basketball. Since then, Holden witnessed his Russian national team win bronze in the London Olympics. 

Holden, who was a European game changer, has been associated with Russia for nearly his entire career as he played many years for CSKA Moscow and the Russian national team. The 35-year-old businessman also saw CSKA lose in the Euroleague final. Holden believed that if he were still playing, CKSA would have won. 

RealGM caught up with Holden for a one-on-one interview to discuss his life in retirement, career memories, Russia, CSKA, and much more.

RealGM: What you've been doing since you retire a year ago last June?

Holden: It has been a roller coaster ride since last June. I have spent a lot of time with my daughter, which I really needed and wanted to do. Many other nights and time, I was trying to decide what to do next. I did start a company called Ten Inc., so that has been pretty cool.

RealGM: Was it more difficult for you to end your career than you expected?

Holden: It wasn't very hard to end my career because I had a great career and I ended it on a high note with a great game and a Russian League Championship.

RealGM: What was most challenging in this process?

Holden: The most challenging part of retiring was truly giving up the game. I have been playing basketball it feels like my whole life. I love the game so much; it was hard walking away from something I love so much  However, I had to do it. It took a lot of hard work to be successful, so I just felt like it was time to walk away.  

RealGM: Let's go back to the start of your career when you joined your first professional team in Latvia in 1998. Do you still remember your first days, weeks and months in Europe? What went through your mind back then?

Holden: My goodness, it was a scary time for me. I remember it like it was yesterday. I had no idea where Riga, Latvia wast located in the world. I was a little worried I wasn't good enough to be a professional basketball player in Europe. It was so far away from home and my comfort zone. It was a frightening time but I had great teammates on that team and they helped me adjust to being in Europe; those guys and a guy from Detroit named Larry Daniels. He played in Estonia and I met him my first month overseas. He really helped me out and I owe him a lot and definitely a thank you.    

RealGM: Did you believe at that time that one day, you would become a big time player in Europe?

Holden: I never worried about being a big time player in Europe. I always wanted to be the best and win a championship where I was playing. I knew nothing about European basketball. I just wanted to play the game I love to the best of my ability. 

RealGM: Quite soon in 2002, you joined CSKA where you spend the rest of your career. In Europe, it's very unusual to see a player reamain the same team for almost 10 years. In your opinion, what were the reasons of your strong relationship with CSKA?

Holden: I had a great relationship with the fans and management. I always came into preseason in shape and I was dedicated to winning. I didn't just talk about it, but I worked my butt off every summer to get better. I think they had a lot of respect for me and in return I felt obligated to be the best player for CSKA that I could possibly be. It was a great relationship that I felt sad had to end one day.   

RealGM: What were the key highlights and best moments you had throughout your career in Moscow?

Holden: Of course, my first Russian championship. My first Euroleague championship in 2006. The European championship against Spain in 2007. The 2008 Olympics in Beijing. I had so many great moments each year in Moscow. The fans and the people in Russia were so welcoming to me and my family that each game was a special time and moment because of their support and love.  

RealGM: You were also one of the first Americans, who got a European passport and then played for a national team. How did playing for Russian national team modify your life?

Holden: It changed my life because we won a European championship in 2007 (laughs). Outside of that, I really didn't worry about having a Russian passport. It was a great honor and I took it very seriously representing Russia. It was that simple. 

RealGM: Did you ever receive any criticism for your decision to represent Russia?

Holden: I received some criticism in Russia and the United States but it didn't bother me. I had the support of my family, friends and the people who mattered most to me so I was cool. It wasn't for everyone to understand or like and I was okay with that.

RealGM: Definitely, the biggest moment of your career with Russian national team is a game-winning shot against Spain back in EuroBasket 2007. How often do you remember that moment? Do you catch yourself rethinking how everything happened in that last possession?

Holden: I don't think about it much. I only think about it when someone brings it up. I don't like to live in the past. It was a magical moment for my teammates and I. It was a team effort. I was very fortunate to be part of a special team. We all committed ourselves to winning and doing the best we could that summer. It was so much fun. 

RealGM: Did you feel that somehow that one shot changed your life?

Holden: Yes, I do believe that shot changed my life... For the better. Spanish people love me now and I love them too (laughs).

RealGM: How difficult for you was seeing CSKA losing in the Euroleague final? What about Russia winning bronze in London Olympics? Do you still feel the connection between yourself and Russian basketball?

Holden: It was tough seeing CSKA lose the Euroleague Final because I felt if I was there we would have won. I think that was a natural feeling for me because of my connection to CSKA and that team was so good and loaded with talent. However, I have been a part of a super talented team that lost before after winning more than 50 games in a row so I do know that sometimes crazy stuff happens. 

I think Russia winning the bronze was a big deal and I was so happy for the team and coach [David] Blatt. I wish they could of played the United States but Spain played well and deserved to be in the final. Spain played really well in the Gold game too. I was very impressed with the way they played that game.   

I will always have a connection with Russian basketball.  They introduced the world to J.R. Holden the basketball player and I will forever be grateful for that.   

RealGM: Have you ever thought about yourself playing in the NBA and second guessing 'what if'? Did you ever have a chance to leave Europe?

Holden: No, I never second guessed myself on playing in the NBA. The NBA never came knocking with a serious offer that was worth leaving Europe for. I had one contract offer to leave Europe but it wasn't worth it for me. I will never second guess my decision to play my whole career in Europe. It changed my life forever and I love Europe. 

RealGM: What are your future plans? Where do you see yourself in 10 years?

Holden: My future plans are to continue to grow in my faith as a God-fearing man, to continue to grow as a family man and a businessman.  In 10 years, I see myself possibly being a General Manager for a team in Europe.

 

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