- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 30, 2015

There is nothing unlucky about the number 13 to Marcin Gortat. His foundation in Poland is named “MG13,” showing his affinity for a stigmatized number in the United States. He wore the number as a rookie with the Orlando Magic in 2007. When he joined the Phoenix Suns in 2010, point guard Steve Nash, a future Hall of Famer, was draped in the digits.

“At some point I thought I was going to purchase the number from him, but that would be a bad idea to even ask,” Gortat said.

With the Washington Wizards, Kevin Seraphin wore No. 13. He would not sell it, so Gortat had to wait it out. This week, after Seraphin’s offseason departure, he has No. 13 back, along with his gregarious personality.

“I’m fresh, I’m playing good,” Gortat said. “I got a new number. I’ve got a lot of new sexy jerseys. I got a lot of new sexy suits for this year.”

He’s trying to push last year back. It was not a lost season, although Gortat’s scoring average, rebounds, and blocks took modest dips. It’s more so the outside aggravations he wants to send away, such as the odd player rotation that made him unused, irritated and powerless on the bench during fourth quarters in the regular season. A mystery personal happening on which he won’t elaborate also affected his play, and the final insult was a battle with food poisoning before Game 6 of the Eastern Conference semifinals against the Atlanta Hawks. Gortat, sapped from being sick all night to the point he was throwing up shortly before tipoff, played just 12 minutes in the game. The Wizards were eliminated that evening.

“I want to come back to being a more dominant big man in this league,” Gortat said. “Last year was kind of off for different reasons, personal reasons. I’ve got [that] behind me already. I’m going to try to focus on basketball now. The team deserves a consistent big man.”

Asked again this week about what went wrong personally, Gortat avoided an answer. He stayed general in his terms, and when he was asked if the issues were in the U.S. or back home in Poland, he, as good-naturedly as one can, said, “Next question.”

“It was just certain situations in life I should make a different decision,” Gortat said. “It’s just something … I’ll learn from it, I’ll definitely learn from it. It was just bad experience I don’t wish [on] anybody. That’s it.”

No one on the team is more active away from basketball. Polish groups would wait in the stands after games for Gortat to speak with them. He’s a large figure in Poland, something that was previously affirmed by the attendance at his basketball camp and face on the cover on national magazines. His stature took another bump this summer when he received the Jan Nowak-Jezioranski Award, which is “a form of honoring individuals and institutions for their outstanding contribution to Poland’s regained independence, the overthrow of communism and the shaping and development of civil society in Central and Eastern Europe as well as approaching the state as a common good.”

Nowak-Jezioranski served in World War II, became a leader in the Polish resistance and received the Knight’s Cross of the Virtuti Militari, Poland’s highest military honor, in 1944. He went on to become an important journalist and radio voice in Europe. In 1996, he received the United States’ Presidential Medal of Freedom. There is a statue of Nowak-Jezioranski in Warsaw.

“It was incredible for me to receive that award,” Gortat said.

Turning his focus back to basketball, Gortat began to salivate when thinking about the space he is projected to have this season. The Wizards are intent on spreading their players out and working more like they did in last season’s playoffs, which means a single big man on the floor for much of the game. Gortat’s point and rebound total went up in the playoffs under that approach. He dominated the opening series against the Toronto Raptors, averaging 17.3 points and 10 rebounds per game. He shot 74.4 percent in the four-game series.

“It’s going to be huge,” Gortat said. “I feel really comfortable playing without the ball, moving around and trying to find an open spot, the sweet spot on the court. With John [Wall], Brad [Beal] and Otto [Porter], who can really penetrate, they’re going to have more space under the basket, and I’m going to be obviously open because my guy will have to help.

“There will be more opportunity for me to touch the ball on the post-up and try to go to work. We’re going to play quicker basketball, and obviously, there’s going to be more of an opportunity for me to rebound.”

Porter joined Gortat in Poland during the offseason for his basketball camp. According to Gortat, Porter experienced all the luxuries: He rode tanks, flew in helicopters, checked out submarines, restaurants and clubs. Gortat’s Instagram account tells of a full life, from the beach, to being an uncle, to foundation commitments, to playing for Poland in Eurobasket during the summer, to the group outings at noted restaurants and clubs. He is a busy man.

The regular season is a month away. Gortat, 31, will be tasked with running the floor and guarding the rim. He’ll be bustling away from the court again, something he said he has adapted to over the years, in many ways using his time in Washington for more than basketball.

“It’s going to be a lot things year again,” Gortat said. “Hopefully, I won’t have those little issues, problems from last year that kind of took me out of the game. But, I’m going to try and stay consistent.”


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