Most NBA players have to wait until this summer to have a whole country rooting for them. For Greivis Vasquez, it’s an every day occurrence. As the starting point guard for the New Orleans Hornets, Vasquez is the only NBA player who was born and raised in Venezuela. And the country of 29 million, which has largely considered baseball to be their own national pastime, has begun to catch the basketball fever that is sweeping the globe.
“I wake up and thank God that a whole country is behind me,” Vasquez said as he paid us a visit in New York City on a trip to play the New York Knicks. There are a lot of baseball players that have come from Venezuela, but for basketball, there’s only me.”
I wake up and thank God that a whole country is behind me
Vasquez came to the United States to attend high school. As a member of the basketball team, he couldn’t speak English. “When I got here, I couldn’t speak the language at all,” he says. “It was really tough communicating with my teammates. None of them spoke Spanish.”
One of those teammates at Montrose Christian was Kevin Durant. Basketball being a universal language, the pair had great success, leading Vasquez to the University of Maryland. As a senior, he was the ACC Player of the Year and was the recipient of the Bob Cousy Award, given to the nation’s best collegiate point guard.
After being drafted by the Memphis Grizzlies, Vasquez was traded after his rookie season to New Orleans, where he’s been given the keys to run the offense. “I’m grateful to Memphis,” Vasquez says. “They gave me my first opportunity. Now I have a different opportunity. Chris Paul was there before me. Filling CP3’s shoes, those are really big shoes to fill. Anything can happen in the NBA. Every night is like a job interview. You have to be a professional.”
More grateful than the opportunity he has to play, Vasquez feels blessed to have the platform he has to help kids back home in Venezuela and to grow the sport. “This summer, I’ll be back doing camps and clinics with NBA Cares,” he says. “To walk around and see my jersey, to have kids see me there and have contact me, if it helps inspire them to reach for their dreams, it’s an amazing feeling.”
Vasquez is also helping to rebuild some of the outdoor courts for the kids. He expects the country to be even more basketball crazy when he returns to try to help Venezuela qualify for this summer’s Olympic games. He’s also looking forward to putting his communications degree to use by continuing to do basketball analysis for Spanish language television. This past season, Vasquez was an analyst for Univision during the NBA Finals. “Univision, ESPN Deportes, those networks are growing so rapidly. The game is growing so rapidly. To be part of it all, it’s priceless.”