Gigi Datome feels 'all kind words' as colorful basketball career ends

Nicolo Melli hugs Gigi Datome as the latter plays his final game ever. FIBA
By Ivan Saldajeno

PASAY--One can argue that Gigi Datome should be in the conversations for Italian basketball's GOAT.

In the club ranks, Datome won multiple championships in the Italian and Turkish leagues, even winning Finals MVP honors last season for EA7 Emporio Armani Milan, as well as the 2017 Euroleague pennant.

While it did not translate to a solid NBA career, Datome remains recognized as one of the best European players in the present day.

Now that the 35-year-old forward's career has come to an end, Datome could not help but still cherish the gestures he got since he announced his retirement from the game last July.

One of which was on Saturday night, when the entire Italian team hugged him after he was subbed out for good with 3:26 left in their FIBA World Cup battle for seventh against Slovenia at the SM Mall of Asia Arena.

The "send-off" lasted for a minute, and to celebrate Datome's career, the game officials let Italy take their moment with Slovenia also paying respect to him.

"It's one of the many incredibly kind gestures that I received this summer. Maybe my teammates can now say, 'Finally, you retired!' because it's a celebration," Datome said after the game.

He added, "I feel really lucky, humbled, grateful, and blessed. All the kind words that you can say, I feel them all."

But there was still a game to be played, and Slovenia spoiled Datome's grand finale by taking control of the last 40.3 seconds.

It was a tough end to the career of Datome, who won two continental bronze medals at the youth level, saying that he really wanted the win.

"Today, [it was] very emotional... We wanted to try to finish with the win," Datome said, adding that he still considered the battle for seventh as "important" even if they are no longer in medal contention.

Even if his 20-year career that started when he was just 15 ended on a sour note, Datome was quick to move on from it.

"After many years, I learned that this is not the most important thing in our life. I'm the captain. I'm proud of this team for what we did. I think we showed that we could compete at the highest level," he further said.

Datome is reportedly staying with Milan in the Italian league next season but in a different role.

Follow him on X: @IvanSaldajeno