Really, Niko, it’s not usually like this around here. You caught us on a bad day. Monday’s was a rare, once-in-a-century March snowstorm in Chicago, just like last year’s was. Check that. A year ago, we had two separate days in March in which more than three inches of snow accumulated.
So, yeah, freakish is what Monday’s weather event was.
Maybe I should have just gone with the standard, “You’ll get used to it.’’
“This is weird, really, because some people say to me that the weather is going to be different, that it’s going to start to be good,’’ Nikola Mirotic said Monday morning at the United Center. “A couple days ago, it was 50, 60 degrees. Right now, it’s snowing. It’s really a surprise. I came from Spain. It was great weather. Here, it’s really cold. I’m not scared about cold because I was thinking Chicago is a great city and cannot everything be perfect.’’
Most everything else has gone well since Mirotic arrived last summer to lend the Bulls a shooting hand. After scoring 28 points to lead them to a 98-86 victory over Charlotte on Monday night, he is averaging 21 points and 8.2 rebounds in our balmy month of March.
If you want to feel bad about your inability to pick up a new language, listen to Mirotic speak English. He has been at it about seven months but sounds like someone who has been in this country 10 years.
“I spoke maybe just a little bit when I came here in August,’’ he said. “It was tough for me because I couldn’t talk with some people. … I’m trying. I have to improve a lot. But for me what’s most important is that my teammates and my coach start to understand me, and the media too.’’
English is his third language. He speaks his native Montenegrin. When he signed to play for Spain’s top junior team as a 14-year-old, he did not know a word of Spanish, which was unfortunate, seeing as how all his school classes were being taught in Spanish.
“That was really tough,’’ he said. “I take some book, and I learn every single day maybe five, 10 words. I improved every day a little bit.’’
This was a year after he had taken up basketball, having realized there wasn’t much of a market for 6-foot-7 soccer players who were on their way to becoming 6-10 soccer players. His grandfather saw a boy who seemed to be growing taller by the day. He encouraged him to try one practice at a local basketball school.
“I didn’t know anything about basketball,’’ Mirotic said. “I didn’t know how to shoot, how to dribble. Nothing. Zero. But I liked it. I got some good feelings.’’
He fell in love with the game, thanks in part to the tutoring of his personal coach. He also fell in love with his personal coach’s daughter. Nina is now his wife, and together they live in Chicago with their 10-month-old son, Aleksej.
“That’s crazy, but it’s a beautiful story,’’ he said. “I really feel lucky, you know? Meet my personal coach. Meet her.’’
Mirotic, 24, learns and moves fast. But he and his wife have had a lot to absorb in a short period of time. Real Madrid, his team for the previous seven seasons, played two games a week. The NBA is an 82-game fire drill.
“In Spain, most time of the week my wife and I spent together like family,’’ he said. “Right now, I spend a lot of time on the time on the road. And when you’re here in Chicago, you practice. You spend most of your time at your practice facility. So we really don’t have all the time to be together.’’
How else are we Americans different?
“Everything is different,’’ he said. “I think that maybe the people here in the United States are a little bit more like professional, thinking a lot about the job.’’
And I’m thinking: Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau! He’s talking about Thibs’ manic work habits!
“Not just in basketball, all the people,’’ Mirotic said.
There is only one other subject left to broach. The beard. It’s a majestic, low-hanging bird’s nest. Or a hammock.
“I started last year a little bit,’’ he said. “Right now, I really love my beard. I know that my parents don’t love it. They always tell me, ‘Please, cut that beard.’ It’s to look a little bit different. You never know if I’m going to cut it off. Right now, I feel good with it. People know me like this.’’
By his beard, by his game and by his shivers during a Chicago “spring.’’