Mario Kasun is a 34 year old 213cm Croatian that is a retired ex NBA player. He started his career in Croatia with Gorica (D2) and was drafted by the Los Angeles Clippers (NBA,2rd(41) in 2002. He then played for the Frankfurt Opel Skyliners from 2002-2004 winning the BBL title in2004. He played in the NBA from 2004-2006 playing for the Orlando Magic playing a total of 72 games. He then played two seasons for FC Barcelona and two years for Efes Pilsen before going home to Croatia to play for KK Zagreb where he played 9 games averaging 8.4ppg, 2.9rpg, FGP: 64.4%, FT: 78.3%; Croatian League: EuroChallenge: 2 games: 17.5ppg, 6.0rpg, 1.0bpg; injured in Nov.’10 and was off for 1 month: EuroCup Qualifying Round: 2 games: 11.5ppg, 5.5rpg; Adriatic League: 21 games: 13.3ppg, Reb-5(6.4rpg), FGP: 63.3%, FT: 67.5%. He has played for the Croatian national team playing at the 2005, 2007 and 2009 European championships. He also has won the Spanish and Turkish cups. He played for Montepaschi Siena (Italy-SerieA) in the 2012-2013 season playing 9 games averaging 6.2ppg, 3.4rpg, FGP: 58.1%, FT: 50.0%; Euroleague: 8 games: 5.0ppg, 4.0rpg, He then played for Al Wasl Dubai (United Arab Emirates-D1) and briefly for BC Levski Sofia (Bulgaria-NBL) in 2014 before retiring. He spoke to German Hoops concerning his career and death of former teammate Chris Williams.
Mario thanks for talking to German Hoops. Where are you at the moment and how is retired basketball life treating you these days?
My life after basketball is pretty interesting and I am doing things I enjoy. I am working with motor cyles and doing Real Estate. I am really enjoying my life after basketball.
Before we talk about your long professional career, I have to ask you about your ex teammate Chris Williams who recently passed away. When did you exactly hear about his passing and what were your first thoughts about it?
Regarding Christopher, it was a huge shock. We lost a great friend. He was an amazing basketball player, but even more an amazing friend. It is pretty sad that he left so early, but I am convinced that he went to a better place.
When do you remember having last contact with Chris Williams? Do you remember the last conversation that you had with him?
The last time that he and I had contact was maybe five or six years ago. I remember that we talked about organizing our lives better. We wanted to get to together again and catch up on old times since we were great friends.
Chris Williams came to the Opel Skyliners in the late summer of 2003 and and you were coming into your second season with Frankfurt. What was your first impression of Chris Williams when you saw him on the court for the first time?
We had already played together before he came to Frankfurt in Orlando at the NBA Summer League. I knew with his play that summer that when he came to Frankfurt that he would be a great piece to the puzzle. The only thing that I was really concerned about was that coach always said that he should play the four position, but he was actually a three. At first I thought that we would have a problem, but as it turned out we didn´t. Coach knew how to use him best. It was really amazing to play with him.
Every one always talks about how the Opel Skyliners 2003-2004 team had a lot of depth and played as a team, but how important was Chris Williams for the 2004 title win?
Everyone was an important part of the success in 2004. I have to give a lot of credit to coach Herbert as he really studies every player and knew how to use every at their best.
Everyone always talked about his beautiful play in the paint and killer cross overs, but what will you remember most about the play of Chris Williams?
I loved how he could open the court for me and when I was doubled, I could get him the ball and he would knock down shots. We played pick and roll between each of us and I would set a screen and he would throw a pass or go for an alley-op. He was just unstoppable. It was really fun to play with him. His crossover was just amazing. His crossover didn´t look spectacular or would break the ankles as the kids would say these days, but he would just pass by you with ease and you wouldn´t even know he passed you.
How was your relationship with Chris Williams off the court? What was your relationship like?
He was a character off the court. We hung out a lot together, went to parties and laughed a lot. Often Americans would separate themselves from the European players, but that wasn´t the case with Christopher. He was like family for me.
When you look back at the illustrious career of Chris Williams how do you think fans will remember him most in Frankfurt?
Everyone will have him in their memories in Frankfurt. He was a huge part and a big impact for their success. Frankfurt should remember every player, but especially him since he passed away. He was a huge piece of that team. He will be remembered as a great player, but moreover for a person with a genuine character and golden heart.
This is now your third season in basketball retirement. How have you been spending your time and what projects have you been doing?
I have been out of professional basketball three years now. I am playing in a veteran league with Barcelona which I am having a lot of fun with. I am living in Barcelona now and have a little daughter. I am enjoying my life very much now. Life with basketball was very nice and beautiful, but you do lose a sense of reality and regular people and now I have more time to do other things I like. Basketball was a huge part of my life and I am very happy that I had the kind of career that I had, but on the other hand I do miss it a lot. I miss playing with great people like Christopher was. To me my best year of life was in Frankfurt.
You retired with 34 years of age which in comparison to many other players is a very long career. Was it more your body that told you in the fall of 2014 that it was time to retire or your mind?
I did retire at age 34. My body was in great shape, but I did have some broken bones, but for me there was no reason why I couldn´t still have played. However I got a bit fed up, because the sport has become corrupt. For me it was just very tiring dealing with certain people involved with basketball. It was great getting to the professional level, but once you get there, there is more money which results in more problems. It is sad that the sport got to that level. I enjoyed my career at I feel that I stopped at the right moment.
You had a very long career, won titles in Germany, Spain, Turkey and Croatia, played for FC Barcelona and the Orlando Magic as well as playing for 3 European championships. When you look back at your career did you achieve all you wanted to or was something missing?
I feel that I could of achieved way more in my career. To be honest I was surrounded with the wrong people. I gave trust into the hands of the wrong people. But still I am happy that I had a long career and did win a lot of championships and cups, but do wish I could have done more for my country. But that wasn´t too big a thing simply because you get together as a team for two months a year and just tried to do your best.
You won the Spanish Cup (Copa del Rey with FC Barcelona in 2007, but were a 2 time ACB finalist. Was winning the ACB title in Spain one of the titles you really wanted?
It wasn´t hard, but just sad. I feel like I couldn´t give my best, because I think that coach didn´t know how to use me. Not winning that ACB title was hard, because that was the only title that I was missing.
You played two seasons in Turkey with Efes Pilsen Istanbul (Turkey-TBL), winning three titles. What do you remember most about your battles in practice with Daniel Santiago?
Winning Championships in Turkey was my favorite besides in Frankfurt. We had a great team with Efes Pilsen, but weren´t on the same level as Fenerbahce. We still did come together as a team and didn´t want to disappoint each other. We lived for one another. In the final, we were down 2-0, but we never gave up and kept believing in each other and won four in a row. I remember having a fist fight with a Fenerbahce fan. It was all good memories.
You told me in an interview in 2011 that Gordon Herbert was your favorite coach to play for. How do you feel did he give you that last preparation in Frankfurt to help you move on to the NBA?
Gordon Herbert was definitely my favorite coach and my mentor when I was with the Opel Skyliners. My first year we were fighting a lot and I am sure he would tell you that. I was a young hard headed kid with a lot of adrenaline. I was always thinking that I could do everything, but there were moments where he was trying to help me control those moments. He had a huge impact on me and I think that he is an amazing coach. I really love him like my own dad. I wish that we had more contact. I would love to come to Frankfurt and remember all the great memories.
Chris Williams, Tyrone Ellis and Pascal Roller were the Skyliner Bermuda triangle, but how do you want the the organization Frankfurt Skyliners to remember Mario Kasun best?
I hope that they are happy for what I gave them. I really enjoyed everything with the organization. I hope that they remember me as a young and good kid that was just trying to do his best .I hope that I had a big impact and was able to give possibilities to other players I was super happy being able to win my first title there. I wouldn´t change it for anything in the world.
Recently one of the last German Dinosaurs Bernd Kruel retired at age 40. Your ex teammate Tyrone Ellis only smiled remembered him as being freaking hilarious. How do you remember German Bernd Kruel best?
He was a funny and crazy guy. He played at a different level and always made you smile in a situation when you should be concentrating. He would be celebrating after some move like a soccer player. It was amazing playing with him.
You played a total of 72 NBA games with the Orlando Magic from 2004-2006. Were you content after two seasons or do you feel like you could have had a longer NBA career?
I Think that I had some bad luck coming when Dwight Howard was there. They didn´t want to have two young guys in the starting lineup. It was a great experience. The reason that I didn´t have a big NBA career was because before the NBA, I was making no money and I my parents were very poor and I played the whole 2005-2006 season with a broken foot and was wearing a cast off the court. I was too impatient to sit out and wait and get healthy again.
You played two seasons with center Dwight Howard. What funny story do you have of him that you will never forget?
I spent a lot of summers with him and we are still in contact. He was an amazing person and funny guy. At that time, he was a kid that was naïve and what I will never forget about him was that he always had a big stupid smile on his face. To me he played at another level and was like a Magic Johnson. Back then we knew that he would be one of the great centers to play. It is to bad that he had back problems. He has been playing great, but he isn´t the Dwight Howard that he should be.
The NBA world is all about glitz and glamour and a totally different world than in Europe. The NBA now is different than 10 years ago when you were active there, but one experience will you never forget in the NBA that showed just how different kind of a world it is?
The NBA is a different world. You have one practice per day and have more time for your private life. You don´t have time to concentrate on loses as everything moves on. It is all about getting better individually. I don´t watch much NBA and don´t see much team play as once before. I think the level has dropped. The NBA. Man I don´t know what else to say. It is definitely a different world.
You played your last full season in Europe in 2012-2013 with Montepaschi Siena (Italy-SerieA). There you had pleasure to play together with current Houston Rocket Bobby Brown. He has been a scorer his whole life, but did you actually recognize another strength in his game besides his scoring?
I actually didn´t play a whole season, but four months. I had a broken arm that the club was trying to hide from me. This injury took me nine months to recover from. Bobby Brown was a hilarious guy with a lot of swag. He didn´t only have a crazy crossover, but a crazy everything. I am very happy that he reached the NBA.
Lebron finally brought an NBA title to the Cavs. Where does he stand at the moment in the never ending debate with where he stands as the best of all-time?
Lebron James is the most complete player in the NBA at this moment. He is the opposite of Kobe and Michael Jordan. I am super happy that he went to his home town and won the NBA title.
Where do you rank Kevin Garnett with the best power forwards that ever played the game?
He was my idol and I put him with the best power forwards of all-time. I have to go with Tim Duncan as the best. He is simply another person.
Klay Thompson recently hit 60 points in 29 minutes touching the ball for only 90 seconds. Where does this performance rank with you?
He is an amazing shooter. Give him one second and he will put you at 90 points. He has amazing form. The NBA is at another level with the individual skill level of players.
One always talks about Lebron and Curry, but one has to mention Russell Westbrook. He is averaging triple double stats at the moment. Is he stat wise the best player in the world right now?
Westbrook´s game speaks for himself. He is an amazing player that does everything for his team. Kevin Durant left the team and he didn´t want to leave his team and he took care of his team the best way that he could.
What was the last movie that you saw?
I watch a lot of movies. My favorite movie is the Boondock Saints.
Thanks Mario for the chat.