Her passion for photography runs in the family. Her father, a shutterbug, used to take her photo often, which is why, when young Estela started shooting photos with her own camera, she featured the people who were part of her life.
A new Spanish bear in Memphis
In 2001, Pau Gasol landed in Memphis at the tender age of 21. The rest is history... Two decades later, and one year younger, Santi Aldama does it again, proving his talent during his debut in the NBA, playing in the same position (power forward). Although he wasn’t able to play the EuroBasket 2022 with the Spanish national team, Santi admits that it’s one of his “ultimate dreams”. It’s a matter of time.
At this stage in the game, talking about the Memphis Grizzlies means talking about Spanish basketball. Pau Gasol and his brother Marc were role models at the hometown of Elvis Presley before striking out in new directions. Juan Carlos Navarro also lived his American dream there, leaving behind an unforgettable memory of his single season. And now Santi Aldama (Las Palmas de Gran Canaria, 2001) is taking his first steps in the most populated city in the state of Tennessee.
The Gasol brothers, Navarro, and now you... Do you feel at home in Memphis?
The fact that three Spanish legends have been through Memphis before me has helped me to adapt, people here remember them fondly. During my first month, they couldn’t stop talking about them, all kind words. I’m proud to see their names on the wall every time I walk into the stadium.
Until 2001, when Pau Gasol came to Memphis, only one Spaniard had played in the NBA: Fernando Martín. Do you think Spanish basketball talent is more highly valued in the US now?
The number of international players in the NBA has grown year on year, so I think that international talent is increasingly better valued. Pau and the other Spanish players that have been through the NBA have proven the value of Spanish talent, as well as our work ethic. There’s a lot of talent in Spain and I have no doubts that the list of Spanish players who’ll come to the NBA will continue to grow.
“There’s a lot of talent in Spain and I have no doubts that the list of Spanish players who’ll come to the NBA will continue to grow”
On the topic of talent, what does it mean to you?
For me, talent is the capacity, ability, or particular ease someone has to perform an activity, do a job or, even, a hobby. In any case, it’s something that’s hard to define. I think there are lots of types of talent and I’m sure we all have one.
And do you think that talent is born, that it’s innate, or made, that is, it can be worked on?
I think that innate talent exists, but it must always be combined with the capacity to work hard and knowing how to make the most of it. In my opinion, there’s a limit to effortless talent, but with hard work, the possibilities are endless. Talent must go hand in hand with commitment, and the ability to commit is already a talent in itself.
At 6 ft 11 inches tall, Aldama came to the NBA after playing for two years at the Loyola University Maryland. He was selected in the first round of the Draft, which was a real turning point in his life. He went from playing with students to playing with the best in the world. A leap that not all players achieve successfully. For Aldama, the big difference has been in physical level and the attention to detail in each practice.
After your first year in the NBA, what has the experience been like?
In general, it’s been a very fulfilling season. A year of adapting and learning where I’ve enjoyed minutes both in the NBA and the NBA G-League [the development league where some of the youngest players gain experience], which, without a doubt, will help me a lot for the upcoming season.
And how have you adapted?
The rookie season has been a big shift, not only at a sporting level, but also personally. New city, new life, new routine... It’s also more demanding and you encounter top players. I’ve been really lucky because both management and my teammates have helped me since day one, which has made the process much easier.
Did you expect the team’s season to be so good? [56 victories and 26 losses in the regular season and semi-finals at the Western Conference playoffs]
I had no doubts that we’d do great as a team. We’re a young group with a lot of chemistry, energy, and talent. It’s been a full year, with good results during the regular season and at the playoffs. As an athlete, you always want to win, but not making it through to the Conference finals will motivate us to go further in upcoming seasons.
“The rookie season has been a big shift, not only at a sporting level, but also personally”
In the NBA, you can be transferred at any time and players have no say in the decision. How do you deal with that possibility mentally?
This first year, I’ve been really focused on adapting to the league and growing as a player, so I haven’t had much time to think about that. I do see the transfers throughout the year and I’m aware that it could happen to anyone. The uncertainty is there but knowing how to face changes and see the positive side is part of the job.
Aldama has played in the Spanish national team’s junior categories and hopes to play with the seniors too. “Playing with the senior national team has always been one of my ultimate dreams.” A dream that will have to wait, because “for physical, family, or political reasons of their clubs [Aldama’s case]” manager Sergio Scariolo was unable to call some players up to the EuroBasket 2022, including Aldama himself. For his family, being international isn’t new. His father, also called Santiago, had an extensive professional career, and wore the national shirt on 23 occasions.
Your father played with the Spanish national team at the 1992 Barcelona Olympics; is following in his steps a dream of yours?
My father talks a lot about his time at the Olympics, he remembers them as an unbeatable experience and has endless anecdotes. I’d be proud to follow in his footsteps and I know he’d also be thrilled.
“My father didn’t have time to push me towards playing basketball: when I wasn’t even old enough, I asked him to sign me up to the school team”
During those Olympic Games, your father faced legends like Jordan, Magic, or Bird. Since you belong to another generation, who have been your role models?
I grew up watching a lot of basketball, but the players that caught my attention the most were Pau [Gasol], Kobe [Bryant], and Dirk [Nowitzki]. I also loved to see highlights of the legends you mention and of Toni Kukoc, among others.
And finally, how much did your father influence you choosing basketball?
My father didn’t have time to push me towards playing basketball: when I wasn’t even old enough, I asked him to sign me up to the school team. I think that seeing him play when I was little made me love this sport from day one. He’s been essential in my career; he’s always been with me and still advises me to this day.