If you think Marcin Gortat’s current life is busy in the playoffs, setting dozens of screens every night for John Wall, and scoring and rebounding as a double-double threat, wait until you hear what happens after he touches down in Poland every summer. Hosting youth programs, meeting government heads, visiting with members of the military, being an ambassador of Porsche, tending to a giraffe and his two sport horses—that’s just an overview of what he does every offseason.
Now a decade in the NBA, as Poland’s only player, it also marks Gortat’s upcoming 10th annual summer tour back home, which has expanded through the years and he now compares it to a “presidential campaign.” In fact, he has thoughts of working in the Polish government after retirement.
Speaking with the NBPA, the Wizards center opened up about his hometown impact, diverse work to develop more Polish NBA players, unique off-the-court interests, some life-changing experiences learning from his country’s troops and much more. His conversation is presented below in a first-person perspective and edited for clarity and length.
I never thought I was going to be an NBA player for 10 years, bottom line.
But I’m the “Polish Machine”—I never get hurt, never get tired, always ready to play, always ready to practice, 33 years old, no injuries, knock on wood. I’m just basically performing at the highest level, running like a machine.
First of all, I have great genes and then at the same time, I do take care of my body. I lift a lot. A lot of people say I’m a freak lifter. It’s also a lot of swimming, a lot of stretches, a lot of cold tub, jacuzzi, massages. As a 33-year-old guy, I definitely have a better body and I feel better than a lot of 30-year-olds. There’s a lot of older guys who’ve had surgeries, and I’ve never had any surgery, knock on wood. So I feel great with the body and the way I feel.
But to be honest with you, I think just because I’m capable of playing the pick-and-roll, this is the only reason why I’m still here to compete with a lot of big men and a lot of teams. Typical big men who caught the ball in the post and got 20 touches a game don’t really exist anymore. Just because I’m capable of scoring in so many different ways, I’m able to stay in the league right now and still play as a starter and perform at that high level.
I’m at the point where me showing up on the court, it has to be equal to a double-double. It’s a must for me as a player. That’s the expectation for me and from fans being the only Polish player in the NBA. I’m a veteran, 10 years in the league, and bottom line is I’m not an average player.
At the end of the day, I know I have a lot of people watching me. Since we hit the playoffs, I think half of the country has been awake back in Poland.
I definitely appreciate all of the good comments and good words coming my way. I have a lot of fun responding to fans. I’m not a shy guy; I’m a no-filter guy. I speak my mind. If I’ve got five, six, seven minutes, I hop in on Twitter and respond to fans. If I had a bad game, it gives me an opportunity to release my anger. I’m not getting down on myself; I’m just having fun with fans.
I think fans appreciate my hustle, they appreciate my energy and everything I do for the team. I have a lot of young Polish guys following me and studying my game, studying me as a pro. And I’m glad I can be the leader, I can be the mentor for the young guys and just direct them in the right path. That’s the best thing about being a player at this game and performing at the high level—just trying to make people better around me.
It was a few different things that had an impact on the explosion of being the guy over there back in Poland. It’s all the charity things I do with my MG13 Foundation, the projects I do, all the stuff I do with the team around Washington, D.C., the fun stuff I’m posting on social media (like when I walked with a pig on a lease all over a shopping mall in Poland). Also, it was the big contract I signed back in 2014. A lot of different events created that whole atmosphere about me being from Poland.
Now being the only guy from Poland, I host an annual Polish Heritage Night during a game at the Verizon Center, working with the Embassy of the Republic of Poland in Washington, D.C. One year, there was more than 1,000 Polish people at the game. It’s also a chance for fans to learn about my country—seeing its culture, watching a halftime dance and meeting famous countrymen.
Outside of D.C., a lot of Polish communities in different cities are trying to meet me. I’ve had a group of 40, 50, 100 people coming into the game and cheering for me. After the game, I’m able to meet with them and talk to them. I’ve had those situations in about 15 NBA cities. So I’m definitely happy that we have people in my country so generous and so passionate about supporting their countrymen and supporting their athletes.
But at the end of the day, I do most of my work back in Poland. I’m trying to promote basketball in Poland, trying to build a new system that’s going to provide new opportunities for the young guys in the future.
This summer is the 10th anniversary of my work in Poland, starting off with my NBA career. I already have the confirmation that I’m going to be able to pick up like four or five different community awards, including one from the President of Poland Andrzej Duda, for working 10 years with my foundation.
Right now, we have so many events across the country that pretty much basketball in Poland is Marcin Gortat. It’s not the Polish Basketball Association; it’s Marcin Gortat.
I partnered with the Ministry of Sport and Tourism of the Republic of Poland, which supports almost all of my projects. And I have probably about 20 people that work for me right now in Poland. I have two months of work back in Poland and they have to be sharp with everything they do.
I have sports schools, basketball skills competitions involving 50 schools (with the winner going to a Wizards game), basketball camps for ages 9-13 and those for kids of Polish military families, and different clinics for coaches. Every summer, I bring different Wizards teammates with me to Poland to work with the kids. I also financially support Polish kids in need. If some kids need a surgery, and they need a transplant or they need a hookup with a hospital or something, I make a wire transfer to help.
Now, I have four sports and academic schools with dormitories in Poland, for grades 7-12. Two of them opened this past season, and overall there are nearly 800 students at all of the schools. Each school has all different sports, from basketball to boxing to curling. We’re giving the opportunity to the kids to not only study, but also work on their profession as an athlete.
If there’s a very good student, we’ll look to send that student to my AAU program called 1 Family back in Orlando, where I began my NBA career. Since it was started in 2012, I’ve given more than 150 scholarship offers and nearly a dozen players are in Division 1 basketball. From the first two graduating classes in 2016 and 2017, every player got a free college education. The players have also been invited to some of the best camps in the country, including the NBPA Top 100 and Nike Skills Academy.
The only thing I’m probably missing right now is a first division team in basketball and soccer in Poland. Right now, we only have two basketball players in different countries: Spain and Turkey. And there’s Przemek Karnowski who played for Gonzaga this season. But they’re not from my system; they’re my national teammates.
If we could develop our basketball to a level where we’re going to have people playing in stronger leagues in Poland, and eventually play for NBA teams, we’re looking at the perfect scenario. But that’s like another decade away.
Right now, I’m definitely sure we’re on the right path. In the next two, three years, we should have those first people coming out of my system. And the national team will start playing better.
I compare my summer tour around Poland with all the camps and everything I do to almost like a presidential campaign. Wherever we go, we have everything scheduled.
From seven, eight o’clock in the morning until Noon, this is my time for workouts, practice or just relaxing. Then I’m going to the foundation’s office in my hometown of Lodz, and I start doing all the stuff I’m supposed to do—camps, meetings and everything. And that goes on for like five days a week. Sometimes I drive to Warsaw to meet with a lot of important people. They include the President of Poland, all of the delegates, all of the government ministers and CEOs of big companies.
If I do a lot of different campaigns or commercials, then my face might be all over the place—literally. You’re sick of me [laughs]. Everybody knows me, everybody is taking a picture of me. This summer, I’m doing campaigns with Porsche (I’m an ambassador) and Hertz (a partner of my foundation).
And because I’ve always been military freak since I was a kid, I’ve visited pretty much every base in Poland—50 different bases already. I’ve done everything with the military. I’ve been in a submarine, I’ve sat in a F-16 fighter, I’ve driven all kinds of equipment, all kinds of cars and transporters, shot all kinds of guns.
I’ve flown different helicopters in Afghanistan, where I visited Polish troops at army bases in Bagram, Ghazni and Waghez in 2012. The helicopter was honestly unbelievable. We had a tactical start and landing, which is all different tricks and I was puking in the brain. That’s because it’s a quick land, you hop in and take off. One war base was actually very dangerous and they could shut down the helicopters, so we had to just hop in and fly out quickly. This summer, I’m flying to Baghdad in Iraq to see the Polish Special Forces.
I’ve also been through a training with the Polish Special Forces Black Ops called JW GROM. They showed me a few tricks. They taught me how to handle weapons and how to become a better skilled guy with weapons.
We also talked about the teamwork—how badly they respect one another, like, “Dude, if I’m engaged in crossfire with somebody else, I need you to watch my back. Like if I’m running out of ammo, I need you to give me your ammo. If I get shot, I need you to carry my butt to the helicopter.” They depend on each other so much, and I carried that teamwork over to basketball.
Back in Poland, we don’t respect soldiers, which is why I run my “Respect for The Polish Soldiers” program. It’s getting slowly better because people are learning about the discipline—how they carry themselves, their thinking process. It’s completely different than a regular human being. They think about security, they’re always prepared for the worst because that’s what they have to do. They respect every moment of their life, they respect everything they have and they value a lot of different things. It’s incredible.
One thing is for sure: if another country is going to invade Poland, I’m dropping the NBA and flying back to fight them.
I also have a connection to animals in Poland. There’s a giraffe I know who has a similar name, Gorti, and lives at the Warsaw Zoological Garden. And I own two horses named Prima and Cedrik in Warsaw. One is for dressage and the other is for jumping over obstacles. They are young. We are training them now and hopefully in a year or two, they’re going to be able to perform.
Looking ahead, after I’m done playing basketball, I’m going to think about getting involved with the Polish government.
I would want to make sure I’m working for the people, fixing something that is broken in our country, making our country better, making the living in our country better, making sure that people are proud of our country. It’s just to make our country more valuable for everybody else as an ally, as a partner in business.
I already feel responsible for being an ambassador of Poland back in the states.