Credit: Christina Pahnke/Euroleague Basketball via Getty Images
Credit Christina Pahnke/Euroleague Basketball via Getty Images

Last June, Maccabi Playtika Tel Aviv parted ways with Othello Hunter after two years of harmonious collaboration. Both sides had agreed to a 1+1 contract extension in 2020, but the club decided to use its opt-out clause.

Hunter, a 35-year-old EuroLeague veteran, was very clear about his intentions from the moment his time in Israel was officially over.

"As people know, I was thinking about retiring this summer," he tells BasketNews from Athens, where his current team, FC Bayern Munich, will lock horns with Olympiacos Piraeus on Wednesday night.

"It was just everything: my two years at Maccabi, the great first year, then COVID, the missiles and all that stuff... I just wanted to sit back and think about life, mainly. I thought that my family - my daughter and my wife - was more important to me.

It wasn't basketball, it was more about life. Just looking at how short it is. At that moment, things can happen that can change a lot of stuff in our lives," he further explains.

However, the 2019 EuroLeague champ with CSKA Moscow did not let teams know that he was unavailable. Apart from the ones closest to him, no one was aware of the situation he was going through and the things he had on his mind.

"The only people who knew were my wife, my two agents, and some friends. Everybody was like: "No, man! You can't do it."

"At one point, the love of the game left me completely. I thought I was done with this basketball stuff. I was playing with people who didn't want to win. We were at a high level and then low... I was tired of it. A lot of things had piled up," Hunter reveals.

As he was sitting back, reflecting on life, Hunter got a call from his agent, who came up to him with an interesting proposal. It had been almost three weeks since he was released from Maccabi and his basketball future was highly uncertain.

"I know you're not thinking about basketball, but there's the coach from Bayern who wants to talk to you," Hunter recalls his agent telling him.

Free throws this season

Points made: 14,1
Accuracy: 80,8%
Place in standings: 3
Record max: 23
Record min: 7
Most made FTs: Vladimir Lucic

Andrea Trinchieri, the gregarious, larger-than-life personality who led Bayern to their first-ever EuroLeague playoffs in 2021, is a well-known and widely-respected figure among his peers, not to mention players.

As it turned out, the Italian coach was the right person to get Hunter out of any retirement thoughts.

"I knew who he was, and I was always intrigued by him as a player," the experienced big man confesses. "I thought: "Man, he seems like a cool person! I could play for him."

We talked and he was surprised to see that five minutes into the conversation, I was like: "Hey, I'm going to play for you. So, let's not worry about anything. I will get the job done". So, I went back to working out."

The case might look weird on the outside because Hunter had been playing for winning teams for most of his overseas career. He made his first EuroLeague Final Four with Olympiacos in 2015, and then again for three years in a row (2017-19) with Real Madrid and CSKA.

Maccabi were also in a good spot in 2020, but then COVID broke out, and the season was cut short. Hunter explains that being part of an elite team doesn't mean that everything is good.

"You have to adjust to playing for certain teams. I'm that type of person because I can adapt pretty well."

Credit Sputnik – Scanpix

He then brings up an example that hit him.

"My Olympiacos days were pretty stressful. We were winning, but outside the court, it was fun. We all hung out together, our families also. When we would go on the court, it was business. But sometimes, the stress from the up top goes to the coach and then trickles down to the players. I was kind of over it," he says.

In any case, Trinchieri doesn't remind him of any of his former coaches, including current Olympiacos's bench boss Giorgos Bartzokas, Pablo Laso at Real Madrid, Dimitris Itoudis as CSKA Moscow and Giannis Sfairopoulos at Olympiacos and Maccabi.

"No, he's totally different," Hunter says. "As a person, he's great. I've learned a lot from him about life, basketball, and all the things he's interested in. As a coach, he prepares us for each match like every other coach I've had.

But the difference between him and them is that he strives for perfection. That's the big thing," he points out.

However, some similarities and comparisons are to be made between how defensive-minded, and refuse-to-lose Macabbi's 2019-20 version and Olympiacos between 2014 and 2017 had been. Their common denominator is Sfairopoulos.

"I think it was the same," Hunter confirms. "One, he didn't have so much pressure when I got to Maccabi. He was very calm, then his whole demeanor changed," he points out.

"But we had an older group, with a lot of veteran guys not only from Europe but from the NBA as well. So, he wanted us to focus on defense more. We could switch and do different things. It felt like the Olympiacos years, but - I won't say it was more positive- the feel was different."

Credit Panagiotis Moschandreou/Euroleague Basketball via Getty Images

It looks like Bayern have bounced back for good lately. For a team to go from 0-4 to 7-7 within two months, something good must have happened.

"We've still got some guys missing, but we've started playing good basketball. I feel like we've still got a lot to work on, but I think we're doing good," Hunter confirms.

So far, the Ohio State graduate is averaging 7.9 points, 5.3 rebounds, and 10.6 in PIR over 14 games. His playing time has not diminished compared to his Maccabi days. On the contrary, he stays on the court for almost 22 minutes per contest.

Hunter speaks about his role with Bayern adding a tone of existentialism.

"I'm here to play as hard as I can. It's not always about basketball with me, it's about other things. Basketball is pretty short in this game of life.

When I'm on the court, I want to win and do whatever it takes for my team to win. Now, I'm a veteran, trying to lead these young guys to be better than me, get to a point where we can win championships together," Hunter says.

When he talks about championships, he definitely means it.

"We can win anything, my answer never changes," he firmly repeats.

When Othello Hunter first came to Europe after going undrafted in 2008 and making 23 appearances with the Atlanta Hawks, it was all new to him. In fact, it was all Greek to him.

In 2010, he signed with Ilisiakos, a little-known club based in Athens, where he played for a couple of months. His European debut was against Maroussi of his future coach Giorgos Bartzokas. His team won, and Hunter scored 8 points.

"I got the jump-ball, and all of a sudden, I see something coming up my peripheral. It's rolls of receipt paper, which was a whole lot. So, let's say we had to clean the court. I wasn't used to that. It was kind of strange to me," he now recalls.  

Transitioning from the NBA to a team looking to survive in Greece's top league did not come as a cultural shock to him. Nevertheless, there was something that Ilisiakos people forgot to mention.

"No one told me not to go to sleep when I got in. So, that's what I did - I went to bed that afternoon. Then, I was up all night watching cartoons in Greek, which is kind of strange. But I got adjusted really fast," Hunter continues.

Following his time in Greece, Hunter became a journeyman. Italy, China, Ukraine, and Spain, where his performances with Valladolid helped him to get some EuroLeague attention.

After playing with Sassari, he moved up north to join Montepaschi Siena's last season on the big stage.

It comes as no surprise that Hunter credits the now-defunct club (they play in Italy's fifth division) as the one that really opened the door for him to transition to a different level.

"We were facing some high-quality teams around Europe that were top of the top," he says.

Another move to Greece was on the cards. His next destination was Piraeus. "Olympiacos made it feel more like a place of family, with the guys that we had in my first year. I said to myself: "Oh man, I can get used to this," Hunter recalls.

That's exactly what he did.

His two-year stint included two Greek League championship titles and a lost EuroLeague final to Real Madrid.

In the eyes of many Olympiacos fans, the most impressive of his accomplishments was seeing him risk a possible injury playing at 100% in the Greek playoffs.

It's a rare thing for a player to get all due recognition and respect for his dedication while he has already agreed to continue his career elsewhere.

Hunter's deal with Real Madrid was first reported in May 2016, and the player himself confirmed it in June, after the finals where Olympiacos prevailed 3-1 in dramatic fashion, with Vassilis Spanoulis calling two of those games.

"I told some people. They wanted me to stay, definitely," Hunter says of his decision to move to the Spanish capital.

It was all about a change of heart.

"There was a point in time where I told Spanoulis on the plane that I can end my career in Olympiacos. But an opportunity came, and I knew I wasn't the type of person who just stays in one place for other people.

I realized there were a lot of things I could see around the world. So, playing in another country was something that I really wanted to experience," he explains.

"I got to do that, and it was wonderful. Me and coach (Sfairopoulos) had a conversation about it, and I told him about my decision. He knew that I wanted to stay at the time, but everything happens for a reason," he affirms.

In this case, the main reason was no other than the economic crisis tormenting Greece since 2010. Capital controls were imposed on 28 June 2015, and people could only withdraw up to a certain amount from their bank accounts on a daily or weekly basis for several months.

"That was huge. It definitely played a part," Hunter notes. "But I've never been the one who plays basketball for money. I play to win. At that time, I felt that Real Madrid was the team I could win titles with," he adds.

Credit Sonia Canada/Getty Images

However, there was another reason that made him change his plans. Real Madrid was - and still is - the realm of the 2016-17 EuroLeague MVP Sergio Llull.

"To be honest, Sergio Llull had always been my favorite European player. When I first saw him, I was like: "Who's this guy?". That was before I even met Spanoulis."

Speaking of the retired Greek legend, Hunter admits that playing at the Peace and Friendship Stadium without Vassilis Spanoulis being anywhere near will be a peculiar feeling.

"That will be weird! But they have other guys, who I wouldn't compare to Spanoulis, but can get the job done as well," he utters.  

There are several former Maccabi and Olympiacos teammates he's going to meet in Pireaus. Tyler Dorsey and Quincy Acy are among them.

Hunter says that the first thing Acy wanted to know about his new team was some information on the coach and the organization.

Upon finding out that the Reds had signed his former teammate, his first response was: "He's family, so treat him right!".

It's interesting that Hunter campaigned for Acy to have his contract renewed by Maccabi in August 2020. Bayern center says he has never done the same for any other of his teammates and explains why.

"I think it was just our connection; he was a key part of how I saw our team. My goal was for us to keep everybody together. That was the plan, but COVID changed a lot of things."

One of the things that also changed over time, as Hunter stresses, is the way certain people from Olympiacos view him as a player. Last summer, the Reds approached their former big man about coming back, but the deal never occurred.

Asked about what happened, Hunter answers with a huge, persistent smile painted all over his face.

"Yeah, that kind of came up last summer. But things change, and some people think differently of me in a certain way. I'll leave it as it is," he remarks with some bitterness before adding: "But I'm happy being here, and I wouldn't change it for the world."

Hunter has probably been one of the last EuroLeague players to create a Twitter account, joining the platform in May 2020 amidst the first big COVID wave. His posts have been few and far between ever since. However, a couple of tweets particularly stand out and have caused much discussion lately.

They were about the officiating of Bayern's game against Monaco. Hunter called it "the worst I've seen in my whole career" before adding that he would send the fine money to the EuroLeague the following morning.

"That's behind me, and I'm just going to leave it like that," Hunter says, avoiding any relevant discussion.

Being a EuroLeague veteran and knowing first-hand how referees behave to certain players or teams can enable an athlete to prepare mentally and tactically, adjusting one's game, according to what the referees might call. It's an inextricable part of the preparation before games for some, as Hunter acknowledges.

"Sometimes you do, but then I feel like referees know you. So, if you're playing hard all the time, there will be more fouls in each game."

That said, the way referees call games can affect him up to a certain point.

"I try not to adjust how I play by the referees' calling. Maybe if I have two fouls, I will try not to get the third one, but I will still try to block shots - maybe not so much. That goes only for the first half, though. In the second half, you got to lay it all on the line," he stresses.

The way things have played out for Hunter in Munich, one thing is certain: his retirement plans have been postponed indefinitely.

"I can say that coach Trinchieri got me out of retirement. I might say it out loud sometimes, but being with that group of guys gave the love of basketball back to me," he says with enthusiasm.

"Coach, the staff, the organization, how Bayern is run made me think that I'm happy here. I love playing for them. I have no complaints from anyone, top to bottom. So, I wouldn't say that this would be my last year. I wouldn't say that," Hunter adds.

That's not to say that the big man from North Carolina is not second-guessing himself.

"There are times where I still think about it, but then again, it's like: "You know what? My job is to play as hard as I can. I've always tried to win.

Whatever happens after that just happens. But as of now, I just try to go in."

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Olympiacos Piraeus
FC Bayern Munich
6 Position
Field goals
10 Position
5 Position
18 Position
4 Position
17 Position
12 Position
14 Position

Teams leaders

Tyler  Dorsey
12,9 PTS
46% 2P%
44% 3P%
Darrun  Hilliard
15,9 PTS
47% 2P%
42% 3P%
Aleksandr  Vezenkov
5,4 REB
4,1 DREB
1,4 OREB
Othello  Hunter
5,3 REB
2,8 DREB
2,5 OREB
Konstantinos  Sloukas
3,9 As
1,4 TO
23 MIN
Zan Mark Sisko
2,6 As
1,0 TO
17 MIN