Credit: BasketNews.lt/D.Lukšta
Credit BasketNews.lt/D.Lukšta

Over the last decade, Malcolm Delaney has become one of European basketball’s most familiar figures.

Malcolm Delaney

Malcolm  Delaney
Team: AX Armani Exchange Milan
Position: PG, SG
Age: 33
Height: 191 cm
Weight: 86 kg
Birth place: Baltimore, United States of America

With the exception of a two-year tenure with the Atlanta Hawks in the NBA and another season in China, the American guard has spent the biggest part of his professional career in the Old Continent.

Delaney will be celebrating his 33rd birthday (on March 11) in Europe's fashion capital. His team, AX Armani Exchange Milan, is in third place in the EuroLeague standings, despite their overtime loss to Real Madrid on Thursday night.

The occasion - and Delaney's performance- could have been better, but - as he wrote on Twitter- there's nothing that can "kill his mood of making it to see 33 and being able to do what he loves."

That has been the spirit over the last years for "East Baltimore's finest", as he calls himself. In the summer of 2020, the former All-EuroLeague guard joined a squad featuring some of the most charismatic players in Europe, as well as one of the competition's winningest coaches in Ettore Messina.

At 27, Delaney starred in one of EuroLeague's biggest upsets, when he led Lokomotiv Kuban Krasnodar to their first-ever Final Four in 2016, at the expense of his future club, FC Barcelona. What transpired in Spain and how Delaney ended up in Milan will be the material of a separate article, to be published in the next few days.

For the time being, the player who once admitted to never "paying attention to the foreign-language lesson in school," has a few more tasks to accomplish before he retires - and adding a few more silverware to his trophy collection wouldn't hurt.

Delaney started out his European journey with Elan Chalon in France in 2011, taking a step towards eliminating some of the pre-NBA Draft anxiety. His first contract with the team based about 200 miles southeast of Paris was worth $130,000 after taxes. Despite not being selected in that Draft coming out of Virginia Tech, he made his way to the NBA five years later, following his arguably best-ever season in Europe.

Malcolm Delaney

Malcolm  Delaney
Malcolm  Delaney
MIN: 24.18
PTS: 9.39 (45.33%)
REB: 2.46
As: 2.82
ST: 0.36
BL: 0
TO: 1.68
GM: 28

Eleven years after first moving overseas, Malcolm Delaney feels the time is ripe to draw the curtain on an illustrious European trajectory that has had a little bit of everything, save for a EuroLeague title. It remains to be seen whether that mission will be accomplished in the course of the current campaign.

"It's not 100% guaranteed, but Milan will probably be my final stop in Europe. A lot of people are asking me, "Are you retiring?". My plan is not to retire completely," Delaney explains to BasketNews in a discussion that took place a week prior to his birthday.

"For me, it's not about the money anymore. I want to win a Final Four, but my body is more important. I've been gone from my family for eleven years. I want to spend more time enjoying life instead of playing for ten months," the recent Italian Cup MVP adds.

As the end of the road is approaching, Delaney has come to relish the small things in life that make it all the more enjoyable.

"Getting older, that's one of the things that I tried my best to change - go eat dinner somewhere or go sightseeing," he points out.

Better late than never, some might say. After all, life's too short to only stick to one thing, whether it's basketball or a bad night at work like the one Delaney had in Madrid.

When most players his age are only remotely thinking about what to do after they retire from basketball, he has almost everything figured out, right down to the last detail.

"I currently have a real estate company. I'm also about to open a sports bar in Baltimore this summer and I've also invested in restaurants. I have a youth basketball program for 5-17-year-olds.

When I come home, it's business. As I get older, I have to multitask. It's all about my happiness at the end of the day."

That's what a successful career should add up to, anyway.

 

Let's start with the recent developments in EuroLeague and, of course, in the world. Russian teams' participation got suspended until further notice. Do you think you'll get to play them this season?
Personally, I don't. Even if they suspend games for a month, I don't see where you can put a month's worth of games in the season. It's unfortunate, but I don't think they'll make these games at all.

In any case, Milan is in third place right now, which means that you're not directly affected by the Russian teams' suspension. How do you think this season will proceed?
Honestly, I haven't really thought too much of anything outside of the Russian conflict. I don't know how it will affect the rest of EuroLeague, but from what I've seen, EuroLeague will try to do whatever possible to finish the season.

You're one of the few players currently in the EuroLeague who have been to both Russia and Ukraine. Do you think EuroLeague has made the best decision possible, nullifying Russian teams' results?
My only opinion about this is players' safety. There are a lot of players who are from both Russia and Ukraine. Not traveling to Russia is a great idea. Even if they kept games there, personally, I don't think I would travel to Russia. It was the right thing to do. As far as the politics and the business part of it, it's not really my concern.

In a Twitter post, you wrote: "I never really watch the news, but I've literally been glued to all the outlets keeping up in real-time." What prompted you to keep track of what's happening in Ukraine?
The main reason why I never followed the news is that politics manipulate the news. I learned that actually when I lived in Russia. When Obama was the President, I've seen how they talked about him vs. how the news was in America. It was two totally different ways to get the message out to people.

I've never been into politics. I just wanted to stay up-to-date with everything because we in sports have been directly affected. And then, I'm not in Ukraine or Russia, but I do live in Europe.

So, I wanted to be ahead of whatever goes on and try to have as much knowledge as possible. I had no clue about everything, but now I've grasped the concept of what's going on.

Have you talked to other players currently in Russia or Ukraine?
A month ago, when this stuff first started, a lot of guys that were playing in Ukraine were messaging me, asking me my opinion on it. I told them that once there's a war and America told those guys to leave, they should leave.

I know that my position is a little bit different from anybody else's on the financial side, but a lot of players were getting threatened by teams that they would get fined if they left. Those guys weren't making a lot of money and were worried about the financial part.

My only advice was: "Money isn't worth your life. If you have the chance to leave, then do it and deal with the rest after that. If you need to go to court for your money, you don't want to get stuck in a war." Some of them listened, some of them didn't.

For the most part, all of my friends in Russia were pretty cool with letting them go home. The few that are still there now, their teams are trying to figure out ways for them to get home.

In Kyle Hines, Sergio Rodriguez, Nicolo Melli, Gigi Datome, Milan have got a lot of veteran experience, both American and European, yourself included. What does each of those guys bring to the table in terms of leadership?
Our team is unique because everybody leads in a different way. I'm more vocal, and everyone knows that I speak whenever I feel like it.

Kyle is the lead-by-example guy. He's not as loud and vocal, but when he talks, everybody listens. He's the top guy on the respect ladder.

Chacho brings a different energy, a swagger. He's another guy who says what he feels.

Gigi is most quiet. He brings his day-to-day professionalism to the table.

Nick is just coming back and taking over a big role here in Milan, is the captain on the team, and has to embrace a bigger role coming in.

We have a team where everybody likes each other. We're not in competition. Nobody cares about who scores the most or gets the most assists. That's one of the best qualities of our team. We all want to win.

Credit Savino Paolella/LPS via ZUMA Press Wire

At the same time, the team also has a lot of players with little or no EuroLeague experience, like Trey Kell, Jerian Grant, Devon Hall, and Troy Daniels. In the case of Troy, who came straight from the NBA, do you think his adjustment process is a little bit harder compared to the rest?
Yeah, it was tough for him. Recently, he's been good, but it took him a while. All he had to do in the NBA was come in and shoot. He's a world-class 3-point shooter.

I talked to him before he got here. I told him that his role was going to be different because he would have to play defense and do some things he wasn't used to doing.

Early on, he struggled. We have one of the easiest practices, and Troy thought it was one of the hardest he ever had in his life just because he had to play both defense and offense.

I think he's fine now, he's more comfortable and in great shape. If he was on the wrong team and didn't have people to help him out, he probably would have left. That's what most Americans do when they hit a little adversity, they don't know how to respond.

Judging from your experience, is it easier for an American player to play in Europe first and then transition to the NBA or the other way round?
For me, I thought it was easier playing in Europe first before I got to the NBA. Once I came back, I knew what to expect. NBA spoils you, whether you play zero minutes or you make 100 million. You might not be the richest, but the lifestyle and the day-to-day stuff spoils you.

So, when you're here, the smallest things could affect what you do. In the NBA, players don't talk to coaches off the court a lot. In the locker room, you might not talk to certain players.

When you come to Europe, it has to be like a family environment. Coaches are going to yell at you and you got to deal with that every day. It's tough when you come from the NBA to Europe and players have to adjust to that.

It's pretty easy to shift from Europe to NBA.

Virtus Bologna won the Italian league title last year. What makes you confident that you can beat them this time around?
We were confident last year and they played their best basketball at the end. Everybody knows that we played the most games in Europe last year. I was injured and we broke down, playing our worst basketball in the finals.

I don't think they were better than us last year and I still don't believe they're better than us this year. We're one of the top teams in Europe. We just have to be healthy and play our best basketball.

You've reached two EuroLeague Final Fours with different teams. The first one was with Lokomotiv Kuban back in 2016, the other one was with Armani Milan last year. It was Loko's first-ever Final Four and also Milan's first in almost 30 years.

On both occasions, you had to go through a very tough five-game series. Which of those two accomplishments was harder to achieve? Which one made you the proudest?
The Loko one, for sure. In the preseason, the predictions had us the 4th or 5th-best team in the bracket. We weren't expected to go to TOP 16 initially, but we finished 2nd in the first group and then 1st in the TOP 16.

I wasn't even supposed to be there that year. The year before that we had some problems with the coach and financially with the ruble drop, we didn't know if the team was going to have a budget to bring people back. The day I got to Russia, they called my agent and told him they didn't have the money to pay me.

I had a deal in China with the Shanghai Sharks that I was going to take. I also went to Atlanta for a week to train with the Hawks. I was actually supposed to go there because the 'NBA out' clause on my contract had expired.

Then, Bartzokas came in and he basically told the club, "If Malcolm is not going to stay here, I'm leaving too." And they found the money. He called me early in the morning and told me to come to his office because I didn't practice the first two days.

He was like, "I heard that you wanted to leave." I said "Nah, they must not be telling you the truth. They told me to leave."

He gave me a couple of hours and then he talked to the front office. The rest was history. Even before that, I respected him, but after that meeting, I really gained a lot of respect for him.

A couple of years ago and just a few days before the COVID pandemic officially broke out in Europe, freezing everything, you said that you don't want to do anything on a temporary basis.

"Whatever I do, I want it to feel like home so that I can finish my career there," were your exact words. Does Milan fit the description?

Yes, it's not 100% guaranteed, but this will probably be my final stop in Europe. A lot of people are asking me, "Are you retiring?". My plan is not to retire completely, that's not mentally where I am.

But leaving my family for ten months a year and having a lot of stuff off the court that needs my attention, I need longer off-seasons. Two months for me is not enough for me to recover fully as I want. This year I was coming off a knee injury that was a temporary fix. My recovery this summer is going to be the most important thing.

Milan is probably my favorite place to play. I definitely love it here and I wish I would have come earlier if coach Messina was around before.

For me, it's not about the money anymore. I want to win a Final Four, but my body is more important. I've been gone from my family for eleven years. With my brother's situation, I need to be around him more. I want to spend more time enjoying life instead of playing for ten months.

Is there anything or anyone that can talk you out of it? I'm not talking about fans, but about your teammates and friends on and off Armani Milan. For instance, are you willing to reconsider in case you don't win the EuroLeague?
I don't think winning the EuroLeague will have anything to do with my decision. I'm in year eleven now as a professional, and this is the summer when I need to sit back and re-evaluate everything.

Five years ago, I was a basketball player. I didn't have a lot on my plate and I wasn't dealing with other things besides basketball. Now, it's about my brand, building up everything off the court once basketball is finished. There are certain things I can't be a part of when I'm here for ten months. I think the European seasons are too long for me.

There's still a chance to come back (to Europe) and if I did, I'd want to be in Milan. Possibly, coming over later is more likely if I do decide to come back. A full season is 100% not happening.

But that's not the priority and I'm not going to decide anytime soon. I want to sit back, relax and figure out what I want to do.

I guess that after Kyle Hines said he's contemplating retirement, losing another key player would be the last thing Ettore Messina would wish for. That's really a lot for someone to handle.
Kyle has more years than me. There isn't anything that he has left on his plate. His situation is a little different than mine. We all want to win and if this is my last year in Europe, I definitely want it to be a successful year and to go out on top.

If you were to go back to the States, where would you play?
I think I've got 40 more games left in the NBA for my pension. If I could get a solid role in an NBA team, of course, I would take it. Being a vet on a team is fine.

I will definitely be looking back to the Asian market and China. It's a shorter season and I could do what I want as far as basketball and business, playing six months a year.

If I retire today, financially I'm fine. I have everything set up for my future and my family. Who offers the most money doesn't matter to me anymore. It's really going to be about where I feel the best situation is going to be for my brand and what I want to do on and off the court.

I've sacrificed a lot for teams over the last four years. So, I have to be completely happy with the situation and if not, I'm just as happy being home with my family.

Have you started processing what to do after basketball is over? Any areas you're interested in investing in?
I currently have a real estate company. I have 22 properties right now. I'm also about to open a sports bar in Baltimore this summer and I've also invested in restaurants.

I have a youth basketball program for 5-17-year-olds. Me and Carmelo Anthony joined together and started it. I want to make that go to a bigger level and be more hands-on with that.

When I come home, it's business. As I get older, I have to multitask. It's all about my happiness at the end of the day.

Will you keep being involved in basketball in any capacity?
Honestly, I don't want to be. I'm in the middle because I've been playing basketball since I was five. I've never been on a family vacation and my whole life has been around sports.

Would I coach? Maybe. I think if I did, it would be NBA. I wouldn't want to be a head coach in college or anything like that. For sure, not Europe!

Once I'm done, I will still be around with the kids and my program. I'm going to enjoy life and try to run these businesses. It's not a priority for me to stick to basketball. You won't see me try to find a coaching job when I'm done. If it happens, it has to be something genuine.

When you came to Athens to play Olympiacos in February, you had a night out in the Athens Riviera. Have you started thinking about the things (pleasant experiences, moments of joy) you had to miss out on all those years in order to stay focused on basketball? Did you get to enjoy life as much as you wanted to?
That was my first time being out in Athens. I had never been outside the hotel before. A lot of people know how much I'm locked in on basketball. This is the first time I'm having a girlfriend with me in Europe.

We had permission to stay in Athens for two days after the game and we got the chance to just see the city. Last year, we didn't do anything because of COVID. That could have probably been my last time in Athens.

Getting older, that's one of the things that I tried my best to change - go eat dinner somewhere or go sightseeing. Athens is a beautiful place and I got the chance to experience it a little bit.

Which crowd will you miss the most when you're retired?
Last year was a bit difficult because we didn't have fans but this year they've embraced us a lot. Every city I've played in we've had good fans.

In my second year in Europe, with Budivelnyk in Ukraine, we didn't have a big fanbase, but when I played in France with Elan Chalon, we had the best fanbase in France. They really supported us.

I loved fans in Munich and Lokomotiv had the best fanbase in VTB and Russia. I kind of fell in love with how they all embraced me. I don't really have a favorite because everyone was different in a way and I played for the best fanbases in every country or league that I've been to.

This is the most fun I've had on the court and being around a good group of guys and taking everything into consideration with the city, the living and how they treat us, Milan is my favorite place. Realistically, this is one of the best places in Europe.

Which has been your most important takeaway from Europe?
Just being able to embrace all the different cultures, trying to be the best person on and off the court possible. I actually take pride in having been a player that didn't give issues or trouble in the locker room.

It's a pleasure having players say that they took something from me. And then, being able to play with guys like Kyle and Chacho, who I looked at before. I enjoy bringing different cultures together for one big purpose and just try to win as much as possible.

There's no bigger pressure than playing sports in Europe, whether it's soccer or basketball. Embracing pressure and cultures, I'm still having fun with basketball. Last year, I wasn't having fun because of COVID and the injuries I dealt with throughout the whole year. Mentally, it wasn't a big year for me, but this year I've been feeling well.

Will you be so active on Twitter once your career is over?
Probably not about basketball. I'll definitely be active, but it won't be about sports, for sure.

One of my biggest things this year was interacting with the fans a little bit less. A lot of them were used to saying things because I would say something back.

I had my Twitter page private for a while because I really didn't care about what people had to say. I wanted to focus on other things going on, just for peace of mind.

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Free throws this season

73%
10,7
Points made: 10,7
Accuracy: 73,4%
Place in standings: 15
Record max: 24
Record min: 1
Most made FTs: Shavon Shields