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BSN Exclusive: Nuggets GM Arturas Karnisovas opens up on what Basketball Without Borders means to him

Christian Clark Avatar
August 15, 2018

To watch the epic Magic-Bird duels that took place in the 1980s, Arturas Karnisovas needed to borrow a friend’s VHS player. NBA Finals games didn’t air until the wee hours of the morning in Lithuania, Karnisovas’ native country, so in order to see them, the aspiring professional hooper was forced to beg someone for their VHS player, hook it up inside his home and pop in a now-ancient looking tape.

Back then, developing any sort of connection to the league was difficult if you lived overseas — even if you were one of the most promising prospects in Europe. Nowadays, with the invention of the internet and the league’s efforts to grow the game abroad, it’s become far easier.

This week, Karnisovas, the Nuggets’ general manager, will help out at the NBA’s Basketball Without Borders Europe camp in Belgrade, Serbia. Top male and female players from across Europe will converge in the Balkan country’s capital city for four days starting Wednesday to compete against each other and learn from current and former NBA players.

The Nuggets will be well represented. Star center Nikola Jokic, who grew up in Sombor, is participating in the first Basketball Without Borders held in his home country. Nuggets assistant coach Ognjen Stojakovic and shooting guard Gary Harris are making the trip as well.

They’ll work alongside Kings general manager Vlade Divac and forwards Nemanja Bjelica and Bogdan Bogdanovic, all of whom are Serbian, Hornets big man Frank Kaminsky, Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich and Nets assistant coach Jacques Vaughn.

“Hosting Basketball Without Borders in Belgrade is symbolic for the NBA since the first BWB camp brought together 50 young men from Eastern Europe more than 15 years ago,” NBA senior vice president for international basketball operations Kim Bohuny said. “The region has a deep connection to and history with the sport of basketball, and the level of talent in the region and throughout Europe is at an all-time high. We look forward to providing the top young players on the continent with an opportunity to learn from and compete against one another.”

This week’s event marks the 17th Basketball Without Borders Europe. The first-ever Basketball Without Borders took place in Europe in July 2001. Vlade Divac (Serbia), Toni Kukoc (Croatia) and several of their teammates from the Yugoslav national team worked with 50 children from Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Slovenia and Serbia at the inaugural event.

Karnisovas has been involved with putting on Basketball Without Borders camps for well over a decade. He worked in the NBA league office from 2004-08. His primary focus then was international basketball, and running Basketball Without Borders camps on different continents across the world was one of his biggest responsibilities.

“It was my baby,” he said. “When I started working for the league and running those camps, it was amazing to see how thankful the kids were to interact with NBA players. That was rewarding to watch it every day.”

The mark international players make in today’s NBA only continues to grow. Less than two weeks after the Dallas Mavericks drafted Slovenian wunderkind Luka Doncic third overall in June, the Nuggets expressed their desire to make Jokic their franchise player by giving him a max contract.

The next Doncic or Jokic could be in attendance at Basketball Without Borders this week. Gone are the days of the NBA as some faraway league accessible only on video tape.

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