On Saturday night, the Washington Wizards and center Marcin Gortat will host their fifth annual Polish Heritage Night in D.C. The game against the Brooklyn Nets is certainly important, but the festivities shortly after the matchup’s conclusion is sure to be a fan favorite, yet again. For the soon to be 34-year old Gortat, he wants to continue to make the most out of the event to show the United States what Polish culture is all about as well as to bring the cohort of Polish natives in the area together for a good time.
There are still plenty of tickets available here, but Gortat has done his part to spread the word. Thanks to the power of social media, a quick post on Instagram helped sell 600 tickets. He hopes to have 800 to 1,000 Polish fans on hand to take part in the fun on Saturday night. Gortat is personally flying in around 25 people, many of which are winners of his infamous summer camps, to D.C. for the game. In his fifth season with the Wizards, Gortat is grateful to the team that traded for him to allow him this kind of platform.
“It won’t be possible if not for Washington,” Gortat said in a 1-on-1 interview with Hoop District on Friday. “Wizards definitely helped and the organization was great about that. We are able to do such a big Polish Heritage Night and event only because of Wizards. Otherwise, it would be impossible for us to do it.”
Gortat is very proud that he is one of a few international players in the NBA, along with the likes of his former mentor Hedo Türkoğlu of Turkey and current teammate Tomas Satoransky of Czech Republic, to use his stage as a player to share his cause.
“It’s a great opportunity, NBA provides that platform for us and you got to be dumb not to use it,” Gortat evaluated. “You got to continue to use this in any possible way and that’s what we have been doing the past five years here in Washington and then another year or two in Phoenix where we created that kind of a Polish night. It’s a great opportunity for us to show the NBA who we are as a country and how great we are.”
The event will be around an hour in length following the Nets game where Gortat will introduce distinguished guests, Polish president Andrzej Duda will make a few remarks via video, the “most pretty cheerleader team from Poland” will perform, and lots of time for signing autographs and taking pictures with kids. “The hour is going to go by so quick,” Gortat predicted.
As a small spoiler, some of Gortat’s special guests that he has arranged for include Polish Ambassador to the United States Piotr Wilczek, actress Alicja Bachleda-Curuś, as well as two Polish military veterans that fought in Afghanistan.
Gortat’s hopes are two-fold: sharing Poland’s culture with the United States and celebrating the Polish ways with his country’s men and women. In order to appreciate that, one must truly understand the different roots of Polish culture and not misconceptions that are at times incorrectly spread.
“We went through a hell, obviously,” Gortat began passionately. “We were invaded during the second world war, we were invaded by the Germans, obviously a lot of people died. The most important thing, they were not Polish death camps, they were German Nazi death camps in Poland. They were not made by Poland, a lot of people make the mistake saying that there were Polish death camps. We did not create freaking camps to kill people, Germans did that so that is very important.”
Another big part of Polish culture, which I personally did not know about, was how seriously they take their cuisine. “We have great food in our country,” Gortat shared. “We are a very healthy food eating country. Our farmers are probably, if not the best, then top three best farmers in Europe.”
Thirdly, Poland is a proudful nation that has been a strong ally with the United States since World War 2, but their relationship spans even longer when Polish-Lithuanian military leader and engineer Tadeusz Kościuszko helped George Washington during the American Revolutionary War.
“We have a lot of great generals,” Gortat reminisced. “Kościuszko helped support and defend Philadelphia back in the day during the [Revolutionary] War. He was defending Philadelphia and as a whole city, he created the defense. Now, there is a big statue of Kościuszko in front of the White House. There’s a lot of important people that bonded together with Americans to become allies.”
During a time of turmoil and potential violence in Eastern Europe, Gortat hopes that these past relations will not be forgotten should Poland have a time of need in the future.
“There is a big possibility of Russia invading our country so we as Poland are hoping that America will protect us just in case Russia decides to invade us,” Gortat said on a serious note. “The worst part is the whole war zone will be Poland, but at least we will have Americans who will protect us. At this point, we already have about five thousand American troops staying in Poland with a lot of equipment: tanks and artillery.”
For Americans who are much more insulated from international disputes and differences, Gortat helped paint the picture of what the current state is in Poland with broiling tensions.
“It’s not like we are going to sleep and we can’t sleep,” Gortat explained. “It’s not like that, but once in a while, there is that time with what Russia is doing in Ukraine and Kremlin and all this stuff where people get scared, people are afraid. There is a little fear in our eyes, but at the end of the day, we are a very proud country, very historical country with a lot of culture and a lot of character by fighting through a lot of hell so I am quite sure we will be able to handle that.”
Gortat summarized that he wants to create a two-way street between the United States and Poland through the love of basketball during his event on Saturday. That is, simply, an admirable thing.
“I want to bring Polish people together, that is the main thing,” Gortat said. “Bringing a lot of people together to our place. I want to give a great game to the fans. I hope they are going to be proud of me being the only Polish guy in the NBA representing our country and carrying the responsibility for 38 million people. We are going to try and show the culture, how we interact, how much fun we have, how passionate we are about the game of basketball. The way people will show up with scarves and hats and flags. Trust me, it’s going to be unbelievable. Americans usually don’t do that. We have crazy fans that do that and that’s what we are going to have on Saturday and it’s going to be great.”
Despite the event, wanting to play well for his hundreds of fans in the stands, and recent realistic comments about his career nearing its end, Gortat, a true professional of the game, knows that there is one goal bigger than the rest.
“Hopefully we get a win,” Gortat finished. “That’s the most important thing.”
If you would like to donate to Gortat’s own foundation, please visit mg13.com.pl.