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Birth of child sends Motiejunas on whirlwind trip of emotions
TEL AVIV (FIBA EuroBasket 2017) - One could only imagine the whirlwind of emotions that Donatas Motiejunas went through the final days leading up to the FIBA EuroBasket 2017. There was the pure elation of becoming a father for the first time mixed with witnessing the sheer devastation of a natural disaster in his adopted home city to being unable to return to his teammates with the goal of making history.
Welcome to Donatas Motiejunas' world in the past week.
First, the good news: Motiejunas was on hand in Houston to see his girlfriend give birth to a baby boy.
Donatas Motiejūnas became dad - he has a son!— Jaunius (@JauniusSarapas) August 30, 2017
"He's healthy. He's long, so he's probably going to be tall. We're all just happy," Motiejunas told fiba.basketball after Lithuania's first game in Tel Aviv, a 79-77 loss to Georgia in Group B. "Me and my teammates all have a group chat and everyone was super hyped about it. I sent some pictures. Everyone was happy and wished me the best."
Just a couple of days ago, though, Tel Aviv must have seemed like half a world away for Motiejunas. The 26-year-old Lithuanian center was granted clearance from his coach Dainius Adomaitis to head to the United States following the team's exhibition game against Spain on August 25 to be on hand for his child's birth in Houston.
"Coach has two daughters so he completely understood and let me go," Motiejunas said. "He understands that this is once or twice in a lifetime and I really appreciate it. He really gave me an opportunity to go and see my son."
August 25, however, was also the day that Hurricane Harvey made landfall initially in Corpus Christi, Texas, located about 217 miles from Houston in southern Texas along the Gulf of Mexico. Harvey rocked Houston shortly thereafter and wreaked havoc on the fourth largest city in the United States, which also has been Motiejunas' residence for the past four years, as he played for the Houston Rockets from 2012 to 2016.
The images of devastating flooding are still being broadcast around the world. But those images pale in comparison to the true magnitude of the catastrophe.
"The pictures are not even close to what's going on. You can see some pictures of some places being flooded but when you're actually there and you see trucks under water and stuff like that it's shocking," Motiejunas says. "There are stoplights and water reaches to the top of them - like four or five meters (13 to 16 feet) of water, some places even more. It's shocking and it's really affecting a lot of people. It's a real tragedy what happened there."
"The pictures are not even close to what's going on. You can see some pictures of some places being flooded but when you're actually there and you see trucks under water and stuff like that it's shocking."
Given his links to the area, it is understandable Motiejunas is taking it more personal than most.
"I send my prayers to all my friends who live there and it means a lot for me to have lived in that city for four years. I have a lot of fans and a lot of people who are close to me," Motiejunas said. "The community of Houston has really stuck together in this tough period. It just really shows that in a time of need, everybody gets together and helps each other."
Motiejunas also looked to support and help his adopted home, as he called out for assistance on his social media channels on Facebook and Twitter.
All the while, Motiejunas had his Lithuania teammates on his mind as the team was preparing to head to Tel Aviv and start their journey for their third straight FIBA EuroBasket podium finish and hopefully their fourth European title.
Flights still operating at limited capacity today. If you have questions about a flight, contact your carrier. IB and OB roads are clear.— Houston Bush Airport (@iah) August 31, 2017
But the flooding forced Houston's George Bush Intercontinental Airport to shut down from August 26 and it is still only operating at limited capacity as of September 1. That left Motiejunas scrambling for another way to get to Tel Aviv, where he was originally due to arrive on Wednesday - one day before Lithuania's opener against Georgia.
In the days before the game, Lithuania team staff in Israel could not definitively answer journalists' questions about when the big man would arrive in Tel Aviv. But there was strong support for Motiejunas from his teammates.
Mindaugas Kuzminskas and the rest of the Lithuanian players have been very supportive of Donatas Motiejunas during his ordeal.
"For everyone, family is the number one thing. Something like that happens only once in your lifetime. I am with him and hopefully he can come back with good emotions and he will help our team even more," said Mindaugas Kuzminskas, himself an NBA player living in the United States after just finishing his first season with the New York Knicks. "I think it's better to go there and see the city than to be here and worry about his family. We should understand him and his situation."
As Motiejunas recounts his last few days in the catacombs of Tel Aviv Arena, players from other teams greet him with Italy's Daniel Hackett giving him a congratulatory handshake and reporting of the birth of his own child last fall with the promise of catching up later. And seconds later, Motiejunas' former Houston Rockets teammate Omri Casspi of Israel gives him a quick hug on his way out to enter the court.
Re-focused on the details about his journey to Tel Aviv, Motiejunas continued: "It was really a hustle to get out of the city. I flew out of Dallas because that was pretty much the only flight I could catch and get here on time. The whole time I was updating coach and we were on the same page. I did my best to come here as soon as possible."
A four-hour drive from Houston to Dallas was followed by a flight to Frankfurt, Germany and then a final flight to Tel Aviv. Motiejunas ended up arriving at the arena just under two hours before the start of the game against Georgia, accompanied in a extra shuttle with Lithuania Basketball Federation General Secretary, Mindaugas Spokas.
Donatas Motiejunas on the court! 4 hours ago he landed in Tel Aviv airport after the flight Dallas-Frankfurt-Tel Aviv. Where amazing happens— Donatas Urbonas (@Urbodo) August 31, 2017
Motiejunas ended up playing nearly 13 minutes in the defeat, picking up four points on 2-of-2 shots, 1 assist and 1 steal.
"It was a tough loss and we are really upset about it, but we cannot focus on it," he said.
Sure, the past few days has seen his emotions be pulled in every which direction, but Motiejunas was back in basketball mode and is ready to pay back his Lithuania team for their support.