Lundberg: ''I'm just happy being an ambassador for Danish basketball''
PHOENIX (USA) - Gabriel Lundberg recently completed a dream of playing in the NBA and hopes his achievement will be a source of inspiration for his beloved Denmark.
The 27-year-old became the first Danish-born player to compete in the league after signing a two-way contract with the Phoenix Suns and Lundberg relished the added responsibility of representing his country.
"It meant the world to me. History was made," Lundberg told fiba.basketball. "Obviously knowing the magnitude of me being over here as the first Danish player to do it, there was huge pressure in which I really like. It's how I wanted it to be.
"Essentially, it's the same thing with the national team. If any of us get to a certain point in our career with a lot of success, people automatically pay more attention. Me being the first, that was my goal, I'm super proud. But I'm just happy to be able to be an ambassador for Danish basketball. When they see me play, they see my last name with my nationality.
"Hopefully we can get a couple more in the future. Now we have one, everything will change back home in how basketball is perceived. People will think 'Iffe has done it, I can maybe do it as well' - that's one of the things I enjoy the most is being able to give other people that feeling that they can do it as well.
"It doesn't even matter if they are able to achieve it or not, but just for them to have that drive - because just believing will push you that extra 5, 10 percent."
Lundberg began playing basketball at a young age after being encouraged to take up the sport by his older brother. The first years of his professional career were spent in Denmark before branching out to Spain with spells at Manresa and Iberostar Tenerife - winning the FIBA Intercontinental Cup title in 2020.
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He regards a move to Poland to play under Zan Tabak as the 'best decision I've made basketball-wise' and also played for CSKA Moscow before earning his shot in the NBA. An incredible personal achievement with a journey that aspiring young players can look up to.
"I hope so," Lundberg declared. "That's always been one of my biggest goals in basketball. Being able to inspire other people, mainly the next couple of generations. Not only in basketball, but to try to inspire as many people as possible in Denmark.
"We as a country are really talented in a lot of the top sports. Because of the unusual mentality that I have that’s quite un-Danish, I hope to see more people take that and believe in themselves. Dare to go and take it. I hope with me doing what I’m doing , that it will reach out to as many people as possible.”
Less than five years ago, Lundberg was playing in Yerevan - the Armenian capital - as Denmark began their campaign in the FIBA EuroBasket 2021 Pre-Qualifiers. The Copenhagen native averaged 22.1 points per game across 11 games in the competition with unwavering dedication to the national team.
"For those people who know me, being able to represent my country means a lot to me. That's why I've continued to do it for so many years. For any athlete who gets to represent their country in any sport, they should treat it as an unbelievable honour because I think it is."
Denmark would go on to advance to the FIBA EuroBasket Qualifiers and produced some memorable results with victories over both Lithuania and Czech Republic inside three days in the November window, in 2020.
Lundberg exploded for a combined 66 points across the two games as Denmark captured the attention of Europe with their performances putting them on the cusp of a place at EuroBasket.
“National team wise, given the magnitude of everything, those were probably my best games. It was the biggest games that we played. I would put them at the top, for sure.
“The last couple of windows that I played [with Denmark] are the more memorable ones because we were so close to ultimately achieving our goals and our dream of playing at EuroBasket.”
"I REMEMBER EVERYTHING LIKE IT WAS YESTERDAY. I WATCHED THE WHOLE GAME SCREAMING AT THE TELEVISION - IT WAS TOUGH TO WATCH."
In the absence of Lundberg for the final window, that dream would ultimately be dashed by the finest of margins - the outstretched fingertips of Mantas Kalnietis, to be precise. The attempted game-winner from Adama Darboe was blocked by the now retired Lithuanian guard as Denmark suffered an agonizing 77-76 loss in the Vilnius bubble.
True heartbreak. So much so, that it is still a sore point of conversation over a year on from the event.
"I remember everything like it was yesterday," said Lundberg. "I watched the whole game sitting on my couch in Moscow, screaming at the television - it was tough to watch. I'm super proud of how my guys fought. It came down to one possession - that's why it's so tough to talk about."
It only serves as added motivation having come so close, but Denmark will be desperate not to spurn further opportunities as they currently compete in the FIBA EuroBasket 2025 Pre-Qualifiers as the cycle begins again.
You have to go back to 1955 for Denmark’s last appearance at EuroBasket with their only wins in the competition coming in the 1951 edition when they finished with a 3-7 record. And, that is something that Lundberg and his compatriots hope to change.
"It's a huge goal for me," he said of the desire to compete at a major international tournament. "It has got more difficult and I hope I will be able to participate. We're on the right track and I definitely think we'll have another shot and get there soon.
"We have to keep going and fighting forward. If we can take anything from those windows, I think the rest of the basketball world started to respect us a lot more and open their eyes to Danish basketball. We have guys that can play and some really good talents in the upcoming generations."
Lundberg remains part of the Phoenix Suns team, but cannot compete in the playoffs games due to the nature of his two-way contract. He credits his wife - former Danish national team player Camilla Frommelt - for playing a major role in his journey, which Lundberg now hopes resides around a prolonged stay in the NBA.
"I probably wouldn't be here where I am today if it wasn't for my wife. She just gets me and allows me to be who I am and fully invest in this. It's rare to have someone support you 100 percent everyday.
"I want to establish and solidify myself as an NBA player. I hope I will get a contract extension. I’m just happy to be here. I like it here and my family really likes it here.”
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And, of course, wherever Lundberg ends up, he will continue to fly the flag for Danish basketball.