In the summer of 2012, Marcin Gortat talked to a group of Polish soldiers who were preparing to go to Afghanistan as part of the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force. The Wizards’ big man — then a part of the Phoenix Suns organization — has used his MG13 Foundation in part to support the children of Polish military families, and he told the soldiers he met that day that he would stay in touch.
“We had an opportunity to talk about everything, and I said that one day I’m gonna invite you guys to the States to watch a game,” Gortat said on Tuesday night.
About a year later, a member of the Polish military contingent in Afghanistan — Mirosław Łucki, who Gortat believes was part of the group he met — died from injuries suffered in an explosion in Afghanistan.
“Any such tragedy — the death of a soldier — touches us in a special way, because it creates a void, which in this family the soldier cannot fill,” a Polish Ministry of National Defense official said at a ceremony in Poland honoring Łucki, according to a translation on the Ministry’s Web site.
Exactly six months after Łucki’s death, his wife and 8-year-old son Konrad were in Washington as guests of Gortat. With the financial assistance of Gortat and his foundation, they stayed in an Arlington hotel for a week during Konrad’s winter break, touring Washington’s museums, spending a day in New York City and watching two Wizards home games — wins over the Pelicans and Magic — from 100-level seats. Gortat planned to bring Konrad to Wednesday’s practice at Verizon Center and to lead him on a behind-the-scenes tour of the facility; he beckoned Konrad onto the court several times before Tuesday night’s game, autographing the boy’s Wizards hat and smiling when Konrad dribbled a basketball along the baseline.
“Obviously because of the accident, because of the situation, we decide to bring the mother with the son,” Gortat said before the game. “And it’s sad, because the kid, he looks like a really nice kid but you can see he’s really missing activity with a father, where you go and play basketball, where you go and play different sports. … But this is what the soldiers do for us, and unfortunately some people don’t come back. So we decide to come out with the idea to bring him here to the States.”
Gortat, who has served as the Wizards’ spokesman for the franchise’s Courage Caps program, has visited Polish troops in Afghanistan. He played basketball scrimmages in Bagram and Ghazni during his trip, and has said he wants to return for a second visit. Gortat said Tuesday that he will continue to offer camps for children of Polish military members, and that he anticipates continuing to assist Konrad and his mother.
“We always stay in touch,” he said. “We know a lot of soldiers and a lot of military families; we’re in touch with them all the time.”
As for Konrad, he doesn’t speak English, but through an interpreter he said that Gortat was his favorite player on the Wizards.
“He’s great,” the youngster said. “He’s big.”