PHOENIX — When tear gas was released into the arena, six M80’s were thrown at the opposing team’s bench and a bottle of human excrement was tossed onto the court in Greece during Josh Childress’ last game with Olympiakos, it became clear that the 6-foot-8 swingman belonged back in the NBA.
Childress got his wish Wednesday, as the Phoenix Suns completed a sign-and-trade with the Atlanta Hawks, sending a 2012 second-round pick to Atlanta for the Stanford product, who will be making $33 million over the next five seasons.
“I enjoyed my time in Greece, it was a great experience, but I’m just happy to be back,” Childress said in a Wednesday press conference. “Definitely excited about the chance to be back and I’m definitely excited to be a part of a good organization. Phoenix is a great place, great fans, great team and I’m just excited for the challenge.”
The swingman returns to the NBA after a two-year hiatus during which he shined for Olympiakos of Greece, averaging over 15 points in 51 games.
After playing his first four seasons with the Hawks, the team that drafted him sixth overall in 2004, Childress became a trend-setter, becoming the first high-profile player to willingly leave the NBA for a more lucrative contract overseas.
He posted solid numbers in four years with the Hawks — 11.1 points, 5.6 rebounds on 52.2 percent shooting — but garnering the largest contract in Euroleague history (three years around $20 million) proved to be more attractive to Childress.
Although he was adamant that he didn’t regret his decision to leave the NBA, Childress quickly found out that the lucrative contract didn’t mean as much to him as he thought it might.
“I had a great contract over there but … It might sound cliché, but money can’t buy happiness,” he said. “I realized that this past year being away from my family. I wasn’t myself all the time. I just wasn’t as happy.”
He had a great relationship with his teammates, spoke positively about the level of play in the Euroleague and didn’t struggle too mightily to pick up the culture, but Childress missed his family along with playing in the NBA. So when he was given the opportunity to return to the West Coast to play with Steve Nash and company, there was no way Childress could turn it down.
“I think it was the right time because it was a great, great opportunity,” Childress said. “Getting to a championship-contending team who definitely has room to grow where I can come in and have a role with the team, that’s definitely something that I was excited about when I heard of the opportunity.”
“Playing with great players like Steve Nash, Grant Hill and Jason Richardson, truly good players but also good teammates,” he added, “that’s what excites me most.”
Although his game didn’t change much from a physical standpoint, Childress said that he gained a ton of knowledge playing overseas. He described the European game as very strategic, and compared it to chess. That slow and methodical nature turned Childress into much more of a thinking player, which is something head coach Alvin Gentry and the Suns were looking for.
“I think my game developed a lot mentally,” he said. “I play a thinking game more, my decision making has gotten a lot better and that’s something that the coaches here are pleased with and want me to kind of bring to the table.”
Known as a high-character guy around the league, Childress is a great fit with the chemistry-laden Suns and should be able to provide a lot of minutes, whether it’s off the bench or in a starting role.
He admitted that it may take him some time to get re-acclimated to the NBA style of play, but with his athleticism Childress should be out and running, playing Phoenix Suns style of basketball in no time.
“Obviously there are some game tempo differences, there are some talent level differences but at the same time basketball is basketball,” Childress said.
Childress’ last game in Europe
There is no question that the European culture is completely different than in America, but Childress’ description of what happened during his last game with Olmpiakos is unbelievable. Here’s how he described the craziest thing that happened to him in Europe:
So we go out to the floor and everybody’s coughing and their eyes are burning. Come to find out that the police had to shoot tear gas in the gym because the fans were so rowdy. So we’re on the floor, everybody’s hurting, their throat and everything so we had to go into the locker room for 20 minutes and wait for the arena to clear out a little bit. We get back out on the floor and we play the first half, five minutes into the second half a group of our fans, I’d probably say about six M80s, they kind of combined them into one and threw them at our rival team’s bench.
Their whole team was at halfcourt to kind of huddle up together and kind of protect each other and as soon as that happened they just started pelting them with everything you can think of. I mean, chunks of marble, they broke toilets in the arena. One guy I know said he got hit with a bottle of urine and crap. It’s just unbelievable, man. It was unbelievable. That was the last game, so you can kind of imagine.
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