A lifetime in the basketball elite: portrait of Luis Scola

With just 51 seconds remaining in the Argentina-Australia quarter-final of the Tokyo Olympics, the Saitama arena brings time to a standstill in a remarkably intense moment. The match comes to a halt, as do the teammates, opponents, and referees: it’s the moment to bid farewell to Luis Alberto Scola Balvoa. At 40 years old, after an unprecedented participation in 5 Olympics, he’s saying goodbye to the national team.

(Aris Messinis – Pool/Getty Images)

In a country like Argentina, where sports is a religion but football takes precedence over all other disciplines, young Luis Scola quickly develops a passion for basketball. Starting off at the Ferro Carril Oeste club in Buenos Aires, he takes his early steps before moving at a young age to the team that propels him into the international basketball spotlight: Tau Vitoria, later renamed Baskonia.

Over nine years at the highest level, he consistently showcased his brilliant talent, played with loyalty, and embodied fair play values in the fiercely competitive Spanish league. In Vitoria, he secured the national title and played in three consecutive EuroLeague Final Fours, along with a European cup final series dating back to 2001 when Virtus Bologna, coached by another Fair Play ambassador, Ettore Messina, emerged victorious.

The definitive recognition comes in Athens in 2004. At the Olympics in Greece, his Argentina accomplishes a sensational feat by eliminating the American ‘dream team,’ winning the final against Italy, and hoisting the gold medal skyward.

In the climactic moment of the five-ring event, Luis Scola shoulders the team, scores 25 personal points, and displays to the world the leadership qualities that earned him the moniker ‘El General.

The Olympic victory was a unique situation,” explained Scola, looking back at that historic achievement. “Argentina had a generation of players that became strong, gritty, and peaked precisely in 2004.

In the national team, Scola exhibited the characteristics of combativeness that essentially allowed him to tread the most important basketball courts and gain recognition, particularly from his opponents. In 2016, as the culmination of an exceptional sporting journey, he was honored with the role of the Argentine flag bearer at the Rio de Janeiro Olympics.

Throughout his career, there have been many other successes, but the way he approached his professional life deserves great attention because, through behavior grounded in following the rules, he became a champion admired by all.

After seven years in the NBA, the most prestigious basketball league globally, he reevaluated his career by playing first in China and then in Italy. Two adventures that completed a trophy cabinet already rich in individual and collective achievements.

In Italy, he embarked on his new managerial path with Pallacanestro Varese, where he reinvented himself in a new role and now holds a managerial position, allowing him to pass on his vast wealth of experience to the younger generation.

(Rick Madonik/Toronto Star via Getty Images)

I am very happy to be here; receiving such an award is important, alongside many other champions,” commented the South American phenomenon on the stage of the XXVII Fair Play Menarini International Award, adding, “I feel very good in Italy. I arrived for a short player experience and then became fascinated by the country, deciding to stay with my family.

On November 4, 2023, before the EuroLeague match between Baskonia and Partizan Belgrade, the Basque club retired the jersey number 4 worn by Luis Scola for 7 years. A highly intense chapter in his life that allowed the Argentine player to participate in the NBA and capture the hearts of fans forever.

From now on, Luis Scola’s jersey will hang in the rafters of the Fernando Buesa Arena, a privilege reserved exclusively for players who made history.