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The fighter in Marcin Gortat

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How boxing shaped Marcin Gortat (1:40)

Wizards center Marcin Gortat talks about growing up in Poland as a huge boxing fan and the kind of career he would have had if he had taken up the sport. (1:40)

LILLE, France -- Marcin Gortat assumed the perfect stance almost as soon as he emerged from the cradle. Hands up. Knees bent. Body poised.

Ready to rumble.

"Boxing was a part of my life for many years," the Washington Wizards center declares. "I started really early, going with my dad to many different boxing camps, doing different training and watching the best boxers in Poland back then -- and some of the best in the world.

"I was able to see Andrew Golota, Tomasz Adamek, Diablo Włodarczyk. A lot of boxers I used to watch and see them train. Back then, I didn't know who I was watching but after a lot of years, I realized they were future champs. So boxing was my life pretty much from day one."

Growing up in his native Poland, if Gortat had opted for the sweet science instead of basketball, he could have had few better tutors than his father, Janusz, a bronze medalist in the light heavyweight division at the 1972 and 1976 Olympic Games, whose opponents included future heavyweight champion of the world Leon Spinks.

Fighters of international renown -- such as Golota, Adamek, Włodarczyk -- were regular accomplices. Gortat and his elder brothers, Robert and Filip, would sometimes watch, sometimes spar and sometimes dream of following in the family business and going into the ring.

A heavyweight on the court, could Gortat have been a contender in the ring?

"First of all, you can't box with this kind of a nose," Marcin joked. "Two, I think I could be a good boxer. I have great genes from my dad. I have long arms. And at the end of the day, I believe I'm not the softest one out there, so I believe I could do some damage in the ring. You know, we could always say I could be a world champ, but you never know."

Janusz, now 66, remains the family's foremost pugilist. His prime came long before his basketball-playing son was born. Few souvenirs remain to illustrate his pomp. The Polish television archives of the Games of Munich and Montreal are incomplete. Curiosity led Gortat to a personal quest to locate lost footage of boxing matches won and lost, to bring the stories of his father into living color.

Eventually, he found film of four fights buried within the dust of a broadcasting library -- Dad playing Rocky in a show of their own.

"It was weird. Every day you see him walking up and down, limping on one leg. You see the old man moving slowly and complaining about health issues. Then you turn on the TV and you see a young man fighting, throwing jabs, punches, and it was just weird."

The Olympic medals are a living relic of what Janusz accomplished. Friends from school would come around to visit to see them glisten in their palms. It allowed Marcin to walk down the street with head held high. Filial pride.

But in their hometown of Lodz, he soon learned, fame was not a currency accepted as payment in the supermarket. Emerging from decades of Communist rule, Poland was a country still on a journey toward prosperity. Father and son had different philosophies on the values held dearest.

"He did his thing and I would do mine," Marcin said.

"You have to ask yourself the question, 'What's going to make you happy in life? What's going to make you secure in life?'

"Being on a podium with a gold medal, or a bronze medal like my dad, having that experience on the podium where the crowd is cheering for you, and clapping for you, with the applause -- at the end of the day, just because you won this medal doesn't mean you're going to get paid."

In the NBA, of course, the players get paid, and well.

"They don't get medals. But they get big checks. That automatically puts them in the situation where they can live good, secure their family and live a good life. They're always playing in front of good crowds.

"For me, making it to the NBA and staying for 10 years, I would say it's the same as my dad standing on the podium with a medal. Obviously, you can't hang it around your neck. But I'm pretty sure a lot of people would trade that medal for everything I have now, being in the league, having the contract I have and being successful."

He could, perhaps, get both. It is a long shot, but Poland has reached the elimination phase of EuroBasket 2015 in France, with Gortat as its fulcrum. If Poland can get past Spain in the round of 16 Sunday in Lille, it will have a shot at going to next year's Olympic Games in Rio.

Like father, like son.

The Poles have a solid young roster. Gortat -- averaging 11.8 points and a team-high 7.2 rebounds during his national team's 3-2 run in group play -- has an intriguing backup in Gonzaga's Przemek Karnowski, a potential NBA draftee next summer.

"[Gortat's] clearly the biggest presence on our team," Poland's American-born coach Mike Taylor confirms. "But he's adapted to our team, not the team adapting to him. That's been fantastic. He's given us great leadership off the floor. He's given us a great mentor. He's really locked into the team to help the young players like Karnowski."

"If I can be an inspiration, then so much the better," said Gortat, who played in the Polish and German leagues before joining the Orlando Magic eight years ago.

"They should dream. They should follow their dream, just as I followed my dream. I work hard, they have to do the same thing. I hate when people are sitting at home and saying: 'I can't do this or that. I can't go over there.' Yes you can. It's up to you."

Gortat is not the lone NBA player to come from Poland, but he is by far the most enduring. That brings a profile that is both a blessing and a curse. Quiet coffees or quick beers with family and friends have become nearly impossible in Lodz or elsewhere.

Walks down the street are occasions when he has learned to abruptly say no.

"People," he recounted, "will say at that point: 'Oh, you're the superstar. You're not as cool as everybody expected. That's not nice of you.' But you don't understand, you're the 10th person who approached me today and I'm sick of it."

But he will not walk away. His country means too much to the man known overseas as the Polish Hammer. There are multiple frustrations when he returns, at what he sees as a lack of progress. A nation with an unemployment rate of 13 percent and average monthly income of $1,030.

"I just believe that, if I go into politics, I'm not going there to get rich. I'm going there to change something. I don't think the people in politics right now are trying hard. There are still opportunities to do better."
Marcin Gortat

It bothers Gortat, even from afar, enough that he can see himself one day running for office.

"I'm constantly watching people back in Poland fighting," he says. "You have two political groups fighting each other constantly. My question is: 'Besides that fighting, can you do something for Poland and create a system that Polish people will be satisfied with and live a better life?' That's the main thing.

"I just believe that, if I go into politics, I'm not going there to get rich. I'm going there to change something. I don't think the people in politics right now are trying hard. There are still opportunities to do better. But it's just my voice, my opinion."

President Gortat, anyone?

"Give me five, six years more in the NBA, then I will arrive back with a game plan for Poland," he said.

"I would definitely start doing more charity work. I would start raising money for people who really need it. I would visit more organizations, foundations, more places where just the presence of the president would change a lot of different things. I would definitely be open with the people, meet with the people, create a system where, if you have a question, your question is going to be answered."

The time would have to be right, he adds.

"But I will have a lot of different plans if I become president."

Hands up. Ready for contact. That is fighting talk, indeed.