Just days after Mario Hezonja signed a deal to join Athens multi-sport club Panathinaikos, he got the surprise of his life.
The former Trail Blazers wing arrived in Greece on his birthday and Panathinaikos fans showed out. Hundreds, if not thousands, of Greens fans waited for his arrival at the airport despite the country being on lockdown due to COVID.
In the video, Panathinaikos fans chanted “happy birthday Mario,” as the basketball star raised his fist in the air and celebrated.
Hezonja was “speechless,” as he said in a post on Twitter.
The 26-year-old Croatian spent the 2019-20 season in Portland, averaging 4.8 points and 3.5 rebounds in 53 games.
In November 2020, Hezonja was part of a three-team trade that sent center Enes Kanter back to Portland. As part of that deal, Hezonja landed with the Grizzlies. He was waived by Memphis on Dec. 11, 2020.
After five years of playing in the NBA, Hezonja signed with Panathinaikos for the remainder of the 2020-21 season. Hezonja is set to wear the No. 11, a jersey number worn by Croatian sensation Stojko Vrankovic who played for the Greens from 1992-96.
“They are my family,” Hezonja told Eurohoops. “I was looking forward to coming and joining this team. I wanted it for years and it finally happened. It is a dream come true. It’s like family. When I won the Euroleague in the juniors, Panathinaikos won its own in Barcelona and I celebrated with the fans.
“For me, there was only Panathinaikos. Panathinaikos is like a religion here. They have earned this. They have won everything and for me, Panathinaikos’ fans are the best in the world. I am grateful for their love. I was in many teams but they were my most fanatical supporters.”
The Trail Blazers may have the best fans in the NBA, but that overseas love just hits different. We wish you all the best, Super Mario!