Khimki Moscow Region playmaker Chris Kramer has been on a decade-long journey to reach the Turkish Airlines EuroLeague. From the NBA Development League through six years in Germany and two in Lithuania, he is finally showcasing his skills among Europe's elite this season.
A EuroLeague rookie at 31 years of age, Kramer completed his recovery from a severe knee injury sustained in the 7DAYS EuroCup Quarterfinals last season when he wore the Rytas Vilnius uniform. He might not have been ready to make his EuroLeague debut until Round 7 of this season, but arriving at Khimki reunited Kramer with his former coach Rimas Kurtinaitis, who was willing to wait for the toughness and leadership skills he is getting from the veteran guard.
Leadership, on and off the floor, is not an easy trait to acquire, but Kramer never seemed to lack it thanks in part to taking an early route in his development that not many European pros would be familiar with. Kramer was a highly talented multi-sport athlete in high school. He played basketball, American football and baseball until the age of 18 at Huntington North High School in the small town of Huntington, Indiana. He was so good at the three sports that he had scouts of Major League Baseball teams come and watch him play and he had colleges send him letters with offers to play American football for them.
"I think there are definitely pros…playing three sports. Staying competitive, using different muscles in each of the different sports and just leading the teams in different ways."
"It would depend on who you'd asked if I was a better basketball or better football player," Kramer said a decade later during an accomplished career in basketball, which has always been his first love.
"I started playing basketball at a really young age", Kramer recalled. "I was 3-4 years old, my father played at that point in a recreational league. I would go on the court during timeouts or halftimes or after the game. I couldn't get the ball to the rim, but I tried. That's how I got introduced to the game, and as I got older, I fell in love with the game."
As he was growing up, Kramer took on other sports and at each played key positions. He was a shortstop in baseball, probably the most important position on the field, and played just about anything in American football, but excelled as a quarterback on offense and a safety on defense. Those positions in baseball and American football translate to – in basketball — playing point guard.
"I think there are definitely pros, in my case, playing three sports", Kramer explained. "Staying competitive, using different muscles in each of the different sports and just leading the teams in different ways. Leading the team in football is different from baseball and different from basketball. So all of the things helped me."
Kramer made his decision in his junior year in high school that he would pursue basketball, but he continued playing other sports. He is aware, however, that in Europe players specialize long before turning 18 years old.
American football taught me a lot of ways not everybody is the same. You can't talk to each person the same way.
"I think you can make a case either way and it is definitely up to the individual," he said when asked if he thinks one path is better than the other, admitting: "On the flip side, could I have spent more time working on my game and all of that stuff? Yes."
Kramer made sure he used his three-sport involvement to learn invaluable lessons he later had a chance to apply in his professional basketball career, and beyond.
"All the sports taught me so much about life in general", Kramer said.
There are obvious parallels between playing point guard in basketball and playing quarterback or being a defensive player, like a safety, in football. When it comes to athletic skills transferrable between the sports, Kramer has one in mind:
"I think anticipation is a big one, for sure. Defensively and offensively. Reading plays, [knowing] if you have an opportunity to steal the ball," Kramer explained. He has been known for playing high-level defense his entire basketball career, while also possessing plenty of offensive talent that helped him achieve a triple-double while playing a Champions League game for EWE Baskets Oldenburg in 2017.
However, there are many other intangibles equally, if not more important, to the leadership that easily translates on the basketball court for Kramer. "Being that court general offensively and defensively. Knowing what everybody is supposed to do, kind of get everybody in position on offense, and defensively, see what the other team is running and know and be able to let everyone around you know what is going on."
"I still wake up every day eager to play this game."
Kramer went on to explain a bit further:
"Baseball is probably the hardest to lead your team in a certain way because you can't directly have an impact on every play. You don't have an impact consistently every game, that's why your team togetherness can really push you one way or the other.
"In football, being the leader on offense and on defense, you definitely have your hand in every play. You can hold guys accountable. American football taught me a lot of ways not everybody is the same. You can't talk to each person the same way. Some guys you can yell at, some guys you have to have just a conversation or respond better. Other guys, you got to lay into them and let them know and they'll respond to that criticism. Flip the switch and help in a positive way."
It might have been more than a decade since Kramer last played baseball and American football competitively, but it is easy to see why he never had any regrets of spending time playing those sports when others might have chosen differently and focused only on basketball.
"I think, too, when you do specialize at a young age, you can play so many games and a lot of guys can burn out and get to a point when it is not fun anymore," Kramer concluded. "I am very fortunate that at this age I am still not burned out. I still wake up every day eager to play this game."