As a 16-year old, Joel Freeland was a gangly English boy from Farnham, Surrey, who stacked shelves in Sainsbury’s and daydreamed about the special offers his future had in store. Unbeknown to him, less than a decade later, he would be signing a multi-million pound contract to play in the world’s most elite league of a sport he had never played.
Now, 25 years old and standing at 6ft 10in, Freeland is the new face of NBA’s Portland Trail Blazers, having signed a 3 year, £6M contract in the summer, beginning the latest chapter in his truly remarkable story, which saw Portland defeat the star studded LA Lakers, (boasting the likes of Kobe Bryant, Steve Nash, Dwight Howard and Pau Gasol), in the opening game of the season on Wednesday.
Freeland turned to basketball when urged to find a new hobby after breaking his leg playing football. Within a year, he represented England Under-18’s and was soon playing in Spain, home to the world’s second most prestigious basketball league.
In 2006, the youngster was drafted by Portland and became the highest ranked Brit in the history of the draft as the 30th overall pick, though the Blazers advised him to remain in Europe to develop his game and he swiftly transferred from Gran Canaria to one of Spain’s superior teams, Unicaja Malaga.
The London 2012 Olympics saw Freeland represent Great Britain, an experience he believes can only aid his development as a player. “It hasn’t been easy by any means, but I’m learning every day. The Olympic Games gave me a better insight into how it’s going to be.”
The rookie has settled quickly in Portland. “I love this city. It’s been great so far. I’m enjoying every minute of it.” Whilst others speculate about the dizzy heights he may reach, Freeland prevents his mind from travelling, keeping his feet firmly grounded. “I’ve been given the opportunity to play in the best league in the world and it’s something I’m going to take full advantage of.”
Portland’s new boy is under no illusions regarding the mountain he still has to climb. “It has been a little bit tough, because it’s a different game to what it is in Europe, but I knew it was going to take time. The speed of the game, the strength of the game, everything’s completely different, so that’s something I’m going to have to adjust to.”
Joel Freeland’s supermarket days feel like “a long time ago” and he will hope the only stacking up he does in the future will be of points and trophies. If this incredible fairytale goes to plan, the next aisle he trundles down may just be laid with red carpet.
Written by Dom Wallace
Sport 4 Thought