Alba Berlin point guard Peyton Siva has been on quite the journey to become one of the most established players in Euroleague basketball. From having a difficult childhood growing up in Seattle, where his friends and family were surrounded by gangs and drugs, Siva chose basketball as his route out of adversity. The 30-year-old baller had decorated stints in college with Louisville and as a pro in the NBA, before heading to Europe and starting a new life with his family in Berlin.
But he’s not just got an inspirational story off the court. On it, he’s a pioneering figure who has helped shape the EuroLeague into one of the most exciting sporting divisions in the world. Having balled out with Alba Berlin for six years and winning the German Basketball Bundesliga title in 2020, Siva has been playing in one of Europe’s best teams during an era where basketball has continued to go from strength to strength – with millions both playing and watching the sport across the continent.
Europe’s influence is now being felt stateside, too. The likes of Rudy Gober, Nikola Jokic and Luka Doncic have made big impacts in Europe before dominating the NBA. The division most helping to build the next generation of hoopers from outside America is now undoubtedly the EuroLeague – which has become one of the most tactically forward-thinking and fervently-supported leagues in the world.
To find out more about why the EuroLeague is becoming such an exciting competition, COMPLEX caught up with Peyton to talk through his rise up from college basketball, making a pioneering move from the US to Europe, and what makes the EuroLeague truly unmissable.
COMPLEX: I want to take it back to the beginning for you, before you got into basketball. It’s been well-documented you’ve overcome a lot of adversity in life to make it as a pro baller. How important was basketball in getting you on the right path?
Peyton Siva: I played baseball, football and basketball growing up – but football was my main sport until I hurt myself playing. Then, I just stuck with basketball, and I ended up getting a scholarship for college. Basketball was hugely important for me in terms of getting me on the right path. I had a lot of friends in difficult circumstances growing up in Seattle, so adversity was just something I got used to in the environment I grew up in.
I know that whatever I’m dealing with on the basketball court isn’t worthy of comparing to the things that people are dealing with in the real world – and I know I’m blessed to be playing a game that I love for a living.
You graduated from Seattle before joining the NBA, then moved on to Serie A before moving to Alba. What appealed to you most about making the move to Berlin when you first arrived over from the US?
I just wanted to experience life in a different culture and league to the one I was used to – and I was lucky enough to be offered the opportunity to in Serie A. After I spent some time there, I got the chance to play for Alba and I was really excited about moving to Berlin.
I think there’s a lot of things me and my family liked about it as a place – culturally, it’s just so different to anywhere in the US. Going out and about – in non-Covid times – to the restaurants, the parks. And the cafes of the city are all really unique compared to anywhere else in the world. It’s actually a really chill city for a family to live in. Whether it’s going to the zoo or the cinemas here, it’s been a really great experience for me and my family here so far. I’m meeting great people here and have got to travel the world in the process, so it’s been a dream so far.
How did college basketball prepare you for the EuroLeague?
I always thought I was one of the best players coming out of the NCAA and that I can play with anyone. I thought that I played well with the Detroit Pistons, but they changed management and then things changed. When I came to Italy from the USA, I noticed I aligned to the European way of thinking about the game.
After Serie A, in my first season with Alba Berlin, I learned that you have to mentally stay ready. I’m happy in how I have been able to bounce back. I think now six years in, I have shown what I am really made of. But I know that I still have to work hard and continue to get better. As a basketball player, you always want to be the best.
How different is the league now compared to when you first joined?
The style is completely different. In the EuroLeague the game is more tactical, it goes up and down more, the game is more athletic. There are reasons why the NBA is the NBA and the dream destination of every basketball player. But the EuroLeague is the second best league in the world and has also earned respect in the USA. The best in Europe can compete with some teams in the NBA, for sure.
How have you enjoyed living in the city with your family during the pandemic?
My family and I are great. We just been keeping to ourselves and following the guidelines put in place to try and keep us safe. We came back to the States right when the pandemic hit worldwide and everything shut down. But I like it in Berlin, I like the city, the fans, the management and the coach. I’m really enjoying my time here.
What are your interests outside of the game? Are you into gaming, fashion or anything else?
Just spending time with my family and watching Netflix with my kids, to be honest. A few of my teammates might be more interested in the clubbing side of things here in Berlin when nightlife starts back up again, but for me, I’m all about time with my loved ones. On the fashion side of things, I’m definitely more of a laid back, tracksuit sort of guy. I think lockdown has made me even more that way, to be honest!
How would you try and convince people who don’t watch Euroleague basketball to start watching it?
If you’re into watching great team sports, with lots of tactical decision making and high IQ plays rather than just out and out physical match-ups, watch the EuroLeague. There’s a lot more cohesion in terms of how teams operate together, and the style is so much more free-flowing.
Alba basketball is super fluid – we all share the ball and have trust in each other. We all strive to keep working hard and continuing to get better.
How much do you think European basketball is shaping the NBA and the US game today?
I think the European players and the game over here have expanded the style of basketball in the States because of the versatility and tactical influence on the game. That’s helped increase scoring, too.
European players have been dominating in the NBA for some time, too – just look at the likes of Luka, Jokic, Porzingis, the Gasols, Rubio. These guys are continuing to dominate and are some of the most exciting players in the league right now – and this is just going to become more and more apparent.
There’s currently no UK-based team in the EuroLeague. Do you think there needs to be one?
Definitely! I spend a lot of time out in London with some friends out there and I think the city definitely needs a team. The appetite for it in the city, and the UK, is definitely there – and I think having a London team would be hugely beneficial to the league and gaining interest in it. I hope that we get that one day soon.
What are the key differences between the NBA and the EuroLeague?
The EuroLeague is the second best competition in the world, when it comes to basketball. It’s actually quite similar to the NCAA in terms of playing style. While I think the NBA is all about athleticism and good physical performances, the EuroLeague is a lot more about being tactical and playing as a team.
It’s so hard to score in Europe, too – as the game is just different here and you have to think more strategically. The atmosphere is crazy here, it’s an amazing competition, with a lot of great players as well too – so there’s so many positives to this league. It was all about timing and luck when I first moved here – but now I’m perfectly happy with where I am at Alba.
A lot of teams in the league are co-run with globally-known football teams. What’s it like playing for a team not affiliated with a huge football side? Is there an extra edge when playing teams like that?
I think from an outside perspective, the football-affiliated teams have always been regarded as bigger and better, but that’s not always been the case in the league. It’s only recently that Bayern have started dominating in terms of their basketball, as well as their dominance in soccer.
I think being affiliated to a soccer club is obviously huge in terms of the more holistic global appeal, but when you see teams like Alba play in the flesh alongside these teams, you really see we can go toe to toe with anyone on our day. We already have that extra edge going into any game whether they’re affiliated with soccer or not, as we’re all super motivated to win games regardless of the opponent.
There’s over six million people in Germany interested in Euroleague basketball. How much have you seen this interest develop in the team and league in the last six years since you’ve been at Alba?
Definitely – the interest here has taken off since I’ve joined the league – and that’s been felt most on the court when there are fans at our home games. I can’t wait to have fans back in the arena again – they are what make EuroLeague so exciting and such a different league to anywhere else. The amount of investment they have in their teams is immense, and the atmosphere – when at full tilt – can match the NBA’s, 100%.