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The Atlanta Hawks are currently in the midst of an epic battle against the Milwaukee Bucks in the NBA’s Eastern Conference Finals, with the winners set to go head-to-head with either the Phoenix Suns or Los Angeles Clippers in the NBA Finals.
The Hawks have never appeared in the Championship series and one man who would love to help them make history is Angolan star Bruno Fernando. The 22-year-old power forward/centre, who was born in Luanda and moved to America in 2015, says he has been steadily improving his game.
“I went back and watched all the film of the games that we played last season,” Fernando explained. “I got to learn a lot about myself.”
Following a stellar career at the University of Maryland, Fernando was the 34th overall pick in the 2019 NBA Draft. As a rookie in the 2019-20 season, he averaged 4.3 points and 3.5 rebounds in 12.7 minutes per game.
Fernando has improved in 2020-21, as have the Hawks, with the Atlanta side finishing fifth on the Eastern Conference standings, before ousting the New York Knicks 4-1 and Philadelphia 76ers 4-3 in the Playoffs thus far.
“Skill-wise, we’re developing,” said the Angolan. “Mentally and all these other aspects of the game, we continue to grow.”
A key figure in Fernando’s development was Vince Carter, who was part of the Hawks’ roster in his final professional season in 2019-20. “It was a dream come true,” Fernando said in regards to playing on the same team as the veteran.
“Growing up, you learn about these players; LeBron, Vince Carter, Michael Jordan. All of these players that you just continually hear about, but never even on your mind, crosses the fact that you could one day play with them.”
The first time Fernando saw the 2000 NBA Dunk Champion Carter, he didn’t even know what to do. Stopping his workout to go, say hello.
“I sat with him on the plane every trip,” he said. “Being able to talk to him, learn, his first years, his last years, middle of his career, the success he’s had and just him as a person as a human being probably the biggest gift I ever got to have being around him.”
Fernando has also been able to express what a privilege it has been to play in the NBA – literally a dream come true for the Angolan: “That moment, the tears I shed it was just me going back through all the sacrifices I made, all the struggles and everything that me and my family have been through, to just have a chance.”
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See Bruno Fernando and the Hawks in the following NBA match live on ESPN:
All times CAT
Friday 2 July
02:30: Eastern Conference Finals, Game 5, Milwaukee Bucks v Atlanta Hawks – LIVE on ESPN