David Kramer’s 48-hour international travel whirlwind leads to Suns deal
PHOENIX — Phoenix Suns rookie David Kramer was like plenty of young basketball players in Europe, starving for a consistent role and a greater opportunity.
At the end of his fourth season with a professional team based out of Ulm, Germany, that opportunity came, just at a level far beyond the one he was playing at.
Kramer had NBA and basketball aspirations that came right away. He was surrounded by the game immediately via his dad, who played professionally in Slovakia, Germany and Austria.
“Ever since I could walk I had a ball in my hand,” the 22-year-old said.
Kramer’s first memories of his exposure to basketball on this side of the planet come from seeing “Space Jam” and clips of Kobe Bryant and Michael Jordan.
Despite school teachers telling him he’d never need to learn English, he wanted to. Figuring out a way to do so as a kid while not being bored lulling through books, he developed it through movies, the first of which being “Toy Story.”
Since then, he’s gotten much better through that method, recently becoming a superfan of the “The Office,” a series he had only first seen a few years ago and is now on his third re-watch already.
While idolizing LeBron James, he wrote in a book as a kid that he wanted to be an NBA player.
He was born in Slovakia but grew up in Austria, playing basketball in leagues from the age of four all the way to 16 when he earned a five-year contract playing professionally in Germany.
While playing professional basketball isn’t that bad of a gig, Kramer was only getting 13 minutes a game in year four for his club, a hardship many young players overseas have to battle.
But his professional basketball career would quickly accelerate him from aspiring for more minutes in Germany to an NBA contract.
Kramer had been notified by his agent that he had his shot at a pro day in Los Angeles. The issue is that it was a bit of a tight squeeze scheduling-wise, to say the least.
With his last game of the season on a Sunday in Berlin, Kramer took an hour-long flight from Berlin to Munich after the game. It was then a 90-minute bus ride to Ulm to pack a small bag for the trip and a 75-minute train ride back to Munich for his flight.
On a direct flight going 12 hours, Kramer went straight from the airport in Los Angeles to the gym for a workout preparing for the pro day.
Finally, he would sleep that night in a hotel before the big moment, but Kramer was so excited that he barely got any rest.
Even with those jitters, Kramer clearly made a lasting impression at that pro day, as he earned a few pre-draft workouts off that and less than five weeks later received his NBA shot in the form of playing for the Suns’ summer league team.
More fortune came.
The Suns’ summer league roster never included first-round picks Cam Johnson and Ty Jerome, who were held out after the team had to wait for a draft-day trade to officially go through.
That made Kramer go from one of the many hungry undrafted players looking for time to actually getting it and starting two of his three games.
Kramer didn’t necessarily light the league on fire, averaging 14.3 minutes and 8.0 points per game, but he impressed the Suns and their coaching staff.
Given what head coach Monty Williams said about Kramer, the Suns found another player who directly aligned with the traits they desired this offseason.
“This summer he was a guy that played the right way,” Williams said. “Even if he wasn’t making shots, you saw a guy that played hard.”
The kid from Slovakia felt a connection immediately.
“Ever since I came to Phoenix, I had an amazing feeling,” he said.
Kramer earned an Exhibit 10 contract, which is essentially a training camp deal that can be converted into a two-way deal and the Suns still have one opening left there.
But non-guaranteed, guaranteed, two-way or Exhibit 10 didn’t matter to Kramer.
“I don’t care — I signed a contract. I’m here with these people and I have such an opportunity to learn from these people,” he said.
One of those is new Suns point guard Ricky Rubio, who Kramer was the first to mention among international players he watched in Europe.
“When I was small, my coach after practice was like ‘Alright, let’s go watch Ricky Rubio,'” he said, noting he was starstruck the first time he met Rubio in Phoenix.
Kramer is in a tough spot right now. The Suns already have 15 guaranteed contracts and only one two-way spot left.
He’s also making his way back from a stress reaction in his left tibia, working on drills in chairs at practice to get some type of skill work in and staying in shape with weights.
But from the sound of it, Kramer is ready to work in the G League even if he doesn’t get a guaranteed contract.
With the Exhibit 10 contract, Kramer can be mandated as an affiliated player for the NAZ Suns after being waived and opting to not go play overseas if he chooses to do so.
Bet on Kramer sticking it out with the trip he has been on since that Sunday in late May that transformed from the end of his season to the start of his NBA journey.
“No one’s expecting me, the kid from Slovakia,” he said. “Just taking it day-by-day.”