As the United States continues to mourn the death of Senator John McCain, stories of his impact on others have flooded social media. An avid sports fan, the athletes who interacted with McCain have been chiming in as well.
One of those stories comes from Lauri Markkanen, and though he wasn’t one of McCain’s constituents — or even an American citizen — there will always be a special bond between the Arizona native and Finnish NBA star due to one simple act of kindness.
Without McCain, Markkanen might not have been able to play college basketball in America, and the Arizona Wildcats’ 2016-17 season could’ve ended before it really began.
Rest In peace @SenJohnMcCain, I will forever be grateful for you helping a kid from Finland get a visa to live out my dream of playing basketball in the States
— Lauri Markkanen (@MarkkanenLauri) August 26, 2018
McCain pulled strings to get Markkanen to Arizona
Before the 2016-17 college basketball season began, Markkanen was having trouble getting his student visa certified by the American embassy in Finland. Knowing that McCain was a huge Wildcats fan, the athletics department reached out to his office to see if he could offer assistance. Shortly after, Markkanen was headed to Tucson for a standout college season.
“There was some delay in getting him a visa,” McCain told ESPN in 2017. “Obviously he had to have a student visa and there was a question about whether he was a student or not in Finland. I’d like to tell you it was the hardest struggle I ever had. Actually, we just kind of weighed in and said, ‘hey, how about expediting this’. It was not as big a deal as I would like it to be.”
McCain’s help prompted Arizona coach Sean Miller to reach out and offer his gratitude. The Senator was also able to meet Markkanen during his one and only season with the Wildcats.
Markkanen’s arrival changed Arizona’s season
Markkanen was clearly the prized addition to Miller’s recruiting class in 2016-17 and his arrival marked an instant upgrade for the program. After finishing third in the Pac 12 and getting knocked out of the 2016 NCAA tournament in the first round, the Wildcats — led by Markkanen — took home a share of the conference title in 2017 won the Pac 12 tournament and entered the NCAA tournament ranked No. 4 in the country.
The Wildcats managed to advance to the Sweet Sixteen before getting knocked out by Xavier.
A single year in Tucson was all it took for Markkanen to have NBA scouts drooling. After averaging 15.6 points and 7.2 rebounds as a freshman, the big man was selected seventh overall in the NBA draft and earned All-Rookie First Team honors following his debut season with the Chicago Bulls.
But long before he was a budding NBA forward, he was a highly-touted European recruit just looking for assistance to reach America. And if helping out a teenager come play basketball at his favorite school weren’t enough, Markkanen gave McCain just a little bit of bragging rights.
“Any success I will take full credit for.” McCain joked.
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