Elisa Aguilar, new president of Spanish basketball (FEB)
Amaya Valdemoro will never erase the image of the purple sweater that Elisa Aguilar was wearing the day they met, aged 13, in the Real Canoe cafeteria in Madrid. One she had just started playing basketball. Her other one had been doing it for a while, and everyone was talking about her. Life would lead them to be the best player in the history of Spanish basketball and the first president of their Federation, the FEB, respectively. But, above all, it would create an everlasting friendship between the two.
“When she started her career in the national team, in 1990, I was there with her. “I have spent more time with Elisa than with my sister and Elisa has spent more time with me than with her brothers,” Valdemoro emphasizes to Infobae España. She is even more cheerful than usual and very proud, because the milestone inaugurated this Monday by one of the people who have marked her career is something to be proud of. “I told Elisa, three years ago, that she had to be the president. Internally, I’m sure she had thought about it. But I had seen her in office for a long time… It was clear to me clarinet,” she reveals. And she adds: “In this fight for equality, that a Federation like the basketball Federation puts itself at the service of Elisa or that has trusted a woman seems tremendous to me.”
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Their everlasting connection was joined, since 2000, by Anna Montañana. In the first year he spent in Salamanca, with her eventually friends, Aguilar made such an impact on him that he ended up going to the same university in the United States that the current leader had previously attended: George Washington, in the North American capital. “In 2019, we were inducted together into her Hall of Fame. It was super nice, because we closed a circle,” recalls the current coach of Alginet (LEB Plata, Spanish third men’s category), on her return trip from a presidential proclamation event in which the two legends could not suppress, as soon as they entered, the tears. They were overwhelmed by the affection they profess for the third in the equation, Aguilar.
From left to right: Anna Montañana, Elisa Aguilar and Amaya Valdemoro (FEB)
“When we were players, we already knew that we were going to occupy these types of positions. I wanted to be a coach, Amaya didn’t want to be a manager or a coach, and I think she has had an incredible career in different ways, and Elisa was going to be a manager,” says Montañana. It would not be until the 2004 Athens Olympic Games, whose inaugural parade Aguilar and Valdemoro especially enjoyed, when the head of the FEB teamed up with her predecessor in office: Jorge Garbajosa. To whom, newly in command, he has imposed the federative Gold Badge, taking him “totally by surprise.”
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The good relationship they had while playing intensified from 2013, when Elisa had just hung up her shirt. “I arrived a little early at the Federation and when she joined they asked me to act as a guide. Let her show him the house and explain things to him. We connect a lot. We have taken many trips together and you are making a connection. We were gaining mutual respect. 2016 arrives, I am elected president and it is clear to me that she is one of the people who has to be important in the FEB due to her personal worth, sports intelligence and career,” the new president of FIBA Europe looks back. Thus began the path that has made her, after a decade working together, his successor: “Elisa’s project deserves time to come to fruition.”
“I decided to put her in charge of Competitions because one of the strategic pillars of the time I was at the FEB was to make them grow. As has been the case with her directing the department: the Women’s League has grown, the new Women’s Challenge League has been created, there has been a tremendous increase in the value of the LEB Oro, the EBA League has been reformed with its unification…” explains Garbajosa. “Little by little, she has been growing a lot, as the FEB has grown. All managers in general, but her especially, have been assuming more functions. On the part of the Executive Committee, the Commissions of FIBA Europe and FIBA…”, she also considers.
Her sisters on the field and, why not say it, in life have not been surprised by her meteoric rise on Madrid’s Avenida de Burgos. “Elisa is a woman who is very prepared. She has studied, she has restudied, she is accompanied by a perseverance and humility that characterize good leaders. She is going to be an incredible president. The greatest quality she has is leadership. She doesn’t need to be the center of attention: she leads through work, perseverance and knowing how to be. She has a very high emotional intelligence and very good qualities for managing groups. A very important balance,” highlights Montañana.
Jorge Garbajosa and Elisa Aguilar (FEB)
“One of the best things he has is that he knows how to listen, he has people skills and a hand, he doesn’t make mistakes in decisions. She is a slow-paced, calm aunt. “She is not easily upset,” Valdemoro continues. Garbajosa attests to this: “she is a little ant, one of those who makes little noise. I am more emotional. She has always had that point of normality or tranquility in moments of tension. She is a person very dedicated to this, with a very orderly work methodology. The part that she brings from home plus the part of having understood for so many years what she demands and what she means to be president of the FEB is a very good mix.”
The last men’s Eurobasket, “of enormous emotional stress for the entire team that surrounded the team” and in which gold was finally achieved, perfectly exemplifies all of the above. “We spent the entire championship together. I remember that when I was nervous in a match, she always put her hand on my leg. As if saying ‘Jorge: calm down, calm down’. They are moments that have nothing more than that, but that you remember with great affection,” Garbajosa is honest. She does not miss the opportunity to contribute other intimate scenes, as well as close, that she will keep “forever”: “Some night we had one or two beers because we were having a very, very bad time. Thinking about what was going to happen to the FEB and how to move this forward. And some pizza at two in the morning in the Federation because 24 hours were not enough.”
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“It’s very close. A person who always cares a lot about others. The first impression is serious, but then she has a great sense of humor. She is ironic, she uses words very well. She is a very good person and, furthermore, she can be everywhere. A woman 10, like the number she played with,” Montañana acknowledges. “She has a lot of personal power, she is a person with a lot of aura. She has to be herself. In these positions she cannot always follow your essence, but I hope she can do it, because that is what will lead her to make a difference,” she adds.
Elisa Aguilar was showered with successes on the court: eight international medals (six in the absolute: a European gold, a continental silver and three continental bronzes and one world medal), five Women’s Leagues, six Queen’s Cups, a season in the WNBA and another in the powerful Russian League… Getting them also in the offices does not seem far-fetched today.
“I think he has more than enough background to, hopefully, have understood the little monster, in the best sense, that the FEB is and what it has become,” confides Garbajosa, who envisions the continuation of an unbeatable legacy: “The path and growth of competitions; the level of the national teams, both absolute and especially training; good relationships with the other actors in our ecosystem; the level of prestige of our referees and coaches throughout Europe; the quarry; licenses (pre-pandemic levels have been recovered and have even been exceeded in most communities); economic growth; the loyalty and support of the sponsors… With Elisa’s leadership, continuing with the things that she considers have been done well or very well and then putting her touch on those that she believes can be improved, the future seems exciting and has very good Pinta”.
Montañana also has no doubt that the stage that has just begun in the FEB will be characterized by “continuing with that consistency that Spanish basketball has.” “When you are number two in the world ranking for boys, number four for girls and in the training categories you win many medals, you can’t always go much higher. But, as Elisa has said, we must seek to ensure that there are more and more licenses at the Spanish level, that basketball is intensified even more if possible, that we continue to improve all the personal and professional qualities with which we play basketball and that this is a tool in society. Her presidency is going to go that way and a lot, too, due to evolution. Where there is a power of growth, attack,” she says.
Amaya Valdemoro and Elisa Aguilar embrace in a hug (FEB)
The last one, as used to happen in the games, is for Valdemoro. “The elite athlete has a tremendous work capacity. He is a perfectionist. In the end, he works for excellence. And Elisa has the work capacity to give and take. She likes it, she lives it, and she will not lack the ability to work. And there is something key: she knows how to make herself important and give everyone the spotlight. As a good base”, he says on the horn. That girl in the purple jersey who dreamed of being someone in the sport of orange ball grew up to become nothing less than its highest authority in Spain.