How playing ball on the streets of Liman near the banks of the River Danube led Serbia’s Dušan Domocivć-Bulut to the world stage.
Dušan Domocivć-Bulut is a world-renowned basketball player.
Since 2012 he's been at the top of his game so his list of achievements is nothing short of impressive from 3x3 World Tour titles, European Championships, World Cups to MVP awards and of course being ranked the world No.1 men’s 3x3 basketball player.
Bulut, aka Mr. Bullutproof, is considered to be one of the most skillful 3x3 players, pulling off dazzling moves that have to be seen to be believed.
However, the 35-year-old has never forgotten his roots and how the streets of Novi Sad have made him the player and person he is today.
When I was growing up, I had everything I need, because for me, just playing basketball was everything I needed.
The streets of Liman, Novi Sad
Walking around the streets of Liman, a neighbourhood situated in the southern part of Novi Sad, there is one thing you will notice – basketball courts. Much like the Balkan nations’ love for football and water polo, basketball is also a sport played across the country, particularly streetball.
These courts are scattered around the city and are social hubs, where the young gather to play streetball (or football), hang out and talk with friends, neighbours and family. And these are the same courts where Bulut sharpened his skills.
“It was tough [growing up] but for me, it was fun because a lot of things you can do, and you can go unpunished because of what was going on and nobody took anything for granted,” Bulut, who grew up during the break-up of Yugoslavia, explained.
“Everything was fine because I had a lot of friends. Every block of buildings there is a basketball court. The basketball court was used for socialising. Usually we played basketball; we played hide and seek. We played football. Just hanging out there and having fun. And it was it just like a normal childhood.”
Bulut would spend hours playing on the local courts, only returning home once the sun had set exhausted and hungry but in time for his mother’s home cooked meals before going to bed and doing the same routine again the following day. He explained, that back then, it was a much simpler time – there was no social media or mobile phones with most families sharing a telephone between them.
He was not just learning new skills playing basketball but valuable life lessons that have shaped who he is as an individual.
“The values about loyalty, friendship, the community, the higher goals, being present all the time in regular life and stuff like that and if you look at my life now, everything is the same,” he said.
“I have similar friends from when I grew up. We all hang out together. I say even if somebody has a tough time, even if it's a good time, we always share everything together. We are like brothers in arms and we support each other.”
So the courts were the place to be - the place Bulut loved to be.
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Dedicating himself to his craft
It was during the sixth grade of elementary school that Bulut knew he wanted to become a professional basketball player. He had just moved to another part of Liman, changing schools in the process, with his new one having a basketball team.
“It clicked in my head then I want to be a basketball player. And back then I wanted to play in the NBA like everybody,” he laughed. “After that, I really dedicated myself to the craft.”
The Novi Sad Al-Wahda captain started exploring how he could be a better player and a better teammate whilst also working on every element of his game.
He was also playing the traditional 5x5 game locally but with some clubs requiring players to pay money for practising, and his parents at times not having that, Bulut would play streetball instead with his friends during the summertime. When it drew colder, usually November through to February, the youngster would head inside to play.
In time it became obvious which game the young Bulut preferred.
“It was always better to be outside with friends and a lot of times I missed practice because I was staying outside to play 3x3.”
“That's why I think I develop the game of 3x3 more because it was much more fun, and it was free. I didn't have any kind of problem with practising or anything and just grabbed the ball and came down and played.”
Photo provided by FIBA
Connection to Novi Sad
Being born and raised in Novi Sad, a place where he learnt about life, he knew everybody and to this day still lives there alongside family and friends, it is not hard to see why Bulut’s connection to the city runs deep.
Recently, he refurbished a half court in an area he grew up.
It is the third court he’s revamped with the first being a court for professional players to train on and the other one was where he went when he skipped school – it was far from school and nobody could scold them Bulut told Tokyo 2020.
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Giving back to the community 🏀 . Novi @montop.rs Bulut Court na limanu! Hvala svima koji su pomogli da se ovo ostvari! @tonystar___ @mr.roshpanonsky @nebojsakosmajac @mad.flavor.crew . . . Art: @tonystar___ Video: @dusan.jocic . . . #streetball #streetcourt #streetart #basketball #hood #novisad #liman #3x3 #givingbacktothecommunity #youth #community #bulutcourt #streethoop #ballislife #hoop
“I did it just because, when you have some relationship with streets and with the streetball, then you do something nice for the other person or stuff with no other reason,” said Bulut, who had an artist friend complete the court with beautiful art work.
“I just said, ‘let’s rebuild this court and just have fun’. I think we did a really good thing for our community, for the kids over there.”
And if the Liman-native has some spare time on his hands between competing on the FIBA 3x3 World Tour or representing Serbia, he heads down with his friends to play in local competitions.
While at first there was surprised faces to seeing the top 3x3 player show up to the local league, it has now become normal because, as Bulut emphasised, playing the sport is a way to socialise with other people. At the end of the day, playing 3x3 is what he loves doing.
“For me, the best part of the day is when I'm on the basketball court,” he said.
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Rebuilt my childhood court 🏀 From one streetballer to others 🔥 #BulutProof Court ———————————— 🎨: @og___head 📷: @dusan.jocic . . . #graffiti #graffitiart #graffit #streetstyle #streetphotography #streetart #basketball #streetball #court #hood #childhood #spraypaintart #spray #novisad #novosadski #givingback #givingbacktothecommunity
Japan is a lucky charm
Every time Serbia, the world No.1 team, have played in Japan, they have never lost a game.
And heading into Tokyo 2020, where the discipline of 3x3 basketball will make its Olympic Games debut, it’s the record Bulut hopes to continue.
“So when I heard that the Olympic Games were in Tokyo, I was like ‘yeah, we're going there’,” he laughed. “For me, Japan is a great country. It's totally opposite that everything we do here; the culture, and the food. It's always fun to be there.
“And when we come back, hopefully for Olympic Games in 2021, I hope we're going to continue our lucky charm and bring back the gold medal where it belongs.”
If Serbia, who have already qualified for Tokyo 2020, do climb to the top of podium next summer it won’t just mean everything to Bulut but to his teammates and the whole country too.
“We were those guys that started from the beginning - we [went to] a higher level and we never quit. And I think it will mean a lot,” he said. “I don't want to say last step, but it will be like some kind of full circle and the main prize of everything.”
Serbia are already four-time World Cup winners and two-time European champions so an Olympic gold is not out of the picture.
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It’s not whether you get knocked down, it’s whether you get up. Go hard or go home! . . . #japan #utsunomiya #tokyo #3x3 #serbia #srbija #kosarka #hoops #ballislife #basket #redbull #givesyouwings #novisad #novisadserbia #srbijainstagram #basketball #bball #basketballgame #streetball #streetbasketball #3x3basketball #ball #pass #ballislife #player #team
While winning gold is on his mind, there is one other thing being part of the Olympic family will do. There is an unfortunate stereotype around 3x3 players, and they are not seen as professionals – something the Serbian point guard hopes to break.
“When this sport became part of the Olympic family, I think it completely broke the chain of that was dragging you down, that you are not a professional athlete,” Bulut explained, “Everybody used to look at that streetball, as guys who cannot make it in 5x5. And then they play on the streets but it's not true.”
But Bulut has defied the stereotype. He has shown that being a 3x3 player is much more than just being a professional. It is about the connection to the streets, a way of life, a subculture.
Bulut also wants to show that with persistence, hard work and dedication, anything can be achieved.
“I hope I can inspire somebody, at least one kid to go and follow their dream… not just basketball players, but maybe regular people to achieve their dreams.”
From the days of mastering his talent and skills on the streets of Liman, to the world’s biggest sporting stage, Bulut is ready to show the world the power and beauty of 3x3 basketball.