Sasha Vujacic etched his name in Los Angeles Lakers lore when he knocked down two clutch free throws in Game 7 of the 2010 NBA Finals. The shooting guard made his dreams come true, coming over from Slovenia and playing for arguably the most historic franchise in all of sports.

Vujacic played seven seasons with the Los Angeles Lakers, winning two NBA championships in 2009 and 2010 while also setting the Lakers franchise record for 3-point shooting percentage (43.8 percent) in 2008.

From playing alongside Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol to building his own winery, Vujacic has an interesting NBA career and transition into post-basketball life. Sasha spoke with ClutchPoints this offseason about his time with the Lakers, Kobe Bryant, international basketball stars, and more.

Tomer Azarly: I saw you were signing a lot of gear for Lakers fans at Summer League. You still get “The Machine” nickname?

Sasha Vujacic: A little bit, yeah. Once you get it, you can’t forget about it. Thank you.

I see you out there, still getting a lot of love. What’s that like almost 12 years after the 2010 championship, still getting love?

It’s been amazing. When you get drafted by the Lakers in the first round, and I was one of those people that my dream was not only to go to the NBA, but my dream was to go to LA and win with the Lakers — and obviously to play with one of the best players that’s ever played the game. And then thank god I didn’t miss those free throws. A lot of times, people forget that I was there for seven years and the only thing they remember are the free throws and thank god because that was payback. To answer your question, that’s probably one of the most amazing feelings that Lakers fans got and I got as well and our team. By winning and getting our rematch done properly in 2010.

Is it safe to say that’s your favorite moment as a Laker or is there something else you have in mind?

Uh, there are many favorite moments, but when we won that championship, it 100% was a big relief even though in 2008 when we lost, for a year, myself and a lot of my teammates and people in LA actually didn’t wear green for a year. You know how consistent and serious we were about.

What was Kobe Bryant like as a teammate?

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You know, Kobe was my big brother. I still can’t find the words to talk about it because it’s just something that I’m still kind of fighting. How it happened, what happened, him, Gigi, and it’s just tough so he was besides being a big brother for me, he was an incredible teammate and someone that was one of a kind. Safely I can tell you, for example, I watched The Last Dance during the pandemic and what I’ve seen in The Last Dance and being with Kobe for so many years, I just got a confirmation that right there, you’ve got Kobe and MJ. I was honored and lucky and you know just happy to be able to learn and compete against him every day, and I think he accepted me the first day when he saw that I’m also a little bit obsessed with winning and hard work and that’s how the mutual respect and brotherhood kind of started.

A lot of people have said that Kobe Bryant was kind of an asshole. When did you — or did you ever — figure out the way to get on Kobe’s good side?

I didn’t figure out the way. I didn’t care about that. When I showed up at the gym at 4 o’clock, 5 o’clock in the morning and there’s Kobe, so when you see there’s the franchise player and a young kid that came from Europe that I have to prove myself and he recognized why I was in LA. I didn’t care about Hollywood, I didn’t care about celebrity statuses and stuff like that. All I cared about was winning and when you put the hard work in, when you combine talent and opportunity, the real ones recognize real and that was with Kobe.

How much have you been following the NBA?

I retired a couple of years ago and I haven’t watched as much basketball. We have a family winery in Paso Robles that we started after our championship run. Pops is the winemaker, everybody is involved, it’s a family thing, so that was probably the first time that I was at Summer League, in attendance, got an invite, and I gotta tell you, I miss basketball. I miss being around basketball. Luckily, I’ve learned to play basketball and to understand basketball the proper way. One of the greatest coaches of all time, if not the greatest coach, Phil Jackson. Just watching it and seeing things, I’m just excited because hopefully one day, I’ll be able to give back what I’ve learned. We have so much talent and a little bit of lack of fundamentals at the moment, but the game is becoming very global and it’s just incredible to see.

Three of the top-five largest contracts in the NBA right now belong European players: Giannis Antetokounmpo, Nikola Jokic, and Luka Doncic. What do you make of those three and how international basketball has grown over the last few decades?

I think luckily the game became very global and players developed. And for me, being European coming from Europe, I understand what the journey was to get here. And when these kids back in the day saw what Vlade [Divac], Drazen [Petrovic], [Arvydas] Sabonis, all the pioneers of it did, without naming everybody, and then what different generations did, they got excited and they understood that hard work will pay off. If you look at all three players, that you mentioned, I love Giannis because what Giannis did, he stayed in Milwaukee, he showed the loyalty, and he won a championship. Unfortunately, he couldn’t get the back-to-back, but I love his grind, I love his determination, I love what he stands for, and I believe he’s got a couple more championships. You see Jokic MVP back-to-back, they have to make that extra pass to the Western Conference Finals, probably to the Finals because they deserve to feel what it means to be in the Finals. It’s a whole different ball game in the playoffs and then once you go stage by stage, it’s different. And then there’s Luka who is an upcoming MVP, an incredible player. Just something that I haven’t seen in a long time. He’s got a great management, a great coach around him, players, so hopefully he’ll be surrounded by a lot of weapons because he would deserve to win it more than I can explain. I really wish him to get to that point.

When you came back home after the title, were you looked at as a hero?

I mean, everybody’s a hero in their own way. I just love seeing that my hard work, my obsession in a way, and my dream as a kid and a legacy if you want to say, left a positive feedback on everybody. And that means a lot. Like I said before, people joke a lot about that, but thank god I made those free throws because that’s another thing that I would not be living in LA today if missing those free throws was the case. It’s fun to see when you work properly, when you just lock in and you have that road in front of you and you see where you wanna go, it also means you gotta be in a good system surrounded with great teammates, a good management, and you gotta be in a franchise that they wanna win. That’s another question nowadays. Winning or just going along with the ride. Was I fortunate, I don’t know. Basketball gods are always watching, they were watching how crazy I was about basketball, the little kid that was also sleeping with basketball shoes and playing basketball as breathing.

Tell me about your winery in Paso Robles. It’s called Aleksander Wine, correct?

“That is correct, and I’ll tell you a quick story. When I was 15, I left home, my dream was to go to the NBA and win with the Lakers. That was my number one goal, so I left Slovenia, I went to Italy. In my five years before I got drafted by the Lakers, that’s when another dream was born with my family and that dream was to have a family winery one day. Step by step, things were happening, my parents living in LA with me, cuz they came when I got drafted, my brother, my sister, everybody. So it was like, okay, there’s a perfect opportunity. First Finals, heartbreaking. No dream. The second year in the Finals, we got it, and then we got an opportunity to get our property in 2010 and it’s a family thing. Five employees and it’s all family members. We wanna build something for the next 50 generations. That’s our goal, and we are big on our wine club, allocations only with our accounts, and we are proud to work with some of the best accounts in LA, across the country, and also in Vegas.