Miha Zupan was born on 13 September 1982 in Kranj, SR Slovenia, Yugoslavia. Miha is a Slovenian basketball player. Despite being deaf since birth, he plays among hearing players at the highest level in Europe. A 2.04 m (6 ft 8½ in) power forward who can also play center when needed, he currently plays for his country’s best-known club, regular Euroleague participant Union Olimpija.
Miha spent most of his childhood in a special school for the deaf, eventually learning to speak. An unspecified type of hearing aid would later give him enough hearing to understand speech. Miha did not learn to play basketball until age 14, instead playing football and volleyball. After his first basketball coach spotted him in a schoolyard, he took to the game quickly, soon joining Slovenia’s national basketball team for the deaf, which twice made the finals of the European championships with Miha as its star. At age 17, he signed his first contract with a regular professional team, KD Slovan of Ljubljana. During his teenage years, he grew 20 cm (8 inches) in an 18-month period, leading to knee problems that sidelined him for several months early in his pro career.
At Slovan, he developed into a promising big man, soon making the (regular) Slovenia junior and under-20 national teams. Miha played in the Slovenian League All-Star Game in 2004 and 2006, earning MVP honors in the 2004 game and also winning the slam dunk contest associated with the 2004 game. Miha continued to play for the Slovenia national deaf team, leading them to the 2004 European championship.
In the 2005-06 season with Slovan, he averaged 11.5 points and 4.4 rebounds in Slovenian League play. Miha’s statistics in the Adriatic League were arguably more impressive, considering that he played only 23 minutes per game in that competition; he averaged 13.2 points and 3.9 rebounds and also shot 47.3% from three-point range.
Miha signed with Union Olimpija, also of Ljubljana, in the 2006 offseason, fulfilling what he called one of his lifelong dreams. Miha also barely missed out on a trip to the 2006 FIBA World Championship, becoming the last player cut from the Slovenia squad. Miha’s chance to play for Union Olimpija in the Euroleague was on hold for several months because his transfer became the subject of litigation between them and Slovan. Miha had, apparently inadvertently, failed to revoke his contract with Slovan before signing with Union Olimpija. Union Olimpija had registered him at the start of the 2006-07 season, and he played 6 fixtures in the Adriatic League before Slovan contested the registration. Union Olimpija won the first round of the legal battle in August 2006, but on 23 October, an appellate court set aside the decision and ordered a new trial. Union Olimpija announced that it would appeal the ruling. This ruling also, for the time being, prevented him from becoming the first deaf player ever to play in the Euroleague, as he had been scheduled to play in Union Olimpija’s first game of Euroleague regular-season play against Croatian side Cibona on 26 October 2006.
The legal battle raged until late February 2007, when Union Olimpija and Slovan reached a settlement. After Union Olimpija paid an undisclosed fee to Slovan, they finally registered him officially on 1 March. The settlement proved timely for Union Olimpija, as they had seen 6 players leave the team during the season, and had 2 other players out with injury. While Miha was unable to play during the 2006-07 Euroleague, as Union Olimpija had been eliminated by the time of the settlement, he arrived in time for the late rounds of the Adriatic League and for the 2nd stage of the Slovenian domestic league.
On 24 October 2007, Miha finally became the first deaf player in the Euroleague, appearing for Union Olimpija in their 80-52 loss at Montepaschi Siena in the opening week of regular season play in the 2007-08 Euroleague. Miha had 5 points, 3 rebounds, and 2 assists in slightly over 13 minutes of action off the bench.
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