Minnesota United FC forward Christian Ramirez has soccer in his blood. However, he knew when he was younger he had to have something else to help get his mind off soccer when he needed it. He turned to the game of basketball. Growing up in Southern California, Ramirez was surrounded by a culture of hoops. We caught up with him to talk about his love for basketball.

SLAM: You’ve had a pretty successful soccer career so far with many accolades. Which one stands out to you the most?

Christian Ramirez: I think to the public, the Golden Boot stands out the most just because it’s the most goals in the league, and I tied the record for our league that year and I caught everyone by surprise. I came in as the backup and the starting forward got hurt and I started taking off from there. I made that spot mine and now two and a half years later, I became Minnesota United’s all-time leading goal scorer. I think that one’s pretty cool for my little brothers to brag about it to their friends. But for me, to be able to play in three semi-finals and one championship in my first three years is pretty special to me.

SLAM: I noticed that you transferred from UC Santa Barbara to Concordia University. How come you transferred?

CR: I just wasn’t fitting into the D1 style of soccer. I didn’t fit into the coach’s plan so I needed a new scenario and new challenge. I wanted to get back to enjoying the game the way I knew I could enjoy it.

SLAM: How was your career at Concordia?

CR: We broke many team records and individual records. We made it to the Elite 8 my senior year, which is the furthest the program had gone. So I really changed the soccer program, not just myself, I mean there was guys in my two years that transferred from other D1 colleges that were playing there as well.

SLAM: How was it trying to get noticed while playing for an NAIA school?

CR: I had to put up as many stats as possible to get on the map.

SLAM: What are your goals for your soccer career?

CR: Win as many championships as I can and play as long as my body will let me.

SLAM: How’s the future of Minnesota United looking like?

CR: Good, I mean the franchise is up and coming with the MLS in the next year or so. It’s going in the right direction and it’s pretty awesome to see and be a part of it.

SLAM: Okay, that’s pretty cool. Let’s dive into some questions about hoops now. When did you find a love for the game of basketball?

CR: Early on, just because I knew I wanted to play soccer. I couldn’t just focus on one thing. You would find yourself getting burnt out of it so whenever I was at school during recess or at lunch, I was always finding myself playing basketball with all of my friends, and I grew up watching the Lakers. So it immediately stuck with me.

SLAM: What made you decide soccer over basketball?

CR: I never got the chance to play basketball competitively to be honest. In my family, it was soccer or nothing and I wasn’t going to go against what the rest of my friends were doing. All of my friends played soccer and none of them played basketball. We all played basketball just for fun at recess but other than that, nobody I knew was playing competitively.

SLAM: Are you close with anyone in the NBA?

CR: No. I don’t really know any of them. Trevor Ariza is the only one whose phone number I have. I’ll text him every now and then but that’s about it.

SLAM: How did you guys meet?

CR: He was in the lobby and we were walking out to a game. When he was there in the lobby, we were walking out to the game he said he would beat me in FIFA, and then I told him that every night in the hotel we play on the 10th floor and he said that he would come on up with James and other people so I didn’t actually know that he would follow through.

SLAM: How was it playing FIFA in the hotel with James Harden and Trevor Ariza?

CR: It was cool cause growing up you’ve seen them just like be the super stars they are and win NBA Championships and so forth. To be up close and personal and be interacting with them was pretty awesome just because I’ve looked up to a guy like Trevor Ariza when he was with the Lakers. He’s one of my favorite players and now to be sitting there and talking to him and exchanging phone numbers is pretty cool.

SLAM: Have you ever been to an NBA game?

CR: Yes I have. I’ve been to several Lakers games. Preseason games at the Honda Center, Laker games at the Staples Center and whenever we were in Portland, Trevor Ariza hooked me up with a couple tickets to watch them play at the Trail Blazers. Then out here, our owner is a season ticket holder to the Timberwolves. During my first year, he took me to watch the Timberwolves play against the Pacers, OKC and the Warriors so it was pretty cool to see Durant, Westbrook and Steph Curry last year during his MVP run.

SLAM: Who would you say your favorite team is?

CR: The Lakers. I grew up watching them. Kobe’s the man. It’s like if you ask anyone who grew up in Chicago during the Jordan era, there’s very far in between that wouldn’t say they were a Bulls fan. I definitely am a Kobe Bryant fan, but I even said when he asked for a trade that one year and almost signed with the Clippers, I said I would have stuck a Laker fan through it, but I still would have followed Kobe.

SLAM: Why is the Mamba your favorite player?

CR: Just his upbringing. He always knew that he was going to make it. He always knew that there was going to be obstacles but he wasn’t going to let anything stop him from becoming one of the best to ever play. His mentality every year that wasn’t a championship, in his eyes, is a waste. That’s just his competitive edge. Something that I really take from him and I try to bring when I play, and I don’t have a mamba face or anything like that, but I try and smile as much as I can and enjoy myself. But if my team loses, I’m pissed and really don’t want to talk to anyone.

SLAM: What’s your most memorable Kobe moment?

CR: When they beat the Celtics in the 2010 Finals. You grow up watching all these documentaries with Magic and the skyhook that beat Boston and how every Laker hates the Celtics and to be able to witness a loss to the Celtics in a blowout one year and two years later, they overcome the Celtics was pretty awesome. Later on, 20 years down the line, people are going to be talking about that rivalry during those couple of years. So to be able to witness it is pretty awesome.

SLAM: How did you feel about Kobe’s last game?

CR: Fantastic to see him go out the way that he did. It’s unreal that somebody his age put up that many shots and that many points and especially him going out that way and one-upping Shaq when Shaq asked him for 50 and Kobe hit 60 is such a Kobe-like thing.

SLAM: What are your thoughts on Kobe’s farewell tour?

CR: I would have liked to see him go out as a champion, but in the end, he got the recognition he deserved and you can tell that he knew it was time for him to go. So it was good to see him go out the way he wanted it and not be washed up per se. He knew that his body couldn’t take it anymore and he knew it was time to call it. It showed how much he was respected and how every crowd had a love/hate relationship with him.

SLAM: What is your all-time Lakers starting five?

CR: Magic, Kobe, Lamar, Shaq and Gasol.

SLAM: I’ve talked to others about this question before, but I don’t think I’ve heard anyone bring up Lamar and Gasol. Why them?

CR: Gasol, you can say, is going to go down as the best foreign player to ever play in the NBA, him and Dirk. He’s such a willing passer that it would go really well with Shaq. And Lamar, I mean, he takes a lesser role. During the three years they made it to the finals, some of the stuff that he did was never on the stat sheet but he was such an important piece to it.

SLAM: Lets talk shoes real quick. What’s your shoe game like?

CR: Just Nikes. Nikes and only Nikes. I have the Kobe’s that were released during his last game that hopefully, one day, I’ll get signed. I have his “What the Kobe” from this past year’s edition that hopefully I’ll get signed. So those two won’t ever get worn. The Kobe’s that I do wear are the Black History Month ones.

SLAM: Last question I have for you. Who do you have winning the Finals?

CR: The Warriors. If Steph Curry can stay healthy, I don’t think there’s any touching the Warriors this year.

Photo courtesy of Minnesota United