Utah Jazz’s Lauri Markkanen explains his Finnish military commitment

With Finland’s adult males compelled to serve by the age of 30, the team’s failure to make the playoffs made the timing right for him to fulfill his obligation. He may have to do it again next year, too, though.

Section 127 of the Constitution of Finland mandates military service conscription of all adult males by the age of 30. Lauri Markkanen, the Utah Jazz’s 25-year-old star forward, has yet to serve his.

And so, with the team’s season set to conclude Sunday in Los Angeles, he decided to fulfill his obligation this summer, as reported by ESPN.

The All-Star simply hadn’t done it yet because he enrolled at the University of Arizona upon graduating from the Helsinki Basketball Academy, and has mostly remained in the United States since to focus on his professional basketball career.

Markkanen had initially made a commitment to do it in the 2022 offseason, he told The Salt Lake Tribune this past September, only to have the timing thrown off by the Cleveland Cavaliers (his team at the time) qualifying for the NBA’s postseason Play-In Tournament.

On Saturday, ahead of the Jazz’s hime finale against the Nuggets, he provided some extra details to Utah media on his upcoming unconventional offseason.

“Yeah, it’s something that we have to do before we’re 30, so I just figured if we’re not going to be playing in the postseason this year, then it’s going to be good time to do it now instead of just postponing it and then eventually have to do it in a time that wouldn’t work so well for me,” Markkanen said. “So I decided to do it now and we’ll see how it goes. I’ve obviously never been, so we’ll see how that looks.”

He did not have a ton of details on what his military service would look like, though he did acknowledge that, “I’m going to a place where there’s a lot of athletes; I’m sure they’ve dealt with different professional athletes before.”

He also did not have a definitive answer for how long he’d be serving this offseason, though that itself will lead to an interesting wrinkle.

Finnish military conscription typically is for a duration of 6 months to a year. As a result, other people in a similar position to Markkanen have been allowed to split their service time up over multiple years.

So, depending on the Jazz’s regular-season fortunes next season, this could be something Markkanen is doing again a year from now.

“Obviously, the summer’s not long enough for us [professional athletes] to do it in one summer,” he said. “So we’ll see how many days I get to knock out this summer and go from there. But I’ve had some friends that have done, like, two months one summer and then finish up the next next summer, so we’ll see. I definitely don’t want it to affect the basketball part, so we’ll figure out a good combination.”

Naturally, many on the Jazz simply cannot relate to Markkanen’s situation.

“That’s a hard one. Obviously, he lives in a country that has different requirements than we do. It takes you by surprise when you hear that, [though] it’s something that he and I have been talking about all year,” said Jazz coach Will Hardy. “Also, with the state of the world these days, it’s never a good feeling when you have somebody that you’re close with going into the military.

“But the hope is that he does his service, he stays safe, and comes back healthy,” Hardy added. “It’ll be interesting to see him in a military uniform, and how all that goes. It’s obviously something that he’s been preparing for mentally for awhile. We’ll try to support him in every way that we can.”

Markkanen’s fellow starting forward, Kelly Olynyk, a native Canadian, also found his teammate’s situation curious, but praised him for fulfilling his obligation.

“That’s something we’re not accustomed to here or in Canada, [though] I’m sure that happens in a lot of countries in the world,” he said. “But I think Lauri’s a stand-up citizen, so I’m sure he’s gonna do whatever he has to do to serve his country, and I commend him for that.”

Markkanen noted that both of his older brothers, Eero and Miikka, fulfilled their service, though they have not yet given him much advice on what to expect.

He did not seem especially concerned, however, about what’s ahead, even joking about those he’d be serving alongside.

“They’re mostly probably 18-year-olds who just graduated from high school,” Markkanen said. “So I’m sure it’s gonna be some stuff that I know how to do that I might have not known at 18. I’m sure it starts with pretty basic stuff.

“I’m gonna give you guys the whole spiel when I know more.”