After my rookie season in Israel I was looking for redemption. Playing for three horrible coaches in a season was a nightmare. Banging three different olive skinned, hot bodied Israelis every day for numerous months was my only prideful victory. I called them my breakfast, lunch and dinner chicks. While I still made good money, I needed to further my career by getting minutes, stats and being dominant. I was hampered by a shoulder injury due to bench pressing beyond my capability. With my bum shooting shoulder, I’d have to recover by the next season which was a few months away. The Summer would be used for recovery, rest and lots of luxury suite Vegas trips.
That Summer I splurged and made it rain everywhere. Whether it was the first few rounds of Jagerbombs at T.G.I.F.’s with my broke friends or popping bottles of Goose at Tryst in Vegas with my rich friends. I never had this much money and loved the feeling of buying anything I wanted. My cousin’s sexy blonde sidekick took a liking in me. My wallet, my dick and her started a Summer fling. I thought the money I earned from one year of ball and this gold digger of a girlfriend was the start of my “American Dream.” Basketball stopped for the time being as my shoulder injury healed. I found my first 9-5 job and began to hate myself for stopping what I did my whole life; basketball. As my gold digger of a girlfriend emptied out most of my hard earned Jew money, our relationship fizzled out. At least my shoulder problem healed as I didn’t have to use my arm for self-gratification all Summer. I quit my endless job and got on the phone with a new agent. Within a few days he found me a basketball gig. The following week I was off to Bosnia.
Being my new agent, he just sent me where the most money was at that time. He could’ve pointed to my whorish Summer fling, but instead it was to third world Bosnia. Who would’ve thought? The team, Igokea, was in 2nd place and I was replacing a center who previously held a Summer league position on an NBA team. I knew this was big shoes to fill. I was still very nervous about traveling to third world countries, let alone filling the void of better players. If I was going to get my wheels going, Bosnia was the place to man up and start ballin’. Luckily it was Winter break and I had time to get back into shape and show the team what I was made of. I was still just a young pup in the pro basketball game. I knew my talent could progress with the right situation. Most foreign basketball teams were full of selfish Americans who couldn’t give a shit about their teammates. I was beginning to understand the truth about “the game.” Basketball is your typical Catch-22. While winning would keep me on a team and kept the paychecks coming, lots of points and rebounds would get me a better paying job the following season. Some players could do both well, but most just cared about points, more points and banging anything with a hole. I was still very unselfish and needed to change quickly or I’d be eaten alive.
After a five hour layover in Croatia and two unknowing $70 one-minute collect calls to my agent’s Bosnian contact, Slobodan, I arrived in Mostar, Bosnia. I never knew what to expect or who I was meeting at these airports. Although I had someone’s name, I never had a face. When I arrived in a new foreign country everyone always looked the same. I always expected whoever was looking for me to find me or I was screwed. Most basketball players were black and easy to find in a small, foreign airport full of white people. Luckily I was very tall and had visible tats when I rolled up my sleeves, a dead give away for a basketball player. I waited in the magazine shop flipping through a Maxim magazine when I was tapped on the shoulder. A big beefy man, who I assumed was Slobodan, cleared his throat and said, “You know all the girls look like that here!” I looked back at the delicious picture of Elisha Cuthbert and then looked around the airport. If he meant they all had hair, a nose and a mouth then he couldn’t had been more right. We took a seat and he gave me the rundown of the team and their expectations. Slobodan finished his second latte, third cigarette and then told me to wait for my pickup which was supposed to had already been here. I resumed my magazine browsing and waited for whoever was supposed to find me.
Two and a half hours later as I napped in the barren airport, I heard my name being shouted from a distance, “Dooooostin, Dooooostin.” I stood up and realized how empty the airport was; it was just me and him. Without an introduction or cultural greeting (handshake, cheek kiss, dong knock) he grabbed my bags and started walking away. I assumed that “Doooostin” was my name and not a Bosnian word for “steal his shit.” We walked to his jalopy that was well overqualified for “Pimp My Ride.” The back seat window remained permanently opened and he had to open the passenger door from the inside. Still only the word “Dooostin” had been spoken by him. I attempted to break the ice, “Hey man, what’s up?” but he just shrugged his shoulders and nodded horizontally. He attempted some Bosnian and I just smiled and responded, “Don’t know what the fuck your saying dude!” I knew this was going to be a quiet ride and also had no idea how long the drive was. As we hit the highway he cunningly smiled and said his only other English word, “Fast…Vrrrrrm Vrrrrrrm!” I didn’t recognize his English over the Techno beats that constantly popped his speakers. He suddenly slammed his foot down on the accelerator like he was driving in the Daytona 500. While he double gripped the wheel, I tried to keenly buckle my seatbelt as to not let him know I was afraid. I struggled for a few minutes and finally noticed the part where you buckle it was missing. I literally shriveled up in fear as this crazy stranger Kurt Busch’d it for over two hours. I became more relaxed with every passing kilometer, but remained shriveled up because of the brisk 40 degree wind that was blowing through the broken backseat window. I arrived at my hotel at 2 a.m. in one piece and got to sleep in before my first night practice.
I arrived at practice early to meet the coaches and management. This introduction was standard procedure for a new player, making him feel at home. Five crinkly aged seniors sat around a table and choked on a pack of cigarettes while sipping their cappuccinos; also standard procedure. We barely exchanged words as I sat there twiddling my thumbs waiting for practice to come about. My bag of usual ice breakers was rendered useless so I remained silent. It was pretty much a round of hand shakes, a few welcomes and that was it. I didn’t feel too much at home. I can’t tell you how awkward these situations were. A few other Americans arrived in the smoke filled lobby and I escaped with them to the locker room. As we small talked, both Americans only complained about the team and immense pressure shown from management to win. They were a few years older and arrogantly talked about the other jobs they had lined up. This didn’t excite me too much and my hopes were shot before I even stepped on the court. I was there to make the best of my time and didn’t let their words bring me down.
I sluggishly made it through the first grueling practice. Jet lag was a bitch! I couldn’t sleep until 4 a.m., my body was aching from the first practices and it was below zero outside. After a few more practices we took an eight hour bus ride to play a friendly match with a Croatian team. I happened to pull a hamstring the last night before this test game. I forced myself to play or I knew it was a wrap. I knew this game was my test and if I didn’t man up and play, they would send me home. I played in excruciating pain and turned in a decent performance, but it wasn’t good enough for them to want to keep me around.
My agent called and informed me that they wanted a taller center. Guess I was a few inches short. I’d stay at the hotel for a few days while my agent found another team for me. No reason to go back to America and make the grueling flight back to Europe. So I wined and dined on behalf of the team for a week in the hotel. The other Americans knew that my tab would be picked up, so they met with me for lunch, dinner and drinks everyday. I had nothing to do for a week stuck in my hotel room. I got desperate and persuaded the front desk guy into letting me use his PC and internet. It was running a dial-up modem. I hacked the screen name, password and phone number for their dial-up internet. I luckily had a 26k connection in my hotel room. Let’s just say waiting two minutes for a Google search wasn’t fun, but it passed the time quickly.
A week after being cut, my agent found a job in the same league, but with one of the lower, struggling teams. I accepted the offer and another random Bosnian drove me down to the southern most point of Bosnia. This was an eight hour drive through the countryside which still had active mind fields and the occasional road that was big enough for only one vehicle to pass. I remembered being on a stretch of one of these narrow roads and having to reverse for a quarter of a mile to let a semi-truck through first. Never seen anything like it. Parts of this road also had no guard rail. One false move and your car would go tumbling down a few thousand feet of treacherous cliffs. This guy fortunately spoke English and we shared conversations about the NBA and the USA for a few hours. I arrived in Trebinje, Bosnia where I’d stay from January to May. Smaller town, absolutely no English and only one American on the squad. Here’s a breakdown of my experiences in this small town:
After arriving in Trebinje, I ate dinner with the team and they took me to my temporary house. I was going to live with a seven foot Moroccan and a cocky kid from Montenegro until they found my own place. They opened a room which I thought was the storage closet for my luggage. This was my new comfy 50 square foot room. I was thinking more on the terms of a prison cell. My bed touched wall to wall and I obviously extended longer then it. I had to turn the bed diagonal, but this caused the door to be blocked. It also had an oversized dresser that took up half the room. There was no room at all, but I had to make due. Our toilet shot up water when it was flushed. No, it wasn’t that extra toilet that you can douche yourself with. It just gargled when it swallowed poop and pee. The shower had a heater that needed to be warmed up before showering. At full power, it allowed ten continuous minutes of showering under hot water. It wasn’t a pleasant process after practice with my roommates. To top it off there wasn’t any internet. While I had a full apartment to myself in Israel, this was the worst living space I had to live in to date. I knew it was temporary, but I didn’t actually get my own apartment for two more months.
A few months after the dreadful living conditions of the broom closet, they moved me into a hotel room sized flat. Finally, I could play with myself in the peace and quiet. The other American lived in this same building, so I at least had someone to talk and walk with to practice. There wasn’t internet in this building either. I found some active WIFI signals, but after numerous hacking attempts, I failed. Even though it was written in my contract for internet, they seemed to beat around the bush when I asked. I was forced to spend my days in an internet cafe. This room was also very confined, numbering about 12 computers and as big as your average living room. There was a rare semi-cute twenty year old girl working the internet cafe. Her and her boyfriend chain smoked hours upon hours. As I spent 4-5 hours a day in the cafe, I lost 4-5 years off my life inhaling second-hand smoke. Sometimes the smoke was so thick my eyes began to burn. Once again, I had no choice but to sweat it out. Only a few months after living in my new apartment, I’d be kicked out. We weren’t told that the apartment was pre-leased to students in the Spring. Onto my third and final Bosnian home in the same amount of months.
I was moved into the same housing structure as before. This time I lived with my American teammate, Rome, and the only cool Serb on the team, Nemanja. I was given the master bedroom as the Serb took the broom closet and Rome slept in the other regular sized room. My bed was more comfortable and I had a balcony. Once again, there was no internet access. There was no one on the team to help us out with internet problems. As I asked the coach to ask the management about hooking up internet, I’m sure the message was never passed on. The language barrier was impossible. Yet, I was determined to get internet in my house. I walked into the main internet/cellphone service office only to be told that there was a 2 year waiting list for the internet. Damn! Two years? This seemed more difficult than I thought. After walking into some other computer repair shops, I was finally pointed in the right direction. I found this guy who came to my flat and bolted a 2 foot satellite dish to our roof and enabled us to surf the web occasionally. It worked like Direct TV, if the satellite pointed to the right access point, it’d pick up a weak signal. It had 60% accessibility, as sometimes it was just not work or pick up a signal due to bad weather. Better than nothing. At least there was also a 24 hour bar below our house, so it became my own personal fridge. This was my final stomping grounds and I lived in this house until the season ended.
The town itself was also as little as my first room. The population was under 15,000 and missed the female population aged 18-35. It had two eighty meter bridges connecting both sides of town. A beautiful lake ran through the middle of town. The most popular past time was sitting at a coffee shop sipping cappuccinos and reading the newspaper. Trebinje lacked women, fun and just about everything that was necessary for a town. There was no car for us Americans. In a town of this size, everything was within walking distance. There was always a popular joke when asking about somewhere in town, “Yeah, it’s a five minute walk.” Yet, we couldn’t use a car to escape to the next bigger town if we wanted. We were stuck.
One main source of income for the city was sports gambling. Every corner had a bet shop. Each bet shop had it’s walls littered with daily lines and box scores. Some had flat screens to watch international matches and most were 24 hour bars. Rome and I would visit the bet bar everyday after practice to put our bets in. It became a cheap addiction to bet on the over/under of Lebron and Kobe scoring 30. I learned that betting parlays of over five bets never hit. I think I went 3/50 on the year. The two girls working the bet shop were bombshells, but knew no English. It didn’t matter how hard we tried to lure them away for a night, always resulted in a failed attempt. At least it was something to keep the mind off the nothingness in town.
We were given free meals at the team restaurant in the center of town. The food wasn’t bad, but it was a crap shoot. I didn’t get to pick my meal, it was a random rotation of meat cutlets and soups. There was no popular restaurant to eat at like in most cities. The town was full of little Mom and Pop restaurants trying to make a buck. Their version of pizza couldn’t even beat out frozen Vons Select generic pizza. I stuck with the team restaurant as everything else was below average.
Not too many people owned a car here. Walking was preferred by everybody. Since everything was within a ten minute walk, why would you need a car except to escape the city. A popular pastime was to cruise around town in circles. On a Friday or Saturday night, the younger generation enjoyed driving around from bridge to bridge and honking their horns. I guess this was similar to cruising PCH or Sunset, but just a tad bit different. Since gas was $6/gallon, it was an expensive cruise.
There wasn’t even a disco for adults. The few times we went out to a night spot, it was 16 and over. Yet, the ages ranged from 16 to 17 as no women my age could be found in town. Pimping was left for Myspace and the few adult girls I tried to lure back to my pad for some love. Except for a few make-out sessions and a random blow job, there wasn’t much luck finding a fuck in Bosnia. I just dealt with it and hoped my teammate, Rome, would let me enjoy one of his monthly imported chicks for the night. That didn’t happen! I guess I needed time in Europe to have been able to import my own chicks.
Every city I lived in I’d find a guitar to call my own. I figured this town was too small for some kind of music shop. I looked all over, but couldn’t find anything. Even a few of the local patrons couldn’t point me the right way. One day I saw a teenager with a guitar case strapped to his back. I ran up to him and asked where he got the guitar. He was polite enough to take me to a small music pawn shop. I couldn’t believe there was a guitar shop like this in a town of less than 15,000. The guitar would become my drug and best friend, sort of like Wilson the volleyball in Tom Hank’s “Castaway.” After my last day in Bosnia, I smashed the guitar to bits like a rock star, this would be my calling.
One random day my Bosnian teammates asked if I smoked weed. I knew that most of my teammates were young and ready to snitch. I took a chance and told him I did smoke. With the extreme boredom in the city, I would’ve done anything for a smoke. I didn’t think it existed in this puny town. He told me he would get some for me. A few weeks passed by and I felt he was just talking the talk. Then of all days, April 20th, 420, he came up to me in the street and handed me a phat nug of weed. I couldn’t believe it, smelled great, looked great, probably smoked great. They just gave it to me. They didn’t want to smoke it or have anything to do with it. I thought it was some kind of setup. The season was almost over and I didn’t care. I marched into my room with so much excitement. I tried to make a bong, but didn’t have the proper scraps and tools to accomplish it. I did the next best thing, grabbed an apple. I smoked myself silly on 4/20 at 4:20 and enjoyed the rare sunny day playing guitar on my balcony. This was one of my few fun days I had in Bosnia. I made that gorgeous purple nug last almost a week.
My daily activities were going to practice, putting bets in, inhaling cigarettes in the internet cafe, eating and repeating. The most boring place I’d ever been in. Sometimes you must make your own fun, but with cold weather, no women and no English…that meant suffering until the season’s end.
The team was full of 18-21 year olds and one guy over 30. I was 23 at the time and felt more ready then ever. While the weather during the winter remained hovering around freezing, the gym was an ice box. It was necessary to wear a sweater for the first thirty minutes of practice, if not for the whole time. Rome was even caught wearing gloves for many practices. The gym owner refused to turn on the heater because it cost too much in electric bills. Even during games the heater wouldn’t be present, but fortunately sometimes it would.
Having so many younger teammates meant a high level of selfishness. They didn’t understand the concept of team basketball and winning. Instead they cared about Kobe Bryant scoring tactics; the more shots attempted meant the more shots that had a chance to go in. Practice was simple and they had a decent weight room to workout in. Weights kept my mind free as it always did. We had one egotistical Bosnian older player who acted more like a little baby then a 35 year old power forward. While the players averaged 10 words of English, Rome and I never knew what was going on. This cry baby of a player would many times just get pissed for random reasons, walk over to grab his fanny pack and jet out of the gym. I didn’t understand it. I did my job and all I could do to contribute. I averaged 14 points and 9 rebounds a game during my stay. I was hoping these stats would help towards my next team.
We needed to win games as the bottom few teams in the league dropped to second division the following year. Our team was in a battle for the bubble all season. We won our home games and lost our road games; typical in a country like this where the bus rides average six hours. The last month of the season our team fell into money problems. We finished the season tied for the bubble spot, but the team had a bigger winning margin over us. The league decided that the bottom two teams in our league and the champions of the 2nd and 3rd division would have a mini playoff for who would stay in the first league. There was one problem with this scenario. As our last game was played on April 10th, this playoff wouldn’t start until the first week of May. Not only was there financial problems, but I was forced to stay and practice for a month to play in this loser bowl. After a few weeks of just practicing I started to give up. The boredom reached an all-time high. I told them a family member was very ill and ditched out of there. The other American, Rome, stayed and finshed out the season, saving the team but receiving no money in return. I made a good call!
The worst part about being the southern most team in a big country is the traveling. Our littlest bus ride was three hours and the longest was ten hours. We’d usually travel the average six hours cramped on a bus and show up an hour or less before the game. It was difficult to play on the road, nonetheless win any of these games. There is one bus trip I will never forget. I contracted dysentery six days before our longest bus trip. When our water guy ran out of bottled water, he would use the disgusting sink water without our knowledge. So from this I became real sick. I’d never had diarrhea for this long of a period. The first three days were spent hovering over a toilet throwing up and shitting. Every 30 minutes to an hour I had to shat a water cannon out of my ass. The excessive wiping caused bleeding and rawness of it’s own. After three medications and five days of dysentery, it began to slow down. I was still afraid of the bus trip the next day. Although my sickness slowed, it was still present and the buses never had a toilet. Holding in diarrhea was impossible and I didn’t want to try and make it possible. Lucky as I was, the bus trip went smoothly. We got to the game 20 minutes before the tip-off and got smashed. Nine hours of bus there, two and a half hours at the gym to lose a game, then nine hours home. What a trip! This was the first bus ride in which I slept the majority of the way home. Every three hours the bus driver would stop for a pee and stretch break; standard procedure. Yet, a few hours before we arrived back to Trebinje, I notcied our bus would be stopped for 10-15 minutes without anyone getting off. I came to find out that the bus driver usually came with a backup driver to drive the second leg of the journey home. Our bus driver would be doing almost 20 hours of driving in a 22 hour period solo. The bus driver began to fall asleep at the wheel. Luckily our coach was wide awake and noticed him slowly nodding off and told him to take a few 20 minute naps every few hours. Like I said, some parts of this road through the mountains were without guard rails and heavily slick from snow. I guess I’m just lucky to still be alive. Maybe this was the place for me to die. I could be sure if we happened to drive off a cliff, no one would ever know what happened to me.
Of all my basketball experiences, this was my own personal hell. Freezing cold gym, being forced to move place to place every other month, traveling dozens of hours on a bus every week, getting screwed out of thousands of dollars. I guess this was punishment for leaving basketball and trying out something new. I wasn’t done with basketball and I knew this. While it was a personal hell, I stuck with it and performed every game. All I could do next was hope my agent could plug me into a better situation with the work I did in Bosnia. That’s all you really hope when you depend on an agent to get a gigs for you. Living in different environments is a true experience, but also makes me realize how difficult it is for some people. Even more difficult for an American to live there and not have the usual things he expects; women, Dr. Pepper, Taco Bell, internet, Charmin 3-ply. Yet, no matter where I’m sent to in this world to live and hoop…I’m fully ready to absorb the environment and take on any challenge. You learn something new, meet cool strangers, fuck cooler strangers, drink what they drink, eat what they eat and do what they do, all with my own unique twist.