Friday, November 27, 2009

Driving Mr. Owens

I know I usually start my blogs with a negative about how it sucks that I am waiting to go play for what seems like an eternity, but today I am actually in a good mood. The reason I have a smile on my face is because it’s Thanksgiving. I don’t know how the rest of the world feels about this holiday, but I love it. Football, food and family. Again another holiday that a normal basketball player does not partake in.

Two years ago when I injured my knee and was out for a few months…a story for another blog…I experienced my first Thanksgiving since I was a senior in high school. That’s a nine year drought. Over that time I experienced Thanksgivings in Australia, Hawaii, Virginia and at various coaches’ houses. Despite the best efforts to make it as familiar as possible, nothing beats the comforts of home. I must admit that although times are tough, I have so much to be thankful for. I have a great family, a roof over my head and a beautiful loving wife…sorry had to get that out, I promise more jokes to follow.

Currently I am writing from the passenger seat of our car as we drive down to Virginia to see my in-laws. I can honestly say the comforts of our small sedan are a little cramped. I find that to be the norm for a seven footer. Unless you have enough money to customize a car, you’re stuck with the standard floor models. I find this is the case for pretty much every aspect of my life, clothes, cars, etc. Nothing is made for the taller gentleman. My wife and I recently took a trip to a local Chevy dealership to see how I fit in the new “gas efficient” vehicles. The one thing I learned was that if I want a vehicle that I am comfortable in, it’s going to cost me. I sat in the new Equinox thinking it’s an SUV that is amazingly efficient. But according to my wife I looked “ridiculous” in it. Maybe because my knees were above the steering wheel…I don’t know. We then sat in every model of car which increased in both comfort and price each time. I felt like Goldilocks. This car is too small, this car my head sticks out of the sunroof, this car is juuuuuuust right. Unfortunately that was before I saw the sticker on the 2009 Chevy Avalanche, which on top of being pricey also has the gas mileage of a Sherman Tank.

(That is not a knock on a Sherman Tank. I never sat in a Sherman Tank before, nor do I know anything about them. For all I know they could be as good on gas as a hybrid. I am just assuming that they are not great for everyday commuting. But what the hell do I know?)

Man I get off topic quickly. Back to the Avalanche. I really do like this vehicle. It fits me, there is room for the family we eventually want to start, and it is fairly badass. I just don’t want to worry about a bunch of hippies throwing paint all over me every time I drive to the grocery store because it’s not “good for mother earth”.

During my travels to various countries, the means of transportation has been interesting to say the least. The first ever experience I had overseas was in Poland. I walked off the plane not knowing what to expect and who would be there waiting for me. I was met by a man who spoke little English, and provided even less information during our two hour drive away from the airport. Once arriving in the team’s city, I found out this was the man who would be driving me everywhere I needed to go. Little did I know how loosely the term “everywhere” was used.

My fellow import and I quickly found out that the driver would drive us strictly to and from practice. Despite pleading with him in my pathetic attempt at Polish to drive us somewhere to eat, he would stay the course. Finally one day he dropped us off at a McDonalds. (I don’t know how I got him to stop or what I agreed to for him to stop, but I do know I will be staying out of Eastern Europe for fear of having my organs harvested, or some other form of torture like I saw in the movie Hostel.)

Once arriving at McDonalds we quickly ordered so we wouldn’t piss our driver off any further. However, when returning to the parking lot we noticed he was nowhere to be found. After a long day of practice we were forced to find our own way home, despite not knowing where the hell we were. I believe we eventually hailed down a cab and showed him a card with our address on it to get home.

The only other way we’d eat would be when our driver occasionally pulled out a menu of a local eatery and mumbled “What want”? I would just point to some random picture on the menu in hopes that it was something edible. About an hour after arriving back to my apartment, an even sketchier looking individual would bang on my door with a bag of food in hand.

Individuals like this were the main reason I stayed in my apartment and didn’t venture out to find food. Let me tell you eating and energy go hand in hand. I find having energy helps my basketball game. Needless to say I was back in NJ not long after I arrived.

Throughout my career I have had various forms of transportation. In Australia I learned how to drive on the opposite side of the car and the road. I quickly discovered how hard it was to turn. I don’t know how many times I made an American right turn only to be heading directly into oncoming traffic. Unfortunately I wasn’t able to blend in since my car was covered with my team’s logos. So if I did something stupid on the road, I couldn’t be very inconspicuous.

In Korea I was driven around by men who were, in my mind, training to be formula one drivers. The only problem being that they were driving buses and not race cars. My wife, who is prone to car sickness, became horribly ill for days after one such ride.

The story that sticks out in my mind about driving overseas comes from my last stop in Kosovo. My fellow imports Keena Young, Brad Jones and I were selected to play in the Kosovo All Star Game. Thinking that this was a pretty big deal, with a formal dinner prior to the game, I was expecting to ride in style. Now the game was about two hours from our city. We all met at our gym and started walking with our coach and captain towards the parking lot. I was looking around trying to figure out which of these vehicles would be taking us to the game. Suddenly a green minivan, circa 1984, pulled up alongside of us and we were encouraged to get in. I was hoping this beaten up old van would take us to our real transportation. I was wrong. I had a hard time accepting that this van, which currently had about seven tall guys sardined into it, would be able to make it to our final destination.

As we made it to what I can only describe as EXACTLY half way between our city and the all star game we decided to stop and fill up the tank. Now let me paint you a picture of Kosovo. There are cities located sporadically throughout the country. These cities are connected by empty roads…not highways….roads! This gas station was in a barren land surrounded by empty fields for miles. As we sat quietly, waiting for the attendant to fill up the tank, the silence was broken by loud arguing between our driver and the man attending to our car. The shouting only became louder and was quickly joined by the “owner” of the gas station and our coach. I asked our captain what was going on. He told me that the man pumping our gas had accidentally put diesel fuel in as opposed to the regular it requires. Now I am not a mechanic, but even I know that spells doom for a van, especially the one we were currently sitting in. (See photo, check out the poor attendant who looks mortified behind our pathetic excuse for a ride.)

The worst part, being halfway, it would take an hour and a half for anyone to reach us. I quickly surveyed the parking lot looking for ulterior modes of transportation. Nothing! I did see two bikes that I am guessing belonged to the two who were currently engaged in said argument. After seeing what we were currently driving, I wouldn’t be surprised if our coach made us hop on the bikes and ride to the game. Oh did I mention it was snowing? Long story short, after standing in the snow for about an hour they eventually drained the engine, refilled it and we were on our way. Needless to say we had a different ride home.

The only means of transportation I am waiting for now is a plane that will take me onto my next leg of the professional basketball tour. Hopefully it will be soon. I want to wish all my readers a very Happy Thanksgiving. Today be grateful for what you have and stop focusing on what you don’t. Until we meet again, I will be here waiting.

Friday, November 20, 2009

The "Weighting" Game

Hands down the hardest thing about waiting for a job has to be staying in shape. I know people out there will say that they are in shape and that they work a 9-5 job. Let me just tell you now…you may be in shape, but you are not in basketball shape. When I say in basketball shape I am talking about being ready at the drop of a hat to go and replace a player who has been practicing with a team for several months now. Just like teams are practicing everyday to be ready for a 48 minute game, you also have to be ready. The major downfall here is they have a contract, and you don’t. I consider staying in basketball shape to be a job in itself.

A typical day in my life starts early. I usually work out 3-4 times a day. It consists of a plyometric workout, a sprint workout, and lifting. After I refuel with my healthy daily diet of twelve eggs and a huge vat of homemade strawberry banana smoothie I am off to the gym to shoot. (Don’t worry, I only use the egg whites, so my cholesterol is fine. By the way if you are ever in the market for buying eggs in excessive bulk, I recommend Costco. It is quickly becoming my favorite place to shop.) Anyway, I have also been mixing in a soccer workout here or there. Oh and yes I did say soccer. For some odd reason, I have become obsessed with this game. I can’t really pinpoint when it happened. Maybe it was in ‘94 when USA hosted the World Cup. I don’t really know. I never played soccer after 8th grade, and I am sure I am the worst player in history, but that sport is fun to play and is great for my agility. I spend about an hour and a half most mornings showing off my pathetic David Beckham impression all while being laughed at by the occasional housewife walking her dog. I’m sure these women have never touched a soccer ball in their lives, but can tell that I probably shouldn’t have either. Soccer also helps me get my sprint workout out of the way. If I am sprinting to a ball I just kicked I find it more rewarding than sprinting to a pointless line.

Another part of my day is spent at the gym trying to get my muscles bigger. I don’t mean to brag, but I have busted my ass in the gym this off season. I am stronger than I have ever been in my life. I don’t know if any of my readers knew me in high school, but I might have been the skinniest person on the planet. I didn’t know what the term “bench press” meant until I was 19. I always just figured it was some sort of power tool. I was 6’11” my senior year in high school. Here is a fun mathematical equation to solve my weight back then. I don’t care how small you were, just figure out how much you weighed in high school and subtract 5 pounds. That’s what I weighed. I was 17 years old and taller than everyone, everywhere I went. I developed a great way of handling it. I hunched over all the time, making me look even more attractive to all the high school girls. It wasn’t until college that I decided to embrace the height, stand up straight and become the ladies man I am today…PAUSE FOR LAUGHTER…

The tough thing about basketball is unless you are competing against someone else on your playing level, it is hard to get better. No matter how many shots you shoot, and how much footwork you do, it is still not the same without that competition. How do I know if my “slippery eel” (thank you Nick Horvath) will work if I am practicing it against air? I can make a thousand by myself, but once I try it in a game I might have “Molten” written across my forehead…WOOSH!! That is the sound of that joke flying over half of my readers’ heads. Molten is the name of the ball used for international competition…c’mon people keep up. Trying to find that competition is not always easy. Most professional players are already playing somewhere. Colleges no longer have open gyms and are knee deep in their seasons already. I try to meet up with players I went to high school with and get a couple of games in a few times a month. Other than that I head over to a local college on Saturday mornings to play against a group of former professional basketball players who are now successful businessmen and doctors. I don’t know if I should feel confident since I am still trying to play, or diffident since these guys are all wildly successful. Either way the drought of consistent fall basketball puts a guy like me at an instant disadvantage even with all my hard work.

Despite working hard to make sure I am in shape when my agent finally calls me with good news, my timeframe for this waiting game is growing smaller. I am worried all this time and effort might go to waste. I have heard the term transition a lot these past two years, mostly in my cover letters and resumes. I know that this is the hardest transition I will ever have to make. Going from being the star…wait fan favorite…wait contributor…there we go, to being just another blank face in an office somewhere is not appealing to me. I know that it’s a transition that will eventually have to be made. My goal is to postpone it a little longer until I know that I can’t compete at the professional level. Now I know how Brett Favre feels…Oh wait he is getting paid 12 million dollars this year…Never mind. Regardless I will keep pushing through with the hopes that someday in the near future I will be called on to contribute. Until then the “weighting game” continues.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

One Wedding and a Temporary Career Funeral

Well I must apologize to my one follower...for the delay since my last post. I was experiencing a rare occurrence…being home for a friends wedding. As a professional basketball player there are few months that I can fill out a wedding attendance card without fear of costing the brides parents two extra settings. I know that it is a little stressful for our poor hosts. We usually give the same response…”We’ll be there as long as we are here.” It’s a horrible response to give. It’s like telling them that we would be so honored to attend their wedding, unless something better comes our way. Over the years I have missed even my closest friend’s weddings for this game.

I am never happy when I have to make the call that I will be unable to attend the ceremony TOMORROW. It is such a fluctuation of emotions. On one hand, I am able to buy groceries again, and on the other I just missed out on the most important day of a good friend’s life. Tough call. However, when I am able to attend, a part of me is stressed that I am unemployed and going on what my friends and I call a “forced vacation.” Summer weddings are usually my best bet. I am supposed to be off of work and I can relax and enjoy.

Long story short this weekend was a lot of fun. Our friends Mike and Eden were married and it was filled with lots of awkward 7ft dancing. I am not much of a dancer, but I find when I have been drinking, I can blame the “full body dry heave set to music” on the liquor. When I first get out there I stick close to the wife while having serious self-confidence issues. Once she gives me the nod of approval that I’m doing ok…that’s when I really get into the groove. By the end of the night I am usually sweaty and worn out. In my mind it is a lot more fun then it appears. So if one of my readers happen to see me at a wedding, it is better to just smile and give me a thumbs up regardless of how my “running man” looks.

The main reason, however that I have been tardy with the blog, is the fact that my ego took quite the hit this week. I was scheduled to be drafted in the D-League last Thursday. A bunch of friends were in from out of town for the wedding. So I thought why not bring everyone over for a good old draft party? The answer of course was because there is a chance I won’t get drafted. And that is exactly what happened. Ouch…and yes it is as embarrassing as it sounds. Fortunately I have a great group of friends who picked me up and had me in a good mood within minutes. The thing that really gets my goat…thank you Charlie Kelly…is the knowledge that I know I am better than a ton of those guys. I understand that at 29 I am no spring chicken. But it still sucks none the less. When I started this blog, I was under the impression that most of my future posts would be from somewhere other than my sectional. It appears that my fans…again most likely singular…will get just what the title of this blog implies…waiting. Who knows, might be interesting reading.

I will say this…I started my career in the D-League and was so blessed to have a coach take a chance on me. It took me on a long road of professional basketball where I have had lots of successes and made lots of money. If Coach D never took that chance I never would have had a shot. All I can do is hope that one of the young guys a coach took a chance on this year will earn it. I hope he will work as hard as I worked and be as appreciative as I have been. And I wish him the best of luck. But for now I sit here under this tree looking into the distance waiting…waiting for that phone to ring...waiting for a team to sign me up…waiting to godunk.