For the past two seasons I have been lucky enough to skip two European training camps, the unlucky part is that I have missed out on a couple months of getting paid and had to do a bunch of training on my own which I know can say is getting quite old. Getting up every day and going to the gym by yourself really is not terrible because millions of non-athletes do that every day. But knowing you should be getting paid to be working out and wanting to be a part of a team starts to drain on you mentally. (I realize how spoiled I am that I get paid to take care of my body and was smiling while writing that last sentence knowing how lucky I am not working in a cubicle for nine hours a day).
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Being a professional basketball player really has its ups and downs, Aside from a few top-level guys both in the NBA and in Europe many players only receive one-year contracts. After every season you are essentially unemployed and have very little idea as to what country, city and team you will be playing for come next season. What is even crazier is you do not even know when you will be leaving and often times only get a few days in advance to pack your life up in to two suitcases and head off into a new town/city where you will not know anybody, and hope that your teammates and coaches are great people who will help you out. Because of all the uncertainty you really are only allowed to plan things a couple of days in advance from Aug. 1 till the end of next season because at any moment an email with a contract can arrive in your inbox.
For me this waiting game is all just a part of the process and the really comes with the territory of my current profession. Many outsiders believe it’s sort of a blessing because at a whims notice I am picking my entire life up and move myself to the other side of the world. Do not get me wrong, my life is exciting and being able to see the world on someone else’s dollar is a pretty rare and special experience, but my life has very little stability which at times a little frustrating.
Almost as bad as the waiting game is the answering the question of "Who do you play for?" and trying to explain to people where you played last year and that you are currently waiting for another team to sign you. It is not that people are trying to be rude they are honestly just curious and trying to take a vested interest in a somewhat unordinary job. The problem really is internal and trying to answer that question is just another reminder that you are at home waiting for your Prince Charming to slip a magic contract and a few dollars onto your foot.
I suppose I am just being trivial and complaining about being unemployed. Since I have so many bills to pay that include child support, student loans and provide for my imaginary family I really to have a right to complain. Of course I am only kidding I have no children (can’t get a girl to like me enough), thanks to a few donors at UW and some hard work in high school I have zero debt to my name, and my family is well off enough to still let me come home after this season and let me slum off of their success (i.e. my parents are my roommates in the summer).
The First Night in Slovenia
Late in October, I signed a contract with a team from Grosuplje (grow-Soup-Lay) Slovenia (not Slovakia), which is a town of about 10,000 people on the outskirts of the capital city called Ljubljana (lube-li-ahna). After spending a week in D.C. waiting to obtain my work visa I was off doing my normal routine of trying to sweet talk my way into bulkheads and exit rows before the long journey to my new home. Thankfully the man managing the service desk for the flight was empathetic to my situation and gave me a bulkhead with all the room a giant ginger could ask for. After a long 17-hour travel day I arrived in my final destination and was promptly brought to the gym to meet my new coach. After the normal "please to meet you, now you better win us some games or your ass will be cut" introductions I was escorted to my temporary lodgings.
I played on a Eurocup team last year which means we stayed in all sorts of hotels around the world, some of which were pretty terrible, but what I was to call my home for the next two weeks was the absolute worst. It was small puke green room with barely enough room to fit me, my luggage and the surely bug-infested bed that had two thin sheets of paper that were my "blankets." There were two outlets that were placed on the corner closest for my convenience. Since I had not slept in almost 24 hours and my body was extremely confused to what time it actually was, I promptly put on two layers of sweats, curled up in a ball and fell asleep within seconds of my head hitting the surely unwashed pillowcase.
Bang! Bang! Bang! I awoke in a very foggy state of mind and attempted to figure out my surroundings. It was very dark and I went to switch on the light next to my bed. Nothing happened so I was forced to locate my cell phone, which was being charged on the opposite side of the room. After stubbing my toe and having a few choice words I answered the door to be greeted by Michele, the son of the club’s president. He was taking me out to have my first meal in Slovenia and also inform me that the power is out in the building. I changed clothes while Michele held up the flashlight that is the back of my iPhone and we left the dungeon for a pizzeria.
For those of you who are geographically challenged, Slovenia is part of the former Yugoslavia and is the neighbor of Italy, so I was thinking there would actually be some pretty decent Italian food (i.e. pizza) because of my proximity to said mecca. Well because it’s an ex-communist country or they just do not feel like learning from their neighbors, I was severely disappointed in "one of the best pizza places in Slovenia" according to my guide Michele.
After my less-than-stellar meal I was hoping to maybe go out and see the town a little, since my body thought it was only 2 p.m. and I had just slept for seven hours I knew I had a long night ahead of me. Also I was trying to postpone my trip back to my powerless hostel from hell. Unfortunately, I was dealing with the president’s son who felt it necessary to ask the coach’s permission if he could take me out because he knows we have an "important training" the next day at the early hours of 8:30 p.m. Of course he said no and now I am about ready to get back to my hostel and away from the village idiot. I am later to find out that Michele is well known for not being the crunchiest cookie in the box and he is the brunt of several jokes.
I return to my hostel and Michele finds out from the two electricians the power should be on in about 30 minutes. I instantly call malarkey because this is the exact statement they stated to us prior to our departure for dinner exactly two hours earlier. I decide to take a Tylenol PM and turn on the Bourne Identity until I pass out or my computer dies. My eyes slowly dropped as the sleep aid finally settled in. I was trying to be optimistic but I will soon realize that the night’s events would be foreshadowing the rest of my time in Slovenia.
(Note:You can find the archive of Mike Bruesewitz’s Imported Bru stories and photo galleries here.)