It was a surprisingly clear, sunny day that day in Seoul. Even though it couldn’t have been warmer than 15 degrees outside, the sunshine made my already good mood much better. See, it also happened to be a day off for me. While these other blokes were in the gym running lines and doing whatever, my coach told me I could kick it at the crib. I had definitely earned it, I figured, having played nearly the entire game in our last contest, then appearing at multiple locations to greet fans that Friday, dunking in the dunk contest that Saturday, and then capping it off with 30-plus minutes in the KBL All-Star Game on Sunday. Monday was mine.
I didn’t get out of bed until about noon. When I did, I went to the mall and grabbed some lunch and some props for a photo shoot I decided to handle that day. I came back to my apartment and spent two hours on the photo shoot for my clothing company. Taking photos of a beautiful model was awesome and improved my mood even more. She left at about 5 pm and I snacked on some leftovers, got tired again and figured I’d lay it down for a nap. The day couldn’t be any better.
At about 5:30 my translator called me and asked me to come to the gym. Coach always wanted to check up on me on my days off. It was annoying, but a small tax on an otherwise great day. I headed out and began the two-minute walk to our practice facility. On the way, my phone buzzed. I had a Facebook message from a random Korean:
“BAN-SON YOU ARE MOBIS GOODBYE.”
WTF? I dismissed the weird message, much like I disregard most of the fan messages I get that don’t make sense. I got to the gym and my translator, Chris, caught me from the corner of his eye and rushed over.
“So, you know you’ve been traded, right?”
He could barely get the words out.
I kind of felt dizzy, but I played it cool in case he was messing with me.
“What are you talking about?”
“Oh God, they didn’t tell you either? Come in here coach wants to talk to you,” he said with a defeated sigh.
Within 45 seconds of entering the gym, I was now seated in front of the head coach of the LG Sakers, as he was explaining that I had indeed been traded to the Hyundai Mobis Phoebus that day. That he hoped I was happy to be going to a winning program. That he wanted me to… blah blah blah… He wished blah blah blah…
His words were drowned out by my own thoughts. How did I not know? Did anybody know? Is this why I had the day off? They never really liked me, did they? When am I supposed to report to MOBIS? Wow, that random Korean kid was actually the first one to tell me? How is this going to—
“So good luck. Come say goodbye to the rest of the team,” Chris translated, breaking my stream of thought.
He walked me to the film room where all the guys were waiting for me, some looking like they were about to cry. They each gave me hugs and said a few words. The coach then asked me if I had anything to say. I told him the truth, that I haven’t even had time to think, let alone form a goodbye speech.
Out of nowhere the MOBIS translator appeared and told me to grab some things from my apartment and come with him. I was to have practice at 7 at the MOBIS facility – another WTF moment, indeed.
At 5:30 I was awoken from my nap, at 6:30 I was in a van with a bag consisting of my hoop kicks a change of clothes and my laptop on the way to my new team, and by 7 I was indeed taped up and ready for practice. I was introduced to the new team and we got it on. Just like that. I guess there was no time to waste.
After practice, I was informed there was a change of plans. We drove back to my old apartment, 35 minutes away, and moved all my stuff out right then. There’s nothing like moving out at a moments notice when you absolutely had no idea you were supposed to be moving that day. It was miserable.
At midnight I was back at the MOBIS facility, where I’d have to spend the night in the dorms and was told to be up at 7:50 am for team breakfast. Welcome to the new team, Benson.
I bring this up because the NBA trade deadline is looming and, for some people who have no idea what’s coming, this is coming. Granted it’s a little extreme hearing about a trade and practicing 45 minutes later, but it’s coming for someone and chances are they aren’t going to like it.
It’s going to be those guys who are thrown into a trade to make the numbers work. It’s going to be a “franchise” guy who is going to realize that he’s not as “franchise” as he thought. It’s going to be guys with families and children and schools and lifestyles and friends and a comfort zone and it will hit them all at once that they really have absolutely no say in the grand scheme of things.
They’ll realize that all those times they joked with the GM, or had a heart-to-heart with the head coach, or appeared for the fans, or even the moment that they framed their first jersey from maybe the only team they have yet to play for will be second guessed.
In my situation, I realize that there are basically three stages to handling a trade. I already told you the first stage: The Moment.
The moment you hear that you’ve been traded, there are many, many emotions. I could go on for days about how many NBA guys I’ve been told sat in their locker and cried after hearing they were traded. I can understand that, for sure. I certainly didn’t shed a tear, mainly because I hadn’t been there long. Also, I did get traded from one of the worst teams to a team considered to make a run at the championship.
Still, as my coach was speaking it felt like a breakup. He was giving me the “it’s not you, it’s me” talk and I was thinking about how it’s ridiculous that they break up with me, I should be breaking up with them! I stayed and dealt with that relationship and they break up with me? In this case, my “ex” chose my next “girlfriend”, who was also hotter, but still… How dare they?! I could only imagine if I had been on that team for years and had built my whole life around that team. It definitely could have been worse.
The second stage is dealing with the expectations. As far as Korean basketball goes, there’s not much more pressure you could put on someone as what the media is currently placing on me. The team I joined is already good. In fact, all the preseason publications predicted that they would win the title. So, here they are sitting in second place, and they trade away a first-round pick and one of their American players to get me over here six weeks before the end of the season.
In a pre-game interview before my first game with the new team, a writer asked me if my coming to MOBIS would be like Dwight Howard going to the Lakers. Basically, he asked if I would be a boon or bust. Another writer said that all the media is calling me the final piece to the puzzle, and wanted to know if I agree. I find that living up to myself is one of the toughest things to do these days.
I could only imagine what it would be like to be a big ticket NBA player who changes teams midseason. One team clearly feels that they were better off without that player, while another thinks that they just may be the piece that the team needs. Is it safe to say that the pressure of going to L.A. actually was too much for Dwight? I’m not calling it either way, but for people to crown the Lakers kings of the West just because they have a new player puts a lot of pressure on said player.
What if it’s a lower-level guy? This guy may have felt that he had a good chance to finally break into the rotation, then he’s traded to a new team and the pressure to prove himself resurfaces all over again. If they don’t show something special, they may find themselves in Italy the next season instead of New York.
The last stage, and much more difficult for me than the average NBA player is integrating with the new team. I had been traded before when I was in the D-League. At the time, I requested the trade, it was not a surprise, and I went to a team where I already knew half the guys, I didn’t take anyone’s spot, really, and they all spoke English (obviously). This time around was completely different.
There’s obviously a language barrier here, so building a relationship with the Koreans takes time. I would say that the most bonding happens during training camp when we all complain about how hard practice is, travel to another country to compete in games that don’t count, and go out on our off days. By the time I was traded from LG, our wins and losses didn’t matter. We knew each other well without being able to communicate and we were always smiling.
That first practice with MOBIS was eerily silent. It was like I walked into the wrong open gym, played a game, and walked back into the wild, never to be seen again. Except I was seen again the next morning, and the next day, and so on. Part of it for me was that I felt like I used my emotional capital on the old team, and to be traded away so quickly made me feel like that effort wasn’t worth it again, at least not in the short term. But like everything, time is changing that and we’re building relationships that will be important once the playoffs start.
The weirdest part of this whole deal is the fact that in the Korean league, even though there are two Americans on every team, only one American can be on the court at a time. So let’s say I’m in the game, the other American has to basically play cheerleader. This has never really been an issue during my years in this league. Even this season when I was on LG, my teammate Ira Clark who is a damn good player would have some games where he’d play 30 of the 40 minutes and I’d play ten. Other games our roles would change. We were both cool with it, especially since we had built a rapport during training camp, and respected each other’s abilities.
So I’m traded to the new team, a team that already has a great record, and the guy they traded away (Curtis Withers) was the backup. That means that the guy here, Ricardo Ratliffe (also a very good player in this league) who has been leading the team all year – and doing damn well at it – has to deal with me coming in. And not only do I come in, I come in with all this media fair and hoopla that I didn’t ask for, I start after three days of being here, and the coach just trusts me with his minutes right off the bat. I don’t care what kind of person you are, that would be tough to deal with.
So here I am, almost feeling guilty about the trade, because this has really been his team, and every minute I’m out there he has to sit and watch, which he hasn’t done all year. He’s been a good sport, and actually had three of the most monsterous games I’ve seen out here (15-16 FG a few days ago) during this time, but still. It’s not easy for anyone to deal with. I’ve been splitting time all season and he hasn’t. It’s as simple as someone else pissing on your yard, and you have to let him stay there. I’m sure NBA players have felt this before because there is only one ball, and sometimes players are brought in that can take your shine. But I don’t know of many situations where one person’s success will directly affect the other person.
So now what? I’ve been traded. My lifestyle is completely different than it was three weeks ago, but at the end of the day, the game is the game. We’re tough guys. We get over the B.S. and move on. Buckets will be gotten. Games will be had. Friendships will be formed, and new memories will be created. For me and my team, hopefully it ends in a championship, but that will all depend on how quickly we can build a bond that usually takes a season of ups and downs to create. Until all the dust settles, it will be a process.