Overseas basketball is somewhat of a mystery to some NBA fans. Occasionally they’ll pay attention if notable players sign abroad – such as when high-profile draft prospects choose a nontraditional route to the league, or when former NBA players sign in a different country in search or a payday or to prove they still have what it takes to help an NBA team.
However, there are still many things that fans don’t know about overseas hoops. In an effort to change that, HoopsHype talked to 20 players with overseas experience on their résumé and asked them to share their wildest stories. We interviewed a wide variety of individuals, many of whom had very different circumstances that led to them playing internationally. Some started their career overseas and eventually made it to the NBA. Others signed abroad when NBA teams stopped calling. A few only played one season overseas during the NBA lockout in 2011. Some haven’t played in the NBA, but they’ve made a nice living by playing exclusively abroad. A few continue to chase the NBA dream, using their foreign stints to improve their game and try to get the attention of front-office executives.
A number of players spoke under the condition of anonymity either because they’re still with the team they’re discussing or because they didn’t want to miss out on potential free-agency opportunities due to sharing behind-the-scenes information.
CRAZY COACHING STORIES
Eight-year NBA veteran Garrett Temple: “When I played in Italy during the lockout, the worst part was that the coach of our team was crazy. Serbian coaches sort of have a reputation for being crazy. My coach was Italian, but he coached like one of the Serbian coaches you’d hear horror stories about. He was very demanding and would just curse me out non-stop. He spoke English, but if I didn’t know any better, I would’ve thought that curse words were the only English words he knew. When an overseas coach is trying to get on one of the players, they’ll oftentimes call him a ‘pussy.’ If you’re an American player, you’re probably going to be called a pussy at some point. That’s like the main word they use in Europe to call you soft or even when it doesn’t really make sense, like when you miss a shot or turn the ball over. Well, my coach must have called me a pussy at least five times every game. It got to the point where I was talking to him and I was like, ‘I will (mess) you up, bro. It’s not okay to be saying that.’ I had to find ways to keep my cool and reel it in. But he was just so animated and nuts. At one point, we had a few upcoming games on TV and some of my teammates warned me, ‘Get ready because he gets even crazier on TV.’ So one time, during a televised game, a referee called a foul he didn’t like and he jumped off the bench and threw a temper-tantrum. Like, I’m talking about the kind of temper-tantrum that a 3-year-old throws. He was lying flat on the ground on his stomach, screaming at the top of his lungs, and punching and kicking the floor. This lasted for about five seconds and, to this day, it’s the wildest thing I’ve ever seen from a coach. I still can’t believe it.”
Ashton Gibbs, who’s played in many countries over the past six years: “I had a Serbian coach and one game when we were losing by about 10 points at halftime, the coach did something I’ve never seen before. He took a knee in front of one of my teammates and yelled, ‘Smack me! Slap me in the face! Smack me in the face! Slap me!’ I don’t know what made him do that, but he was trying to tell us that we were playing soft, so he insisted that one of our players slap him in the face. My teammate didn’t smack him at first, but he kept yelling at him to do it. So he eventually slapped him lightly and the coach yelled, ‘Smack me harder, pussy!’ So my teammate kept smacking him, but he was doing it pretty soft each time. So the coach just kept yelling. Finally, my teammate smacked him a little bit harder and then the coach let it go because I guess he felt like he made his point. That was his halftime speech: Calling us pussies, saying that we didn’t have anyone tough on the team and then insisting that we smack him in the face (laughs). We lost.”
Former NBA player who currently plays overseas: “I had a coach who just viewed every American as soft. If you asked him, he’d tell you that we weren’t tough at all, we had it easy and we were a bunch of pussies because we were Americans. And, according to him, we all played the game the wrong way. He really emphasized team-first basketball and I’m all about that. But he would do it to the point that anytime I went one-on-one during a game, he’d call it streetball and be disgusted. Even if it was after a pick-and-roll or late in the shot clock or something, I was playing ‘selfish streetball.’ And I’m not even talking about flashy moves or anything. I was doing moves that anyone in the U.S. would consider regular – a step-back, a crossover, a through-the-legs dribble. If you did any of those, especially if it was in a one-on-one situation, you’d never hear the end of it.”
Former NBA player: “Last year, I was playing in Turkey and we lost badly to Fenerbahce. That team was amazing too; they had Ekpe Udoh, Jan Vesely, Bogdan Bogdanovic, Bobby Dixon, Kostas Sloukas and Anthony Bennett among others. After the game, our coaches told us, ‘We have to get better, we have to practice.’ Well, they meant that we needed to literally practice right then after the game. And we didn’t have practice in the arena; we went all the way to the facility, driving through crazy Istanbul traffic. We finally got to the practice gym at around 1 a.m. and had a tough practice. I laugh about it now, but it was insane. We had just played a game, it was so late at night and the practice was brutal, so we were exhausted.”
Boston Celtics guard Shane Larkin played in Spain last year and had a similar experience: “When I played in Spain, our team – Baskonia – was one of the top teams in our domestic league. At one point, we were fighting for first place and we had a game against the team with the worst record in our league. We were obviously expected to win that game by a lot, but we lost by about 10 or 12 points. We were the visiting team, but everything in Spain is pretty close together so we drove to that game; it was about a two-hour bus ride back to our arena, where all of our cars were parked. It was obviously a night game, so by the time we got back, it was around 2 a.m. We got to the arena, but instead of leaving, they had us go in and watch film of the whole game. The coaches were pointing out every single thing we did wrong, parts where we didn’t play hard enough and areas where we needed to improve. That was pretty nuts.”
AMERICAN PLAYERS ARE TREATED DIFFERENTLY
Former NBA player currently overseas: “I do think some of these coaches are racist – especially if you’re a black guy who has played in the NBA and then comes overseas, as opposed to starting over here and then trying to work your way to the NBA. Some of the coaches have pre-conceived notions about black American players. They acknowledge that we’re athletic and can score, but they think we’ll have to play outside of their system because ‘we’re all stupid, we’re all idiots, we’re all dumb.’ And, like I said, it’s even worse for the guys who came from the NBA. These coaches over here look at the NBA as more of a show than as actual basketball.”
Current overseas player in Europe: “I’ve experienced a lot of racism because I’ve played in a number of places. I would say it’s the worst in Eastern Europe, but you run into it a lot – even in places you’d never expect it. But it’s mostly the older generation. The young guys I’ve played with have been great. Younger people who run into me and my teammates on the street will actually gravitate toward us. But it seems like a lot of the older Europeans are really racist. I’m not going to generalize and say everybody, but it definitely seems like the majority. They’ll look you up and down, and they’ll try to make you feel bad about yourself. It’s unfortunate, but it’s something you notice.”
Garrett Temple: “I experienced some racism in Italy. Between my apartment and where I would go to get treatment, there was a parking lot that I would just walk through. If I would drive, I’d have to drive around the block just to get to the entrance to the parking lot. So I would just walk and then climb over these railings to get to the treatment place. I always had an appointment for around the same time every day, and sometimes I’d see this older Italian lady. Mind you, where I was in Italy was really rural, sort of a country area. There were no black people. Really, there was no other race in that area. Everyone was Italian. Maybe if you’d go to a Japanese restaurant, you’d see some Japanese people, but other than that, you didn’t see any other races anywhere. Two or three days in a row, I saw this same older Italian lady. One day she starts yelling something at me and since I don’t speak any Italian, I just said, ‘Ciao!’ Well, another time, I was walking to the treatment place with a teammate of mine who’s about the same color as me – he’s a mix of Nigerian and Swedish – but he had been in Italy for four years, so he was fluent in Italian. We saw the same lady and she starts yelling stuff and my teammate went off. And he was one of the nicest people I’ve ever met in my life. Literally, to this day, he’s one of the top-three nicest teammates I’ve ever had. He went off on her in Italian. When I asked him what she said, he told me, ‘I’m just tired by how racist so many people are out here. They can’t stand black people.’ It turns out she had been saying, ‘You black boys need to get out of here. Why are you sneaking through the parking lot? I know you aren’t up to any good.’ There were other racial slurs too, but basically she was just assuming we were getting into trouble.”
Current overseas player: “I think in a lot of countries, the expectations for Americans are so unrealistic. The coaches and fans watch the NBA and see what guys like LeBron James and Kevin Durant and Stephen Curry can do and then they’re disappointed when they sign an American who can’t duplicate the success those guys have. Which is crazy! They sign an American shooter and then expect someone like Curry to arrive, but that’s setting the guy up to fail.”
Former NBA player who also played overseas: “The pressure on Americans is crazy. Actually, crazy is an understatement. I’ve never been an offensive-minded, one-on-one, shoot-first kind of guy. That was never my mentality or makeup. I never thought like that and I grew up being an unselfish, passing, team-first guy. But when I went overseas, they expected me to be the go-to guy all the time. They wanted to run the offense through me on almost every possession. It was way different for me. The first few weeks we played was the preseason and I was passing up some shots. And the coach was furious with me. There was so much pressure on me and the other Americans on our team. Once the regular season started, I think I was fourth in the league in scoring. But we lost a lot of close games. Of the first nine games, we lost about seven or eight of them by two points or less. And of course, the coaches were furious again. They expect you to take their team to another level so you get a lot of the blame if things aren’t going right, even if it’s not really your fault individually.”
MANY PLAYERS ARE OWED MONEY
Current overseas player who’s in Greece: “I play in Greece and this story is pretty recent. I had been playing for three months and I had yet to be paid one dime. We were playing against one of the traditionally powerful clubs in all of Greece. Our team’s budget pales in comparison to their budget and roster composition. We were fighting and clawing and playing our best basketball, and we found ourselves down by only five points to this powerhouse club. That’s when the confusion started. The owner storms into the locker room upset and says, ‘What are you all doing? You guys should be down by eight points or more! I’m losing money!’ I’m a competitor at heart and I was obviously confused. I can’t play like that. I play to win. The owner replied, ‘This is how you’ll get your monthly salary. You must lose by this deficit or you won’t receive your salary.’ I can only imagine the ridiculous extent of bribery and corruption behind the scenes. Not surprisingly, I still didn’t receive my money, so I threatened to leave via breach of contract. It wasn’t until I sat out of practices and threatened to sign with another potential suitor in a different country that they finally paid me one month’s salary of the three they owed me. I’m still two months behind. True story.”
Former NBA player who has also played overseas: “I got screwed by a team in South America. It was in a country that didn’t really have a respected league, but I got a huge offer from a team there. The offer was so large that I couldn’t turn it down. I should’ve known it was too good to be true; they didn’t pay me. They kept promising I’d get paid soon, but I barely got any money from them. They gave me a few checks, but they still owe me over $100,000. And it’s not even just about the money either. I went there instead of playing in the D-League, so I could have gotten called up. I was there instead of possibly getting a look from NBA decision-makers, instead of possibly signing a 10-day deal where I could’ve killed it and opened up other doors. That’s what is so frustrating about it.”
Former NBA player who also played overseas: “The first year I played overseas, we were supposed to be really good, but we didn’t live up to the expectations and my coach got fired. The new coach who came in decided that he wanted a different type of guard, so I was going to leave and play in a different country. I was on a six-figure deal, paying me between $110,000 and $120,000, and we had an agreement that I’d receive at least half of the money I was owed even though I was leaving. I figured I’d get $50,000 or $60,000. They only ended up paying me around $20,000. Coming out of college at the time, I thought it was good money and I wasn’t complaining. But looking back at the contract, I should’ve gotten way more than what I received. To this day, they owe me $30,000 to $40,000 – at least.”
Current NBA player: “Earlier in my career, I was playing for a team in Europe and they paid me every month I was physically there. But then I left the team when my contract was up and they still owed me two months pay that they never sent. I usually got paid on the 15th of the month, and I left around May 7 or May 8. Well, my May check never came and neither did my June check. I was owed around $35,000 to $40,000. We fought them for it and I ended up getting less than half of it. It was fine when I was there, but as soon as I left, they tried to get out of paying me what we had agreed upon.”
WILD FAN ANTICS
Many players spoke of fans throwing firecrackers, batteries or other objects onto the court. In 2007, a fan of the Israeli club Hapoel Holon threw a firecracker near the bench of Hapoel Jerusalem. A security guard rushed to remove it from the court and it exploded in his hand, causing him to lose three fingers. The fan who threw it was sentenced to three years in jail and ordered to pay the guard 150,000 shekels (which equates to nearly $45,000).
Garrett Temple: “The first time I played in an overseas game, I saw that behind the bench they had a plastic covering that was see-through and sort of like half of a dome that separated you from the fans. I asked my teammates, ‘What is that for? Why is that behind our bench?’ And they said it’s because fans used to throw things at the players – and still do in a lot of countries. They would throw batteries and firecrackers and things like that. They would try to throw them on the court and, in some cases, at the bench to hit the players. At first, I was like, ‘What the hell is this?’ But it was because fans had thrown things so much in this city, so then I was glad it was there.”
Former NBA player: “When I was in Italy, we were the lowest-budget team, but we had a great start to the season and were leading the league. I was killing guys who were making over $1 million and I was making $65,000. Fourteen games in, we hit a rough spell due to some injuries, so we fell back a few games in the standings. Keep in mind, we were picked dead last by all the media. After losing three games in a row, we went to practice and it seemed normal. Then, 30 minutes into practice, around 450 people walked in the gym and started chanting one of our team chants in Italian. They kept chanting and walked onto the court, so practice stopped. The leaders of the fans demanded a team meeting. The fans! They lined us players up on the baseline and the leaders of the fans started arguing with our coaches in Italian. This went on for almost an hour. At this point, I get tired of all this and decide I’m not getting paid enough for this and left. Nobody could say anything because I was having a great year. It was just crazy because we were supposed to be trash, then expectations immediately increased and the fans demanded greatness to the point that they stormed our gym.”
Former NBA player who is currently overseas: “The fans overseas can get away with way more than NBA fans ever could. One time after a game, a fan tried to fight my coach because he didn’t like the way he was running the team. My coach was over by the stands, the fan tried to confront and fight him, and then security had to break it up.”
Current overseas player: “The craziest fan interaction I’ve ever had was when I was playing in Greece and we were losing toward the end of a close game at home. It was a big rivalry game. With about two minutes left, we were only down by four or five points, so the game was still in reach. Then, the refs made a questionable call and the next thing you know, the fans were throwing whatever they could find onto the court. Orange peels. Napkins. Tissue rolls. Anything. They were throwing a bunch of stuff. We had a 20-minute delay because they had to toss a bunch of the fans out of the arena. When we eventually went back out to play the final two minutes, the atmosphere was just completely different. The other team ended up winning and right after the game, the fans started throwing stuff again. As the players sprinted through the tunnel to get back to their locker room, the fans were pelting them with stuff. It was kind of like the Malice at the Palace. That was the most chaotic game atmosphere I’ve been involved in because nobody did anything to stop it. The refs didn’t stop it. There were a few small police officers there, but they didn’t stop it. In the United States, it would’ve been this crazy thing and people would’ve been arrested. But everyone just acted like it was normal like that’s just how rivalry games are.”
Former NBA guard who also played in Europe: “There were fights in the stands. Some fans would throw things. Every game in Greece would have a ton of smoke because of people lighting off flares and smoking cigarettes in the arena. During every game, there was always a cloud of smoke at the top of the arena.”
Former NBA player: “At Euroleague games, I’ve heard of fans lighting coins on fire to make them really hot and then throwing them at the players. In most of the arenas overseas, you can smoke inside so that’s how the fans are able to do that. They’ll really try to hurt players. There’s a reason why the visiting team almost always has that cover over their bench.”
POOR MEDICAL TREATMENT
Former NBA guard who has played in several countries: “I had an injury that I was dealing with and we would practice twice a day, sometimes three times a day. It was just insane to try to play through my injury. I had been asking for time off for a week and it hadn’t been granted, but then we were getting ready to face the worst team in the league. I asked, ‘Can I get some time off?’ They said, ‘No. Never. We don’t allow guys to sit out here. Hurt or not, American or not, if it’s not broken then you don’t sit out.’ As my injury got worse and they continued to make me play through it, I started standing up to them a bit. I’d try to bargain with them like, ‘I promise I’ll play in our next game, but I really can’t practice today. But I will come get up some shots later.’ Even if I told them and we discussed it, every single time they would show up in the morning beating on my door, calling my agent to curse him out and then cursing me out. Every time. Then, to top it all off, they’d take money from me. I got fined for missing a practice. I got fined for missing a game. By the end, I had been fined over $150,000. Due to an injury! They put so much pressure on me to play through my injury, and they also put pressure on my agent. They’d call him all the time, cussing him out. I finally got to see a doctor and he told me, ‘You should not be playing. You need to rest for two weeks.’ But that’s when I learned that me seeing a doctor there was a waste of my time because these guys basically ran the doctor’s office and had the doctor [on their payroll]. I’ve heard some things like that happening in America when it comes to football, where they’ll pressure a guy to come back early and do whatever the team wants. But this was new for me. They came into the doctor’s office and completely changed the doctor’s note. He went from saying that I shouldn’t be playing to doing whatever the team wanted and saying what they wanted to hear. I tried my best and I did play through the injury. I managed to play in 75 percent of the games, which is way more games than I thought I could play in and way more than I should have. But I got through it and got out. It was just a terrible, abusive situation.”
Current overseas player: “One year, I was playing in an Asian country and I was one of the leading scorers in the league. But I ended up getting cut because I injured my ankle in a playoff game. I couldn’t put any weight on my foot – none at all – but the doctor and trainers kept telling me, ‘Oh, you’ll be fine.’ I knew I needed a walking boot, but they didn’t want to give me one. They just wanted me to ice it and play the very next day because we had a back-to-back. But I was still having a hard time putting weight on it, so I couldn’t even imagine playing. I ended up telling them, ‘Look, I can’t even run. Let me sit out one day and then maybe I can be back on the court in two days.’ They brought in another American to replace me that same day! They brought him in to play in the second game of that back-to-back. He was already in the country, so they brought him in because they wanted to see how bad my injury was and whether I’d actually sit out. They were basically testing me. They had us both there for about a week and they were paying both of us, and it was clear that I’d be replaced if I didn’t play through the injury. I actually ended up getting along with the guy because Americans who play overseas tend to stick together and we all know how teams can be and can relate on a lot of levels. But they ended up releasing me over that situation – because I hurt my ankle – even though I was playing really well and was one of the league’s leading scorers.”
Current NBA player who briefly played overseas: “A little over a month with my team, I pulled my hamstring during practice. I missed the next game. We drove about an hour to the closest big city to get checked out. They did some tests on my leg; they never did an MRI, but they did an ultrasound. Well, they weren’t speaking any English, so I had no idea what the hell was going on. I didn’t speak the language and I didn’t really trust my coach or trainer to do what was best for me. I wanted to know exactly what was going on and I was uneasy. I hurt my hamstring on a Wednesday and missed our next game, but then they told me to play in the following game. I tried to play and I’m limping like crazy; my leg is clearly messed up. I played through it, but I didn’t play well at all. It was clear to anyone who was watching that I was really hurt. The main reason I played was because I had heard many stories of teams cutting guys or not paying them if they’re hurt, so I tried my best to play through it even though I shouldn’t have. Two days later, we had practice and our practices always started with a ton of running. Again, they wanted me to participate and I did so out of fear of getting cut. I had only been there about five weeks, you know? Well, they had me out there sprinting. I wish I had film of it to show you just how obvious it was that my leg was in bad shape. So I’m sprinting at practice and I pull my hamstring again, and it’s much worse this time. This time, I was out for about two weeks. I told myself, ‘I’m not rushing back if I don’t feel right because I’m not going to let these guys hurt me again.’ But as I’m still hurt and trying to recover, they asked me, ‘Are you sure you can’t try to play? Maybe you just for 15 minutes?’ I had to tell them, ‘No! I’m hurt! I can’t play at all.’ There’s so much pressure to play through injuries otherwise you may get cut or stop getting paid.”
Former NBA player currently overseas: “I’ve had a few teammates who were told they were healthy enough to play, but then when they sent their images and test results back home for a second opinion, they were told the opposite. The doctor back home said they needed rest and that they shouldn’t play for a month or two. Teams try to pressure guys to play through injuries because it’s difficult to find a replacement. And if the team finds out you’re seeking a second opinion, they may replace you for being difficult. It’s messed up, but it’s cutthroat over here. Players often say that European basketball takes years off of your career because you’re practicing twice a day and you’re expected to play through injuries. But that’s why it’s important to trust your agent and do your research on a situation rather than just taking the biggest deal on the table.”
Former NBA player: “One day when I was playing in Israel, I got a text and they told me, ‘Sleep in the steel room tonight.’ If you know anything about Israel, then you know there is some unrest. Well, that night the unrest was at an all-time high because they employed the Iron Dome (pictured below). Basically, it’s a defense system – a set of missiles that are designed to knock other missiles out of the air. So let’s say they shoot a few missiles from the Gaza Strip aimed at us in Israel, the Iron Dome will shoot those missiles out of the sky. I know you’re probably thinking, ‘What the hell is a steel room?’ Well, every home there has a room made out of straight steel. Steel window. Steel door. Steel everything. It’s there so that if a missile hit that room you’d survive. So yeah, I slept in there that night. I wasn’t too scared because they told me that even if there was a direct hit, I’d be fine. But it was pretty crazy.”
Three-year NBA veteran Willie Reed, who played abroad in 2015: “When I was playing in the Dominican Republic, they actually marketed me as Willis Reed’s son. That was funny to me. I told them like a million times, ‘Hey, I’m not Willis Reed’s son!’ I don’t know if it was the language barrier or if it was just a marketing tool, but they kept saying it! My grandmother and father had told me that we are related to Willis Reed – he was apparently my grandmother’s first cousin – but I never got the chance to meet him or anything and I’m definitely not his son! But everywhere we went throughout the Dominican Republic, everyone was like, ‘That’s Willis Reed’s son!’ It was one of the few things they knew how to say in English, so it’s not like I could explain that I wasn’t his son and get into all of that. The team just kept saying it and a ton of people would show up to the games because they wanted to see Willis Reed’s son, no matter how many times I told them otherwise. I just thought it was hilarious. They thought that the entire time I was over there, and I was there for nearly two months!”
David Nurse, who played overseas, coached for the Brooklyn Nets and now trains players: “I nearly died in China. I ate what I thought was a chicken skewer in Tiananmen Square when I was in China. This wasn’t when I was playing there; I was there doing some coaching clinics. In China, you shouldn’t eat anything unless you absolutely know what it is. You have to be 100 percent sure. After eating that, I woke up the next morning and I literally thought I was going to die. I felt like I was dying of food poisoning. I went to the doctor and told them what I had and they said, ‘Yeah, you probably ate under-cooked rat.’ I was starving in Tiananmen Square and we couldn’t go anywhere because we got caught in the middle of this political rally. We were stuck there and I had to buy something to eat. I clearly didn’t make the best choice. I had to do a coaching clinic the next day and I felt horrible.”
Former NBA player: “One of my teammates in Asia challenged me to a contest to see whose, uh, you-know-what was bigger. He said it’s something that they do because they want to know who has the biggest you-know-what. He seemed completely serious, but maybe I just didn’t get the different sense of humor. Even if he was joking, he was definitely ready to do this ‘contest’ though. That was a strange day.”
Six-year NBA guard Jordan Crawford, who also played in China: “The first time I went to China, I was going to play with the Xinjiang Flying Tigers. Out of nowhere, I got sick and my eyelids just shut. One day, they just dropped. Like, I had to look up if I wanted to see straight ahead. They weren’t completely shut, but they were really low and I couldn’t see well at all. The doctors said it was likely because of stress since I was adjusting from the NBA to China. I ended up staying and playing in five games anyway. It happened right before the season started and, to be honest, I was curious how well I’d do there over there. I wanted to know if I could kill out there because in the NBA, I never got the ball every time and I wanted to see what I could do. I actually did pretty well. In the game right before I left, I actually scored 49 points. It was wild because I was literally out there playing almost blind, for real. [Editor’s note: Over the course of those five games, Crawford averaged 29.4 points]. I ended up coming home, but of course they wanted me to stay. They sent me to Shanghai to see American doctors and I went, just so I could say I tried it and so I could get my money. But I eventually ended up leaving and we had to go to court for me to get the rest of my money. But yeah, even when I came home, the doctors never figured out what it was. It had to be stress because after about two weeks of being home, I started seeing improvement and my eyes were opening up gradually. Then, after about a month and a half, they were back to normal. There’s pollution out there and I was all the way out in Ürümqi, so maybe that had something to do with it. I don’t know, but the whole situation was crazy.”
Ashton Gibbs: “One time when I was playing in the country of Georgia, I got bed bugs. I was there for about a month just so I could stay in shape until a bigger opportunity opened up. For the month I was there, they had me staying in this nasty building and I had bed bugs and nobody would do anything about it. I switched out my sheets constantly and tried to handle it myself. I actually stayed there for about two weeks because they were paying me, they had arranged for me to stay there and I didn’t want to complain. But eventually, I ended up just getting my own hotel and paying for it myself because I couldn’t deal with the bed bugs anymore.”
Terrence Joyner, who’s played in many countries over the past six years: “Last year in Saudi Arabia, we were in the middle of the third quarter and I had, I think, 45 points. But then they had to pause the game because they had to go pray. Everybody – from the players to the refs – went over to pray. That’s the culture and one of those things you get used to when you play there because they pray five times a day. Sometimes we’ll be in the middle of practice, then it’s prayer time so everything stops, and then afterward we go back to focusing on basketball again. During the prayer time, I’ll usually say a little personal prayer myself because I’m a Christian.”
Nine-year NBA veteran Mo Evans, who played in Greece and Italy early in his career: “I spent my rookie season in the NBA with the Minnesota Timberwolves, went overseas for two years and then returned to the NBA. One thing that NBA fans may not know is how common it is among European players to chain smoke cigarettes. I remember when I first found out and that was a big surprise to me. Our team had just finished a shootaround and we were preparing for a big tournament that started that same day and would continue into the weekend. Yet literally half of my team was standing around after shootaround chain-smoking cigarettes! I just remember thinking to myself, ‘This is going to be much different than playing with Kevin Garnett and the Timberwolves!’”
Former NBA wing Adonis Thomas, who has played in Italy and Turkey: “The craziest story I have was probably the time I was driving on the wrong side of the road in Rome. I got pulled over and, not knowing any Italian, I had no clue what was going on (laughs). I honestly didn’t know that I was driving on the wrong side and I was going into oncoming traffic. The police thought I was drunk; I had to take a breathalyzer and everything! I just couldn’t read the signs!”
Former NBA player who has played overseas for several years: “I played in Turkey and was in a semifinals game in the playoffs. There were crazy fights in the crowd during each of the playoff games, but that’s not even the wildest part. Halfway through one of our home games during the series, our team president walks down from his secure section. The dude is worth a lot of money since he owns a really successful company in Turkey. Anyway, he walks down, stops the game and tells our team to go to the locker room. He says we aren’t going to play if the refs aren’t going to be fair. It was the most badass moment and the most support I’ve ever gotten from any front office ever (laughs). Twenty minutes later, the refs called us back on the court and everything was good!”
Despite what some of the players shared above, there are obviously plenty of benefits to playing international basketball. While we asked players to share personal stories that focused on the crazy and somewhat negative aspects of their journey, nearly every individual spoke very highly of their time abroad too.
Some said they wouldn’t have made it to the NBA without their overseas experience. Others discussed how it allowed them to support their family financially in ways they never dreamed of when they were younger. Many raved about the opportunity to travel the world and learn about different cultures. Several even said they wouldn’t trade their overseas career for a spot in the NBA if they’d just be riding the bench.
At the end of the day, these players know how fortunate they are to get paid to play a sport they love – even if it the situation isn’t always perfect.
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