Growing up in the inner city of Cleveland, OH. I never imagined that I would travel the world and experience the things, people and cultures that I have been so blessed to experience. Not only have I been able to visit tons of foreign countries, I have actually lived in these cultures for substantial amounts of time and was forced to let go of my “USA or nothing” mentality.
My first extended trip to Europe came in 2005. After going undrafted in the NBA draft, I had two options, chasing my NBA dream by playing in the minor leagues of US, or go play professional basketball abroad. Minor leagues in the U.S. meant I would be home, where everything is normal, just a quick flight away from my family and friends. Playing abroad, meant leaving everything I knew as being normal behind and being paid well for my services. Not one to shy away from a challenge, I chose the latter. This was not my first trip to Europe. The first trip was a two week trip to France for the World Games in Duoai, France with the USA under eighteen team, which we were fortunate to return with the gold. This time I was going to being traveling alone!
My decision took me to Fuenlabrada, Spain a small city about thirty minutes from Madrid. The teams general manager picked me up from the airport drove me to the hotel that I would be staying in until my apartment was ready. Before exiting the car, I was handed a bag with a cellphone, some euros, and was told “see you later”.
My Spanish was super limited, I had to dig deep in the memory bank to communicate with the natives. Worst food experience was trying to find a good cut of steak in the grocery store. The packages of steaks didn’t simply say beef, their were words that I was unfamiliar with. I bought what I thought was a steak, cooked it, even though it smelled different, I ate it. I told my teammate about my adventure at the grocery store his reply put me in shock, “Wad you know they eat horse here? You probably ate a cut of horse.” My heart dropped, thinking I may have eaten Sea Biscuit. To this day I still have no idea what I ate and I don’t want to find out.
Then there was the time I got lost leaving practice. I lived ten minutes from the gym and it took me two and a half hours to get back to my apartment. I called the team manager and told him I was lost and that I needed him to guide me home, his reply “I can’t understand English, call someone else”. I looked for the pharmacy near my building only to realize, that there was a pharmacy on every corner.
After a few months I had to make some changes. I called my cousin Derick, and said “cuzo I’m lonely, crying out of depression, I think I’m coming home”. Derick who I always looked up to said “no you’re not, you know I wouldn’t let you go out like that… I’m on my way”. My big cousin quit his job and moved to Spain with me. He came prepared, a computer aka lifeline, a Spanish dictionary and all the American groceries he could fit in his luggage. Derick’s arrival saved my life. We ventured through Spain together facing all the challenges together, much like we did growing up in Cleveland.
My first extended stay in Europe prepared me to leave and live anywhere. Since I have lived in Sapporo, Japan; Jerusalem, Israel; Paris, France; Gaziantep, Turkey, and visited every country in between. I’ve learned to speak Spanish, some French, and even picked up some Japanese. What’s really cool is that my family gets to travel and learn new and exciting things with me. The element of worrying is gone, now my only worry when traveling is that have a seat with the proper legroom to accommodate my six foot, nine inch frame. I encourage everyone to travel, have an open mind and see what the world has to offer. You may find yourself in different and difficult situations, but don’t fret, tough times don’t last, they build character. I have friends all over the world now. I have even discussed moving abroad with my family, but time will tell.
Till next time… WORLD WAD