Couple musings to start:
It’s crazy how nobody drives on Yom Kippur. The streets are flooded with kids riding bikes. I have been told that if I were to drive my car people would throw rocks at me. That’s some overly religious bs if you ask me.
Most of the people here think I am straight up crazy for wanting to come here just to play basketball. It seems like it is something they just cannot comprehend. One of my teammates went crazy on me when he found out I went to Harvard, shouting “What the FUCK are you doing here!?!” in this thick accent. It was hilarious.
We had a pre-season tournament hosted by our communist friends up at Megido this past weekend. I say communist because apparently Megido is a Kibbutz, which is like a small community where everyone chips into the work and shares the benefits. I did not think places like this still existed, but nothing about Israel will surprise me anymore.
I was anticipating a relatively mild atmosphere, even considering my expectations were already heightened by my experience from last time we played a practice game at Megido. Holy shit, I could not have been more wrong.
Our game was against a 3rd division team from Tel-Aviv. I was not expecting much and the warmups did nothing to change my opinion. A bunch of small white guys shooting layups has never done much in the way of intimidation. However, I should have been more wary of what was going on in the corner of the stands. Fans were piling in, decked out in red and wearing team scarves. A good 25-30 fans made the hour plus drive from Tel-Aviv for a meaningless preseason practice game. They brought their own 20 foot long signs and draped them around the railing. They brought their own cigarettes and booze. And, they to top it off, they brought their secret weapon, a ginormous barrel of a drum.
Now, this is the kind of old gym where the acoustics amplify a whole lot of noise, and this drum took things to another level. A shirtless fan straddled the railing, grabbed his drumsticks, and began pounding away. He thrashed this drum for about 2 straight hours, creating an almost deafening noise only to be interrupted when his team was shooting free throws. The crowd behind him sang their hearts out, chanted, and screamed what I am assuming were obscenities at the refs.
Side note: these poor, poor refs. It has been the same two refs for all 4 of our practice games, and whatever they are getting paid is surely not enough to take the abuse they take. Every call is met with derision from the players, the fans and the coaches. I am not kidding, people react to fouls like it is freaking overtime of game 7 of the NBA finals. The player will throw his hands up in disgust, eyes welling up with rage. The coach will storm halfway onto the floor and the fans will beat their drum double time and scream god knows what, leaning over the railing and spitting pure venom. All the while I am sitting their thinking, “It is midway through the first quarter and he called a reach in at half-court, what the hell is going on??” The refs do an admirable job of maintaining a distant, bored look and carrying on with the game, but lord do they get hated on.
So the game continued and this third division team and their crazed fans proceeded to run us off the court. Apparently they have a rich owner and a huge budget but prefer to dominate people in lower divisions rather than move up. One of their players used to be in the first division and on the national team but decided to take some time off in the prime of his career to travel through Brazil with his girlfriend, and is now making his comeback. Again, Israel is crazy.
Obviously that dude smoked us, and they used the crowds energy coupled with intense defensive pressure to take the victory. In my opinion, a fair amount of this “intense defensive pressure” involves fouling the living hell out of each other. It is a brutally physical brand of basketball, and it seems like every team has an old bald enforcer.
This guy is about 30 years old, slow, about 6’5, and always bald. His only jobs are to set illegal screens, shove the other big guy off the block, and just generally run around with his elbows out trying to hurt someone. He does not concern himself with, talking, smiling or scoring. I am starting to sense the lack of a guy like this on our team might hurt us down the road, especially if all the refs allow this WWF style of play. Who knows, if things get desperate l might have to shave my head and start throwing haymakers.
The next day we played Megido for the 3rd time in less than 2 weeks. Despite our injuries we had beaten them the previous 2 games. But this was doomed from the beginning, because not only am I still out with my MCL problem, but our best big guy hurt his hand the previous game. We got absolutely murdered by about 35 points. They diced up our D, and hit a ton of threes. Even their bald guy was giving us buckets. It was ugly.
Despite these negatives I was able to learn a little by taking this all in from the sidelines. I see that I am going to have to be prepared to take all sorts of fouling. I think I am ready for it, and cannot wait to get back out there.
A few days ago I was feeling pretty good, so I tried to practice a little bit. One trip up the court and I tried to do an in-n-out dribble, and the pain in my knee let me know I was nowhere near ready to play. The last I have been told was another 2-3 weeks. Gahhhhh, such a long boring process, but they say once an MCl heals you are fully back to 100% and have no lingering affects.
It is just awful to only be out in this country for one reason, to play basketball, and not be able to do that. People are like “ohh, use this time to go see the country, do this, do that,” and I am just like give me a break, get me on the court and let me practice for christs sake. If you think I am gonna go by myself and plan some toursity trip you must not know me very well. This is the kid who can count on one hand the number of times he explored the great city of Boston when he was a mere train ride away.
Don’t get me wrong, I am looking forward to seeing some of the sites out here, and might take a trip soon, but all I really wanna do is play. But, I do think about how lucky I am to be able to make a living doing something I love, and how millions of people would switich places with me and take on my “problems” in a second.
Sometimes I wonder if I will be sitting as an old man in my all-enclosed luxury pod on Titan, the moon of Saturn, and my robot maid will ask me about things I regret from my youth, and I will say “maybe I could have ventured outside of my comfort zone a little more, maybe gone and did more things non-basketball related and taken advantage of the myriad opportunities that basketball provided for me.” But then I will reach into my pocket and take out a hand held device, flip it open to reveal a 5000 inch flat panel TV/ computer/hot plate for making tea, and tune into watch my grandson Drew III dunk on some helpless defender in the intergalactic basketball playoffs, and all will be well in my world.