Monday, September 26, 2011

Spreading the love: NBA stars playing overseas

I haven't yet got sponsors for the blog but in a way the many people who've shown me warmth and hospitality in my travels have been the greatest sponsors of all.

With that in mind, this post is brought to you by 'TradeDebate.com' - Debate. Trade. Win.


The NBA lockout is obviously disappointing for Sports fans but proving the adage "you don't know what you've got till its gone", players are expressing their love for the game by entertaining the fans in pickup games and honing their skills (and bank accounts) by signing overseas.

Whilst one might argue that some players are enhancing their playground cred more than their basketball acumen, they've shown that its not always about the money. Selfishly the player movement overseas is positive for me as it means I get to see some of my favorite NBA stars playing in Europe under unique circumstances.

As my EuroTrip wraps up, I've had to get selective with my travel destinations. Two places I had put on my to-do list have been reinvigorated with some NBA player movements. I'd shown interest in Turkey as I was curious to see how Allen Iverson was faring in Europe. Though an injury has returned him to the States the Turkish team Besiktas replaced the past-his-prime star with primetime PG Deron Williams.

France, the most glaring omission on my EuroTrip resume has become more compelling with news that several NBA players are returning to play for their hometowns. France obviously has its charms as it is, the cuisine, landmarks and belles we've come to know and love from movies. Having had positive experiences with Les Bleus supporters during EuroBasket and being a fan of the French team myself, adding basketball to the cake just makes it more enticing.

Whilst Batum is the only player officially signed on to a French team, fellow NBA stars Diaw and Parker are hoping to suit up for clubs they have stakes in.
Tony Parker's backup: 'Definitely' France
Speaking about his lockout plans, Parker added: "For me, it's more an emotional decision. It's not enough for me just to play for the money, stuff like that, because I am a student of the game. I am passionate about the game. It would be great for my family, my friends, to see me in France.
Below are some helpful links on the overseas movements of NBA stars
- Player movement: Who's going abroad?
- The National Basketball Association's European Vacation

Players I'm looking forward to see in Europe:
France
Nicolas Batum - Nancy
Boris Diaw - JSA Bordeaux (rumored)
Tony Parker - ASVEL Villeurbanne (rumored)

VIDEO: Nancy makes a move [for Batum]


Turkey
Deron Williams - Besiktas
Mehmet Okur - Turk Telecom

VIDEO: Deron on Playing in Turkey | Deron Williams | DeronWilliams.com

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Road Music: Songs to be happy to (EuroBasket edition)

>> crossposted on the 'Loz in Translation' blog

To commemorate my time in Lithuania during EuroBasket2011, here are a collection of "Songs to be happy to" celebrating the game of basketball.

VIDEO: Manu Key - Quai 54 (Feat. Booba, 16ar, Zoxea, Oxmo, Dany Dan)

A French streetballer introduced me to this song in Kaunas, Lithuania. Its an ensemble song featuring France's finest MCs made for Quai54, the iconic International Streetball tourney held in Paris.

VIDEO: Eurobasket 2011 song (Lithuanian version)

This is the Lithuanian language version of the EuroBasket Theme, this song was on high rotation during the tournament. At first appearances the song may seem corny but it actually gets me quite emotional, the clip works because it beautifully captures how basketball is embedded into the fabric of Lithuanian society.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Balancing Basketball and Travel in Lithuania - Part II

<< crossposted on 'Loz in Translation' blog

I've met many incredible people in Lithuania, fellow travelers and hoops heads. I've always been interested in hearing and sharing stories. I believe that a man's journey can be measured by who they've met and spent time with.

Below are a collection of "storytellers" I've encountered:

John of England
UK Freelance journalist. I met him at the Fans Campsite in Panevezys, during my time there the many British Fans were valiantly supporting a hapless team. Upon leaving Great Britain defeated Portugal and stung Poland to salvage some pride and shake up Group A.

We bumped into each other in Vilnius and Kaunas. It was a treat picking his brain and watching him sniff out stories, busting out his trusty recorder when moments called for it.

Syra of France
links: @ladyhoop, ladyhoop.com, Syra4 - YouTube Channel
French journalist I met in my hostel in Vilnius. She is an inspiration, starting out as an independent blogger she now works for French Basketball Mag 'Reverse'. We shot hoops and talked about the reality of "living the dream". We coincidentally found ourselves in the same hostel in Kaunas. Apart from her passion for the game, what I'll take from her is the discipline and professionalism one needs to maintain a lifestyle of Basketball and Travel, negotiating the perils of converting a hobby into a job.

Tim of Holland
links: TimToTango
We started chatting on the busride from Klaipeda to coastal Nida. A charming and thoughtful guy in the opening leg of his 1 year of travel. Departing from his home in the Netherlands, he had been traveling through the Baltic States via CouchSurfing and Hitchhiking, it was his inspiration that made me try the latter for the first time.

We shared a lot of overlapping thoughts and it was pleasure to reunite with him in Vilnius and meet his ragtag crew of friends and new associates. I will be sure to follow his many coming adventures on his blog.

Ramon of Spain
Ramon was one of the many Couchsurfers I met through Tim on a memorable night in Vilnius. We reunited a few days later as he was typically snapping the sights, he joined our assortment of newly-made friends for a coffee.

Ramon is my kind of photographer, shameless and prolific. Shooting first, asking for permission later. When I first met him, he fearlessly took a bucketload of photos of every social interaction in sight. Inexplicably his passion project is documenting the gorgeous but overlooked locations of the world.

Ieva and Dominkya of Lithuania
links: Kombajns' - YouTube Channel
Quirky, fun-loving, social and creative. These gals had just returned from a month hitchhiking, CouchSurfing and camping around Europe. They have an amazing spirit and thankfully because they document their travels by Video you can live vicariously through their many adventures.

We met after dancing Dubstep with them in Kankles bar in Kaunas. A few days later we hung out together with a Spaniard and Frenchman driving to the city's local gems, picking mushrooms for that evening's Dinner and movie.

VIDEO: Challenge accepted ;) Eurotrip, done.

Romain of France
He was a French superfan Couchsurfing with the girls, my preferred supporter having backed them from the start. We actually had a brief encounter the night previous in a nightclub as he was with the Les Bleus fans celebrating with the French stars. In the name of social etiquette, I'd promised an embargo after 3 weeks of non-stop basketball talk, I couldn't resist as he was so knowledgable of the game and had a few French connections that gave him access to the team and even tickets to Game 5 of the NBA Finals.

Nil of Spain
links: CargoLTreuManya.blogspot (Catalan)
Though his nation was victorious, Nil wasn't in Lithuania for the Baloncesto. Just a stop as he did a short jaunt around Europe on his motorcycle. He was being hosted by the girls after he was poached from another Lithuanian person he was CouchSurfing with, they met on the street a night after I had met them.

Nil was my partner in the mushroom picking challenge. He was the MVP as we bested the girls in Mushroom presentation as voted by our French critic.

- Read Balancing Basketball and Travel in Lithuania - Part I

Balancing Basketball and Travel in Lithuania - Part I

>> Crossposted on 'Loz in Translation' blog

There are two types of Nightspots, the kind that's down-to-earth, welcoming, a place where you can really get to know someone. The other type is sexier, more glamorous but image-conscious. The former is the type of setting where you can connect with authentic, local people, the latter is the type of place where groupies and fans might gather to rub shoulders with celebrities. Both have their own distinct appeal.**

This sums up the dilemma I've faced in Lithuania for EuroBasket2011 and something I imagine I'll have to contend with for my 30HomeGames ambition. My love for Basketball is what brought me to Lithuania but its merely been a pretext, the amazing hospitality is what will remain with me.

Day 231
In an upretentious bar in Kaunas I met some open-minded girls who were happy to welcome me into their lives. They had a travelers' spirit, very open people and not surprisingly were on the CouchSurfing network. The second time we hung out I was invited to to celebrate the return of their dear friend from the UK, we picked her up from the airport and enjoyed a gathering at the house. This particular night was Lithuania's final match, a battle with Greece to claim 5th place honors. As the night progressed I realised that the dozens in attendance had no interest in watching the game. Surprising in hoops-mad Lithuania, Blasphemous even?

I was torn, I didn't want to disrupt this amazing local experience but on the other hand I was interested in the game. I excused myself and quickly ran to the nearest bar to watch the closing minutes. The game went down to the wire but the Lithuanians hung on, the proud fans jubilant but also philosophical, mindful that it was an underwhelming result for the proud host nation. I returned to the party thinking about the balancing act I'd have to negotiate for 30HomeGames. Basketball serves as a pretext but it could also compromise authentic local experiences.

Pleasantly on the walk back, I crossed paths and high-fived my favorite International player along the dark, empty streets. I smiled. Maybe everything just works out.

Day 232
It was the day of the Finals, the end of a vibrant 3 weeks for basketball fans and Lithuanians. The upstart Macedonians came up short against the Russians and the French proved no match for the Dominant Spanish in the Gold Medal game.

That night, I spent over my budget to attend an image conscious bar that had been tipped to host the players. Players from Macedonia and Russia were in attendance. Tony Parker arrived much later than anticipated, I left the club by the time the rest of my favored French team joined him. I'm am fascinated by superstar glamour but the experience is limited when you're too detached from it. I spent the night with Serbs from my hostel, interestingly they had a lanky colleague who happily obliged groupies who suspected he was a basketball player. He used the specious line "I play basketball but not for the national team". Genius!

Day 233
I reconnected with my new Lithuanian friends to spend a day picking mushrooms and enjoying Kaunas. We were joined by a Spanish viajero they had collected the other night and a French supporter the girls had been hosting. We were all Couchsurfers, the Frenchman the only one connected the formal way. We'd actually made brief contact the night previous in the bar full of fans and groupies. Closing my EuroBasket experience by spending the day with a Spaniard and French superfan, being hosted by Lithuanians - Could it be any more poetic?

My time in Lithuania has largely been a basketball experience but I've had many unique experiences unique to my time here
  • Befriending locals in Panevėžys, I spent the day in a leisure center, went paragliding, enjoyed a game of 1-on-1 whilst waiting for a restaurant dinner. Capping the evening with Wii Tennis, a sauna and fine wine in their lavish home
  • My first and only time hitching, I was picked up by the service manager of a lavish nightspot in Vilnius. We've reconnected a few times for Shisha and chats, spoilt at the club with free entry, complimentary drinks and great company
  • Started chatting to a charming Dutchman on the bus to Nida. Enjoyed a day sharing travel adventures and musings. Reconnected with him in Vilnius in the company of fellow CSers and friends at a down-to-earth bar in Vilnius. It was this evening that led to complimentary EuroBasket tickets the following day
  • Hitting the night with cool kids met in hostels and basketball courts. Revisiting fun-loving Slovenians in multiple nightspots in cities across Lithuania
  • Picking the brains of international journalists, traveling and finding stories involving basketball
  • Talking basketball and life with the manager of the English Basketball team. We hung out several days in Vilnius and shared a tent in Panevezys, we met on the flight from London to Lithuania
My love for the game has been connecting me with locals all over Europe. Its simply been heightened in Lithuania, as hosts of an international tournament and krepšinis being their religion. Basketball and Travel - balancing something I love with something I enjoy, that's the mission for the 30HomeGames project.

** The down-to-earth bars were 'Play Club' in Vilnius and Kanklės in Kaunas. The "glamour" spots which hosted EuroBasket talent were 'Salento' in Vilnius and BarBar’a in KaunasPramogu Bankas in Vilnius is also worth a look


Paragliding on a Basketball rest day. In Panevėžys

The Mushroom picking presentation. In Kaunas

Concerning the overlook. In Kaunas

An evening with Lithuanian locals
(showing no interest in the basketball)

- Read Balancing Basketball and Travel in Lithuania - Part II

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Trash Talk: News and notes on Lithuania and EuroBasket2011

crossposted on The LozInTranslation blog

On Lithuania
  • Basketball is their first religion. My mormon running mates tell me Catholicism is their second. I would argue Foosball is their third
  • Its a tourist cliche, "[Insert Country] has the most beautiful women" but the Lithuanian women are fine and more importantly the people are friendly
  • The Spanish seem to be doing well on and off the court in Lithuania
  • Lithuanians are great hosts. I've been invited by strangers to their universities and homes to watch Lithuania's marquee games.
  • Gedimino, the main street of the capital Vilnius is decorated by Basketball ornaments, Non-basketball tourists tell me "its lit up like its Christmas". I concur smiling, "It is".
  • Haven't figured out whether its because I love Lithuania or I love basketball, but the EuroBasket 2011 theme gets me quite emotional. Lithuanian version here.
On EuroBasket2011
  • I Keep forgetting to google why Serge Ibaka is on the Spanish Team
  • It seems I'm not alone in thinking Macedonia's Pero Antic looks like Carlos Boozer
  • Spain's Juan Carlos Navorro doesn't know how to miss
  • As much as I want to like him, apart from his off-target shooting Ricky Rubio's game is nondescript
  • Lithuanian TV is mindful not to keep showing that heart-breaking turnover but it seems you can find all sorts of EuroBasket torture videos on the net. Who ever made this video must be some sort of Macedonian version of the bad guy from 'Saw'.
  • My France Finals prediction came through, shame for everyone the Lietuva leg didn't hold up
  • France's Nicolas Batum probably has the most impressive highlight reel of the Tournament
  • Batum's white makeup of the Crazy Light's gets my vote as Sneaker of the Tournament
  • Second best sneaker goes to Darius Songaila's Lithuanian colorway of the Kidd Zoom Flight 5's
  • My initial love for Serbia's Miloš Teodosić dropped as his turnovers piled up (highest of Tourney). I would guess NBA scouts felt the same way, though people tell me he prefers Europe anyway
  • American-Born Bo McCaleb is likely to have more desire to play in the NBA and has the most calls to return as his stock rose together with his Macedonian team. A case has been made that he was a smarter fit for contenders The Magic and Lakers
  • Despite the final day not featuring host nation Lithuania it provides the most compelling matchups. Featuring the 4 Group leaders, each team dropping no more than one game in their respective pools. Both games promise tantalizing rematches, the bronze medal game gives Macedonia a chance to avenge their buzzer-beater loss against Russia. Headliners Spain up against a full strength French team in the Gold medal game, the two favorites ready to treat the fans with the barn-burner they withheld in the qualifying stages.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

FAQ: Questions I Frequently ask myself

In the last few years I've been amazed by the amazing opportunities that avail themselves with a litle bit of creativity and optmism. I've found Money isn't nearly as important as having a positive energy and time well spent.

Through a willingness to start a conversation, networks are planted. Through curiosity, possibilities are revealed. Through optimism, resiliance is built. Most of the great experiences I've had and the hopitality I've been graced with has happened organically. I think projects like Couchsurfing are incredibly useful and lifechanging but I like the personal mission of creating things for myself. Ironically, most of the hospitable people I've met in hostels, buses and footpaths happen to be on the Couchsurfing network. So maybe its just in my head.

With this endeavor I hope to use this blog as a facility to make things happen. While its possible to get things like free tickets and a few night's sleep through meeting people, its not entirely realistic to achieve this for all 30 Cities, especially with a short timeframe.

Below are some Questions I fequently ask myself:

What are you doing?
Using the pretetxt of watching 30 Home Games for each team of the NBA, I will be traveling all around the United States with Toronto thrown in. Living, writing and balling.

How do you plan to travel?

Greyhound, hitchhiking, team bus, team plane, easy riding, horseback, roadtripping, campervan. By any and all means necessary. Ideally affordably, regionally and as unique as possible. Its really just a matter of getting from Point A to B but naturally It'd be nice to have a good stroy to go along with it.

Where do you plan to stay?Couchsurfing, 5 star-hotels, motels, campsites, host houses and apartments. You get the idea, Its about having a story? There is a bit of contrivance having set up this blog in the hope of facilitating it but it'll be an adventure nonetheless.

How much time will you have?
Unfortunately 3 months, I will likely only have an American Tourist Visa. I will explore getting a Canadian VISA which might allow me a bit more flexibility but at this stage with only anecdotal references to draw from, 3 months seems the most likely. I am considering splitting the missions over several trips/seasons as I would like as much time as possible to absorb each city. Ideally I'd like a full year (get a VISA somehow) and half an all-encompassing experience like I enjoyed in Europe.

Who are you?
I am... Batman. I'm just an average guy who loves the game of basketball. For a large part of my basketball fandom, I was merely a stat geek and sneakerhead. During my Eurotrip I've started to get over my bball shyness and learn to develop my game. I can always improve more and thats the plan. One of the my fears for this US roadtrip is the vision of embarassing myself on blacktops and Gymnasiums of America but therein lies the challenge.

Why America?
Well I've had (having) my EuroTrip experience. Originally I had wanted to have an American experience because most of the things I'm fascinated and passionate in (sports, comedy, wrestling, politics and movies) are American.

My European experience has been wonderful but has provided a different experience to enjoy, the exotic languages, rich history and unique customs. America with its distinct regions and cultures promises similarly great things, from the bigness of Texas to the flavour of Miami.

Sorry, why are you doing this?
I just want to have stories, I like hearing stories and I want to share stories. When you're treated to great hospitality, two things happen. You get addicted to it, then you feel guilty for being so spoilt. I've learnt to accept that when done right, it is really is a win-win situation. Its a shared humanity, the embodiment of "spreading the love". It's something I aim to do on this journey.

One of the main logistical challenges will be to create a facility where I can help spread my good fortune to others who will appreciate it and far more deserving than I. I have to consider entertaining sponsorship and other avenues to best achieve this.

When are you going on this grand adventure?
For starters, it needs to be during the NBA Season. So I imagine late into the shortened 2011/2012 season (if it happens at all) or before All-Star break of the 2012/2013 season. I will also have to return to normally scheduled programming after the EuroTrip. Will have to see what shakes out.

Why does your blog look this way?
Lay off the haterade pal. I plan to design the blog properly once I have time. Most likely months from now when I return to Sydney.

Who are your favorite players?
Current - "Son of a gun" Stephen Curry, Marc Gasol and Joakim Noah
80's - Magic Johnson
90's - Hakeem "The Dream" Olajuwon
00's - "B Diddy" Baron Davis
All Time - The Dream

Favorite sneakers
Jordan 'XII' and Reebok 'Questions'
Adidas x Undrcrwn 'Gil Zero'

Introducing the new 'Loz in Transit' blog - 30HomeGames.com

<< crossposted on the 'Loz in Translation' blog

If I had to describe my 'Loz in Translation' blog, I would call it a 'pursuit of happiness' journal. It's not a travelogue per se as I started it a year before I began my Euro Trip. Its more an "experience" blog in that its less about what I've seen and where I've been but more about what I've done and thought about.

The blog is sectioned by themes and passions, from art and movies to triggers and quotes. I've also set missions for myself, when I was in Sydney I made it my goal to go out everyday of the year leading up to my EuroTrip. Whilst in Europe I've tried to have a basketball experience and stay a month in each Country I've set foot in. The missions are often organically set and arbitrary but they provide a great foundation for experiences to take place. In fact I've always liked the idea of having a journalistic pretext to do things. I'm a big fan of Documentaries and am inspired by works like that of humourist Danny Wallace.

So without further adieu I present to you my next endeavour:
30HomeGames.blogspot.com
- A mission to attend 30 home games for each NBA team

The new blog isn't about basketball necessarily, its simply a pretext to visit the many featured States and Cities of the United States. It will feature a similar documentation style found in the 'LozinTranslation' blog, from tangential pop cultural references to the experiences shared with people I've met.

You can expect:
- Quotes from conversations with people met
- Cultural tangents: Art, Music, Movies and Books
- Photo essays
- Trigger posts

As its a Basketball themed blog I imagine an uptick in sports analogies and puns but I intend for it to be as accessible as possible, in so much as a personal blog can be.

At this early stage its all hoop dreams and goal-setting. I write this from Vilnius, Lithuania. Still very much in the midst of my EuroTrip experience, normal life awaits me at home in Sydney and there is the small matter of the looming NBA lockout. So clearly there is still a lot of uncertainty to contend with.

"The Road to Glory" - A map of NBA Teams I plan to visit
Most of the logistical planning will be found at the new '30HomeGames' blog. There will be some cross posting when necessary but for the most part the blogs will stand alone.
Enjoy! I love this Game.

Find the complete collection of 'LozinTranslation' Basketball posts below, obviously it has been my European Bball experiences that have inspired this new endeavor.