“Shut the fuck up, bitch.” -Ricardo learning English
This section was, so far, the most fun I had reminiscing over any part of my life in writing. I did play basketball in Mexico, and lots of it, but the experience away from the court was so amazing, for lack of a better word, that I don’t get much into it here. There is much, MUCH, more to what you are about to read. In the future I will get to it all, promise.
There was a Mexican guy named Ricardo who ran a touring group of American players who would barnstorm the country playing exhibition games against local teams in the various towns and cities. My man GB from the Ambassadors had been through the touring a few times and had played several season out there, and had a great relationship with Ricardo, so a phone call got me on the next tour team.
I arrived in Guadalajara, Mexico at around 7 AM on a weekday, and Ricardo (who spoke pretty good, but not completely conversational English, and doubled as the tour manager) sent his non- English speaking uncle to pick me up. He had another player with him already- a dude who we later dubbed “ChiTown,” in his ford pickup truck. We put our bags in the back and piled three- deep into the front of the vehicle (no back seat). We rode for about a half an hour, which was when I realized how expansive the city of Guadalajara was, square-mileage-wise. We finally parked across the street from a tall, official, nice-looking hotel that I knew I wouldn’t have a problem staying in.
Except that we weren’t being put up in THAT hotel- we were gonna stay in the small motel on our side of the street- Hotel Minerva, I still remember the name, and get chill bumps just thinking about the first time we walked into that place. Ricardo’s uncle chatted with the front desk guy for a few minutes, and we were in our room shortly thereafter. I could tell that this hotel was already seedy just from looking at it’s facade from inside the pickup truck, and the room confirmed this. You ever stay in a place that feels so dirty, you don’t even wanna put your bags or shoes on the floor? That was Hotel Minerva. There was no wireless access, of course, so ChiTown & I made conversation and then set out to walk the town. We didn’t go 5 minutes before we could see that the locals in Guadalajara were big fans of tall Black guys who looked like basketball players. There was a Burger King not too far from Minerva, and we ate there for the first couple days, but then moved on to sampling some of the local cuisine that was also considerably cheaper.Tacos, anyone? And not that Americanized Taco Bell shit — the real, size-of-the-palm-of-your-hand, 5 pesos-a-pop tacos. More on these later.
Hotel Minerva was just as disgusting on the inside as it looked from the outside, with (bog) roaches, a mildewed shower and sink, and a suspect-in-custody looking bed. I NEVER once walked barefoot in any area of that place except the two steps into and out of the shower (when I showered every other day– yes, every other day–it was just that nasty in there, trust me).
Oh, yeah– We hadn’t even met the tour manager, the guy whose word brought us here on a semi leap of faith, Ricardo, yet. He finally showed up to our hotel room, unannounced, after we had been there for about 3 days. He gave us 100 pesos each– roughly $10– to eat with, then walked us a couple blocks to a local taco spot (there’s one of these on every other corner in Mexico– and you can eat tacos for breakfast, lunch and dinner for as long as you can stomach tacos– for about $2 per meal; being that you need at least 4-5 tacos to not still be hungry). He talked to the guy manning the grill, and then directed ChiTown & I to sit down to eat. Ricardo joined us and then told us that we were to eat at this same spot for dinner that night, and breakfast the next morning, after which he’d come see us again. We asked him when we would begin to actually, you know, play basketball, and he said the tour was to start in about 10 days (this was the first time I was exposed to “Mexico Timing”. Oh, this would happen many, many, MANY times again). We did not see or hear from Ricardo for a week.
ChiTown and I weren’t worried though– we were both single, excited to be there despite our “I’ll be back” tour manager, not shy, and ready to take advantage of our recognizance celebrity by merely walking around the town and talking as much as we could with the many females who obviously wanted our attention. The only issue was that many of them didn’t speak great English, but the way ChiTown and I moved about Guadalajara (always by foot, no car os buses, and cabs very rarely), it was all just a numbers game. Plus, I had taken Spanish classes in middle school and after a few days, began to recall a large amount of conversational Espanol, which was like finding $1,000USD in the street for ChiTown and me. Some days, we wouldn’t even walk the town- Hotel Minerva was on a busy street that had a lot of traffic all day long. We would simply stand out in front of the hotel and watch cars go by– and like a well- laid spiderweb, we caught more than enough to get by on. We worked in shifts, kind of, on other days, with one of us taking a nap or watching TV in the hotel room while the other walked the beat, coming back to report their results.
One day I was walking some back streets in a residential area, stopping damn near every half-decent woman right there on the sidewalk for conversation (and there were many). As I walked down a one- way street, I saw two young women in a Jeep Liberty ride by with the windows down. Even if I had not noticed them– which was nearly impossible since I was out there just for this occasion– the passenger’s loud shriek would have gotten my attention. Turned out the passenger spoke little to no English, but the driver’s English was at a conversational level, and we arranged for them to meet with me and ChiTown at Minerva later that night.
The girls came through at around midnight, and the driver & I chatted a bit as the passenger and ChiTown (who spoke zero Spanish) somehow communicated, though, as we all know, it didn’t really matter. We kept the TV on and turned off the lights, and just as I slid under the covers with the driver,
I looked at the driver to find out what the hell the screaming was about. She was pointing towards the wall, at a cockroach that was slightly smaller than one of those giant Nestle Tollhouse oatmeal raisin cookies. She actually got up and ran out of the room, to the front desk and procured a can of the Mexican equivalent of Raid, but I grabbed it and gave it back the front desk guy. I killed the roach with my shoe. Hotel Minerva. The rest of that night needs not for details.
We did finally get to playing basketball. What Ricardo had set up, essentially, was a group of 7-9 American players that went all around the country, playing games against the professional teams in the various cities and towns. At the end, we would be sent off to play for teams individually. But what ensued between those two occurrences was much, much more than that.
The day we were to leave for our first tour trip, all the players met at Ricardo’s house in Guadalajara. I had met about half of the players before- ChiTown was my roommate in Minerva, and 4 of the other dudes we had ran into at a local club called Wall Street- and the other half were in Ricardo’s living room, bags packed. Ricardo had procured a nice apartment that could hold about 6 guys, and when ChiTown and I got into Mexico the apartment was already full. Hence, our stay in Minerva, which was far across town- Guadalajara is a HUGE city. When I had seen the 4 Americans in Wall Street my first week in Mexico, I went up to them, shaking hands and hoping they could all put two and two together: we are the only Black people in this whole town, and we were all gonna be teammates for a bit. These dudes were being really (as some of the Black chicks at PSU Altoona liked to say when they saw a Black dude messin with a White girl) high siddity, as if they were 10 year veterans at an NBA training camp. This observation started to make more sense as time went on.
Ricardo had a big white Chevy Suburban, and he bunjee-strapped our luggage (we were restricted to one bag each) to the top of the SUV. Ricardo drove, and we 8 players- 1 in the front passenger seat, 3 in the second row (I sat behind the driver), 2 more in the third row, and 2 in the back/ trunk area (hence the bags on the roof). The back also included the usual junk that accumulates in anybody’s car, along with the uniforms we were to wear in the games.
The first place we stopped– don’t ask me the name of the town– came after 5 hours of driving. At this point I began to understand that Ricardo’s only definite plans on this tour were the places we were to play the games and the teams we were to play against– nothing more. Things like where we’d eat and the hotels we’d stay in- that would be figured out once we got there (I laugh now writing it, but believe me, it was not at all funny experiencing it). The hotel we stopped at was a complete fucking dump, a star-and-a-half worse than Hotel Minerva, straight out of a movie set. Stray cats, a scraggly, dirty worker who gave less than two fucks if we stayed there or not, decrepit rooms, the whole 9…let’s say 10. I mean, this was not even a motel, I’ll call it a “brotel.” There were about 15-20 rooms total; ChiTown and I shared a room. The first rule Ricardo shared with us: whenever we left a hotel for any reason, even if we were coming back– pack up all your things and bring them with you. We walked to a local Domino’s and ate pizza. Ricardo had procured the Presidential suite of the brotel– i.e., his room had a working TV and hot water (Ricardo’s room served as the community bathroom and shower for everyone the next morning). Everyone gathered in there that night to watch an NBA game on ESPN Deportes.
ChiTown and I got a room on the second level– did I mention that the rooms had no keys, and our door could not shut completely?– and it was DISGUSTING. We both desperately needed showers, but there was no way I was stepping barefoot on a single inch of that room. The bed was, as Phu likes to say, seedy, but I was so damned tired I just kept my clothes on and slept on top of the sheets. Many of the places we stayed at in my time in Mexico would be similarly suspect. At this first place, we began the practice of dropping our things immediately upon entering our rooms and running to turn the shower, as hot water was no gimme in any of the places we laid our heads. I wish I was making this up.
The next morning after the mad dash to Ricardo’s room for showers (can you fathom how dirty a place has to be for one not to want to take a shower in it?), we finally got out of there and drove– 3 more hours– to the game location. The venue was jam-packed! In Mexico there were many places I played like this one: essentially an outdoor court, with a roof, but no walls on the sides. Kinda like the shelters in public parks where you do your BBQ-ing. A majority of the games I played in Mexico were in these facilities.
We won the game in a runaway, on mostly layups and dunks. Me and the other players on my team were still pretty much feeling each other out still; this was our first time even seeing each other play. After the game Ricardo took us on a short walk into the town center to a very busy– you guessed it!– taco stand and told us to order as much as we liked (common theme in playing bball outside of the USA- the people in charge are very generous after wins. If you plan on being hungry, or in need in any way, after a game? Don’t lose). The stand was right across the street from a night club– the small- town kinda night club with no real security presence and crazy loud music. From across the street, I could imagine the many people who had been or were gonna be stabbed and/ or shot in that spot.
After eating, we drove– 3 hours– back to the decrepit brotel from the previous night. Ironically, they had no vacancies (don’t even think about this place offering reservations), so we drove around the area for another 90 minutes, stopping at random hotels and motels looking for a place that had 8 available rooms.
The fans in Mexico were not big at all on the technical aspects of the game, and Ricardo, being
Mexican and also a retired player, took full advantage of this. He actively encouraged us to dunk as much as poss
ible, shoot three pointers, and generally bring entertainment to games.
When we played any half- decent team, Ricardo’s usual spiel was, “Show, and serious.” “Show” meaning, ‘give the fans a reason to cheer.’ Ricardo even went as far as to embellishing our resumes to draw fans to the gate:
As far as the Show stuff went, I got creative and had fun with it. At halftime of 90% of the games, a dunk contest would be staged; most of the time between 3 of the Americans, whomever wanted to throw a few down. I always jumped in the contest– Ricardo handed out bonus money incrementally for 1st, 2nd and 3rd place– and won all but one, when a dude from LA named Chip did the “spread eagle” dunk over 2 kids after I had jumped over two adults seated in chairs. My signature dunk in these contests was the person- seated- in- a- chair act, which I can proudly still pull off to this day with no problem (as a matter of fact, one day after practice in Montenegro I set up an empty chair to do this dunk for a few teammates and observers, and the coach frantically attempted to deter me, for fear of me coming up short. There was no chance of that happening- me coming up short, or him stopping me). Pictured below is a photo of such exploits, taken in the pregame warm ups of my very last Harlem Ambassadors game in Rio Rancho, NM in March of 2006.
The Mexican fans ate this up, licked the plate clean. I received blown kisses from the stands during play stoppages. I high- fived kids in the stands after scoring. Near the end of some games, I would be on defense, and jump up and hang on the opposing team’s rim with one hand. I’d hang there, waiting for someone to attempt a shot, then block it with my free hand. The other team would be pissed when I did this, but the crowd would go crazy. I signed over 1,000 autographs in my time traveling Mexico, many times for fans that never even saw me play or knew my name. I posed for some 300-400 photos after games, before games, at halftimes, in the streets on off days. The fans in Europe are enthusiastic too– I got asked for my fitted hat after a road game in Montenegro (I refused but chatted them up for a few minutes)– but you need to actually perform well to be adored by Europe’s more knowledgeable fans. In Mexico, as long as you were a tall Back guy who looked like a basketball player, fame was to follow. One game in which I sat out with a nasty toe infection, Ricardo, another injured American, and me goaded the crowd into booing our American teammates for missing too many dunks and playing generally sloppy basketball. This was definitely a “show” moment.
A serious point of debate amongst us players was who got to sit where in the Suburban on the long ass drives. The 6’6″ and up guys usually ended up with the most leg room. One one memorable day while riding in the Suburban, one player — let’s call him “Feet” — was sitting in the row behind me, and to my right. We had more than one vehicle on this day, so there was more space for everyone, and there were only two players sitting in my row instead of the usual three. Feet, who was 6’8″, decided to take off his shoes and put his feet up in between me and the other person in my row. His foot was about 12 inches from
my head. I turned around and told feet that that setup wasn’t gonna work. “Gon’ have to, bro,” was Feet’s mellow response. Before I could even decide what to say next, the smell of a dirty zoo filled the Chevy. The windows were all down, but I didn’t see a single animal on either side in the distance.
Feet’s feet smelled THAT bad. Like, if you unplugged your refrigerator and went on a two-week vacation. Within 10 seconds of Feet’s response to my statement, at least 5 other occupants of the SUV let Feet know, loudly and with laughs of complete disbelief, that he needed to put his shoes back on, for the good of humanity. Feet obliged. The way his feet smelled, he MUST HAVE been playing in and wearing the same socks for at least week, or more. I have smelled a lot of smells in my life, from unclean pussy to dog farts, but nothing compared to this. Man.
Everywhere we went in Mexico was dry, hot and dusty. Even the apartment we stayed in while on break from touring in Guadalajara wasn’t the cleanest place. Hell, except for the beds Ricardo had us carry into the place, there was no furniture. I acquired two infections in Mexico: the aforementioned toe infection (which kept me out of 4 games), and an eye infection that, luckily, occurred while we were on break from touring. To Ricardo’s credit, both times he was quick to take me to a local doctor’s office, and both doctors accurately diagnosed the problem and prescribed medicine that worked well and quickly. After the second doctor’s visit, Ricardo said, “Fuck, Dre. First your foot, now your eye. What’s next, your dick?”
Some players who had been in Mexico, touring with Ricardo before I had arrived liked to refer to themselves as “vets” of the country, as far as bball was concerned. There was a considerable amount of Ricardo-ass-kissing going on from time to time, mostly concerning playing time. I knew about the things going on, but didn’t care much for it- all any player had to do was play well in one game in front of one person, and there’s your deal! Many of the American guys playing on our touring team had never played a second of professional basketball before Mexico, so I just let ’em be.
In my time in Mexico, I went into probably 150 bars, clubs, and fiestas and met more people than I could ever remember. My Espanol became very sharp, to the point that I regularly carried on text-message conversations in Spanish. I was lucky enough, also, to meet several English-speaking females who made my stay a lot easier. The native males in Mexico did a good job of leaving us Americans alone most of the time, though I did notice some dirty looks when talking to their women from time to time. Some of the more groupie-ish dudes actually helped me talk to females– their sisters, platonic friends, even random chicks that neither of us knew. There were a few backwoods towns, though, in which the locals knew very little about English communication. We once walked into a bar and a 40-something guy yelled out happily, “Wassup, nigga!?!?!”
You may often hear about player in Mexico having to chase down monetary payments from shady team officials (see my above statement about wins vs. losses). I only had one situation of having to chase down money, and it was actually Ricardo chasing down a guy down to get payments for all 10 Americans he had placed on various teams for some tournament we played in. The chase lasted about 12 hours, and we did get paid– 80% of what we were owed.
Music Of The Moment:
“Welcome To Ca$hville,” Young Buck; “King,” T.I.; “Speakerboxxx/ The Love Below,” OutKast
I’d have to say all the nights out in Mexico. Wall Street in Guadalajara, the club whose name escapes me in Tepic, Calle 2 in Guadalajara. A bunch of places that weren’t really clubs nor bars, but a party was cooked up out of nothing… and the many, many other places I spent nights trying out my Espanol on the women.
The loss of my beloved Virgin Mobile cell phone (and all the photos on it) in a Tepic taxi seat one night… which also happened to be the date that this happened. So it wasn’t all bad. The 13-hour rides in vans that had less leg room than the Harlem Ambassador vehicles. A lot less.