"Have you ever had a dream that was so crazy and seemingly unrealistic you never even tried to follow it? This book is about a guy who followed that dream all the way to Prague and discovered that, sometimes, the journey is more important than the dream itself. Read it and you might find yourself willing to take a few more chances."
That's the pull quote I wrote for Expatriate Games: My Season of Misadventures in Czech Semi-Pro Basketball
. Or, I should say, that's one
of the pull quotes I wrote. Here's the one that the editor wanted to use but (for obvious reasons) did not:
"If the earth ever spins off its axis and kills us all, it'll be because of the titanic balls it took for Dave Fromm to move to Prague and just walk on to a semi-pro basketball team. Next time I hesitate to follow my dreams, I'm going to think back to this book."
Expatriate Games is the story of David Fromm, who -- like many people before and after him -- had no idea what to do with himself after he graduated from college. Or rather, he had
ideas, but he didn't particularly like any of them. Law school beckoned but didn't exactly entice
. He wasn't ready to grow up and start taking on adult responsibilities, so he talked himself into doing something wild and unexpected: Move to Prague and play professional basketball. Brilliant!
The idea, in and of itself, wasn't entirely original. A lot of the guys I played pickup ball with in college -- which was around the same time Fromm went on his most excellent adventure -- talked casually (but quite seriously) about how they probably could
and therefore should
move to Europe and become a pro baller. Seriously, I knew several people who thought that was a perfectly valid option in the mid to late-90s. Like, you could just fly halfway around the world and walk onto a pro team. Snap of the fingers, just like that.
And Fromm did it. Sort of.
Despite a language barrier that he never really broke through and a cultural gap he never fully crossed, Fromm tracked down and improbably walked onto a semi-pro Czech team called TJ Sokol Kralovske Vinhorady. In between the practices and games, he managed to earn a one-year postgraduate degree (which partially justified the zany odyssey) and fall into one of those crazy "I'm away from home and in a foreign and totally exotic place" romances that hit you hard and leave you feeling, well, like you got hit really
The book is sort of an extended diary of the experience. There are plenty of vivid and amusing descriptions of the life that went on around playing basketball -- including the occasional side trip into of what was going on in the NBA at that time -- but the best parts of the book come when Fromm talks about playing and practicing. At times, he was even better than he thought. At other times, he was much worse, particularly since he was nurtured on Jordan Era hoops, which meant that his style of play (cutting, slashing, breaking his man down one-on-one) didn't quite mesh with the European style (passing into the post, cutting without the ball, spotting up for an open jumper).
Fromm was alternately delighted and frustrated by his teammates, and they probably felt the same way about him (although, thanks to their incomplete and broken English, it was sometimes difficult to tell exactly what they were thinking). But one thing that he found out is that camaraderie is something of a universal language. Win, lose or draw, there was always time to celebrate victory or (more often) drown the sorrow in a bitter but surprisingly tasty Czech brew.
That year came and went in a flash. Fromm played semi-pro ball, but he never earned any money doing so (unless you count the proceeds from this book) and his team never won anything of note. He kind of fell in love, but that love never really went anywhere. He met a lot of fascinating people, but many of them have been lost in the mists of time. In the end, the journey feels somewhat surreal, like a complex and vivid dream. But what a dream to have and make come true, you know?
Labels: big honking balls, book reviews, Expatriate Games