It’s a rare sunny(ish) afternoon and I decide that I would like to take a walk around my new city, perhaps swing by the Culture Palace to see it close up. I am walking along the “river”, more akin to a oddly brownish-green sludge-pit. I hear English, a rare sound in Iasi, and immediately I turn to look for the source. My eyes zero in on two tall black guys, a strange sight in and of itself, let alone the American English coming out of their mouths. Americans just have a look- something I can't quite describe, but if you've ever traveled/lived abroad, you just KNOW Americans when you see them. In any event, I walk over to them and stop them, and they are altogether confused as to why a random stranger is stopping them on the street asking if they speak English. Perhaps they haven't figured out yet that English speakers are rare enough around here that you don't let opportunities like this pass you by! As it turns out, they (Bruce and Rob) just moved here from Seattle to play for the Iasi professional basketball team. (!!!) Excellent. They ask me if I like basketball and if I would like to come to their game. Obviously.
A few days later I go to the game with a friend. We arrive around what I assume will be half-time, because we are running late from dinner with friends. However, I am confused as we approach the gymnasium ("stadium" would be way too generous a word), because there are dozens of people standing outside the door, seemingly in two lines on the steps. Only when we get closer do I realize why- they are all smoking outside. During half-time. Thus we venture through the cancer tunnel and walk inside. I suppose I should be thankful that they aren't all smoking inside. Apparently it would be disrespectful to destroy athletes' lungs, but not fellow mall or restaurant-goers?
I'm not sure what I expected, but I did not expect this. I can only equate it to the experience of walking into a high school basketball game in the States. You all know what I mean. Wooden bleachers that are pulled out from the wall, only on 2 sides of the court. Not so much any end-zone bleachers with people waving foam fingers and screaming during foul shots. A scoreboard that does exactly and only that- keep score. No screen or "replay," instant or otherwise. We're talking 700 people in attendance. Maybe.
And it would be an understatement to say that my new American friends stand out. Not only is there not another black person on either team, but they are literally heads above everyone else. Bruce would by no means stick out on a US court, but here he looks simply imposing. And Rob, while not tall, is fast, darting easily around all the other players. It's the Bruce and Rob show. And the Iasi team is winning 50-22 as the second half starts.
The Dynamic Duo are removed shortly into the second half, as there isn't a great need to extend the 30 point lead. I have decided that when I get back to my apartment I will immediately email all of my athletic guy friends from back home and tell them they need to quit their jobs and move to Romania to play basketball. Because they could. And get paid well. To play basketball. I have also decided that American basketball (especially college) games are way more fun, because everyone screams and chants. Not so much here. I used to think it was obnoxious, but in its absence I long for some good 'ole "AAAAAIR BAAALLL! AAAAAIR BAAALLLL!" And mascots. And cheerleaders. Much as I dislike screechy girls in short skirts, they at least give me something to laugh at. Sorry mom, I know you were a cheerleader for the entirety of your high school and college tenure, but that was back when it was a dignified practice. And to the rest of you who are appalled and offended- I don't dislike cheerleaders as people, just their rah-rahing that (typically) has nothing to do with encouraging the team and everything to do with drawing attention to themselves. But I digress. This is Romania, they don't "do" mascots and instant replays and cheerleaders. Fair enough.
After awhile, I realize that the backboards have "www.harlemglobetrotters.com" written on them. Awesome. I can't even imagine what these people would do if the Harlem Globetrotters showed up in their gym. Probably stare mouth-agape, just like I am as I watch this game. But for a totally different reason.
After the game the entertainment continues as Bruce and Rob are the center of attention. Literally. Children swarm them (and only them), taking pictures with their cell phones and asking for autographs. Classic. I can just imagine these guys- coming from a random U.S. college where they may or may not have been good/mediocre/great and suddenly arriving in a city where they are All Stars. Both of them seem a bit shocked, to say the least. But it makes for some good photos and chuckles. We leave the game, satisfied with our first experience of professional sporting events in Romania.
Oh- I almost forgot. The final score? 88-54. Iasi.