Dodging M-80’s on the court is not what basketball players expect to do. But when you are playing in front of the rowdiest crowds in the world, you have to be prepared for anything. In his 13th year of professional basketball overseas, Derrick Alston (D.A.) has seen almost everything.
Alston was the 33rd pick in the 1994 NBA Draft, but during his third NBA season, he made the journey to Europe.
“My time in the league was short and I have made a great living playing overseas and had a lot of success,” Alston explained. “My 12 years of experience overseas has been where I learned about the world and played some great basketball. It’s an experience I wouldn’t trade for anything.”
I can’t blame him and I wouldn’t trade his two Eurocup Championships, three National league titles and multiple MVP awards either. But none of that success would have been possible without the correct approach and willingness to try something different.
“One of the most important things in making the transition to overseas basketball is to have a open mind,” Alston told me. “You have to be ready to adjust to your surroundings and not think everybody else has to adjust to you. I tell all the young guys that they have to adjust to the culture and with that alone, they can make life, basketball and everything else a little easier and more enjoyable.”
As Y2K rolled around, fans in the U.S. were watching Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant win three straight NBA Championships. Meanwhile, Alston was getting his passport stamped all over the world and playing for teams in Turkey, Spain, France, Russia, New Zealand and Argentina.
I got the chance to hang out with D.A. while we were in China staging basketball camps. As we shared stories, he told me about playing in a 2000 Euroleague Final Four game in Greece. These games hold just as much excitement as our NCAA Final Four.
The fans are like Cameron Crazies on steroids and are incomparably boisterous and wild.
Alston recalls, “our fans were trying to put up signs but the Greek fans came right in front of them and tore it all down.”
If that was not enough, the Greek fans then started jumping around and chanting for their team.
“Then again outside, they circled our fans and families and yelled at them in Greek just trying to scare them while the police just watched,” Alston told me.
The best part of the story is that Alston’s team was not even playing the Greek team.
The excitement and atmosphere of high level European basketball is unmatched. This passion derives partly from the fervent way of life and national pride. When the NBA or NCAA Championship begins, many of us watch the games as entertainment and usually have an allegiance to a favorite or local team. However, when the Euroleague Final Four is played, there is the love of the game and entertainment value plus national pride on the line.
Each game brings together teams from different parts of Europe, each with deep and rich history. Living in America we forget how young our country is. European teams face-off for a chance to bring a hero’s glory back to his country, especially if there is animosity or a history of hostility between the teams or countries.
It becomes more than just a basketball game.
This is how legends are born. Past Euroleague Final Four MVP’s include, Toni Kukoc, Manu Ginobili, and Sarunas Jasikevicius, each of whom became great NBA players.
Once while in Cypress playing in the Korac Cup, Alston was lacing them up for Pamesa Valencia. Alston’s team was making a run so a timeout was called.
“I look down and see something small rolling towards us but it was smoking,” recalls Alston. “Not knowing what is was, I went to kick it away. It exploded and cut mine and another teammates’ leg. It was a M-80! Everybody’s ears were ringing and we couldn’t believe what just happened. Security didn’t do anything that I know of because there were two more thrown during the game.”
Extreme actions have all but disappeared at Final Four games in Europe. However, this is a glimpse of the excitement and pressure of basketball in Europe.
“The NBA has pressure to win but it’s nothing compared to what you have to deal with overseas,” Alston explained. “Over here (Europe) you have to the pressure to win, overcome the culture and always be a top performer.”
Do you have questions about how overseas basketball works? Are you curious about how a former college player is doing overseas? Is there is anything else you would like to know? Ask me and I will do my best to help you understand. I have played professional basketball and conducted camps in over 10 countries from all corners of the world, so let me share some insights. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org