Friday, April 24, 2009

Away Games

Best wishes to everyone,

As I’m writing this entry, we're on our way to the game in Cantabria, a city on the northern coast of Spain. We left at 9:30am this morning and have about 7 to 8 hours of travel ahead of us. We will have lunch along the way, somewhere between 2pm and 3pm. Well arrive in the city around 6pm, stretch out for a while and get ready for the game at 9pm. Clearly, I don’t have to talk about the 7-8 hour trip that awaits us after the game. Well arrive in Alcazar between 6am and 7am.

Spoiled by the accommodations of our Division I program at UVM, the game day travel was a big surprise for me. During my college days, we used to travel the day before each game and spend the night at a hotel, no matter how far we had to go (for instance, UNH and UAlbany are only 2 hours away from UVM). Further, our pre-game meals were always 4 hours before the game. Here, everyone is used to eat 5 to 6 hours before the game. This is certainly one rule I cannot agree on, I would arrive too hungry to the game. So I end up eating a sandwich or some fruit in between.

The same day travel is though and takes a toll on the players. Even though you are relaxed and stretched out on the bus, it is very tiresome. If a game is more than 4 hours away, the team will usually travel the day before and spend the night in a hotel. Hotels and bus rentals, however, are expensive and the current economic situation forces team officials to tighten their budgets - hence our 8 hour trip today. Some teams travel on the day of the game, regardless of how far it is. They arrive in the city in the afternoon, eat lunch in a hotel and then rent rooms for a siesta. As you may or may not know, it is customary in Spain to take a nap/siesta after lunch. To accommodate travelers, hotel rooms can be rented out for a 2 hour period in the afternoon for a very cheap rate. Teams take advantage of this offer to allow their players to recover from the bus travel and be fresh for the game.

Away games are always though, regardless of the travels. But there is nothing worse than going back after a loss. There is no talking, no laughing, no movies, no breathing... alright, no breathing is exaggerated, but it is very depressing to be on the bus after a lost game, no matter what country you are playing in!

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Short-Term Contract

The discussion on injuries brings me to the next subject - short-term contracts. I have been very fortunate - in each season, I signed a contract for 10 months, thus securing a cash-flow for the whole season. There are numerous players, however, who sign contracts for only a short period of time - anywhere between 1-month to 6-month - and travel from team to team throughout the season. Short-term contracts are very common nowadays and can be very beneficial to both, players and teams.
Basketball players live and die by the stat sheet (a very unfortunate fact). The "numbers" from your previous season are the main factor that determines your salary level for the upcoming season. So if you suffer a major injury, you don’t get to play due to high competition on your team, or you just didn’t have a good year, your salary level is likely to decrease. What can you do to prevent this? Unless you have a really good reputation among coaches and have been in the league for a while, little to nothing. The conversation between your agent and the team manager is likely to go like this:
Agent: I have a player for you, works hard, great defender, can shoot the ball, and wants to earn X.
Manager: Well that’s great, but well only offer him Y.
Agent: Why is that? His market value is X.
Manager: That may be, but with the numbers he had last year, we won’t pay him X, well only pay him Y.
Now let’s say you sign for 1 month and put up good numbers during the 4 games of this contract, your salary level will rise again and you can play the rest of the season earning the money you want.
The club managers use the short term contracts to substitute injured players or strengthen a team's roster for a playoff run. For example, let's say your forward, who scores 18 points a game, gets hurt and has to sit out for one month. You sign a profile player for a month, which is likely to give you the same numbers, while the hurt player is recuperating.
We had a similar situation this season. One of our big guys was hurt and the diagnosis was that he could be out for as long as 3 weeks. So the management decided to sign a high profile player for a month. Alexis started his season in the ACB, the top league in Spain. At the end of his 3 month contract he got hurt, so the team decided not to resign him. He played all of January with us, got back into shape from his injury, and in February signed a one month contract in the ACB. He chose not to resign with the team for the rest of the season and is now on his way to Chile or Puerto Rico to play in their respective Summer Leagues that last about 4 months.
Personally, I prefer to sign a one-season contract during the summer rather than waiting and see if better opportunities will come around. The competition is fierce and there are plenty of players who don’t sign with a team, because they waited for better opportunities. On the other hand, there is a lot of money to be made in the short-term market. I assure you that Alexis, playing 5 months in 3 different teams, has made a lot more money than I will at the end of my 10 month contract.

Friday, March 6, 2009

3 weeks of "hell"

The reason I started the discussion about injuries is because unfortunately, I’ve had to battle some injuries myself this year. In fact, in a span of 3 weeks I suffered through more injuries than in my entire college career... well, that is not entirely true, but it is likely to make you feel bad for me, and that is really what I was aiming for!

So these 3 weeks of "hell" began with an away game at the end of November. Sometimes during the first half my right hamstring began to hurt - a lot. Following the athlete's code, I didn’t say anything and continued to play (looking back I’m surprised no one got suspicious, because I was limping my way from offence to defense and back). After the game (we got blown out by 28 points, just in case you were wondering), I put ice on it (the standard procedure prescribed to ANY sort of injury, even if the medics have no clue what it is), thinking it would go away over the weekend. Well, I woke up the next day with a sharp pain in my right hamstring. I couldn’t get out of bed, not to mention walk, so I called up the doctor and told him what has happened. To my surprise, he quickly responded with: it is a micro-tear; you cannot practice for 10 days. It is Saturday, I can’t see you until Monday before practice.

Before I move on, I would like to look at this situation from a different angle. Suppose you are a professional athlete, you are hurt and you are looking to get better as quickly as possible. You call your team's doctor (our "doctor" is a Traumatologist) and based on the information you provided him with over the phone, he is capable of identifying your injury. To top it off, he tells you that there is nothing you can do until he sees you on Monday evening... how would this make you feel? Would you trust a guy over the phone whose primary profession is to operate seriously injured people? I hope this enlightens a little the dilemma between coaches, doctors and players...

On Monday the doctor came to see me, poked my muscle, twisted my leg a couple of times, and confirmed his previous assumption that it is a micro-tear. So I didn’t practice all week, missed one game (we beat the then 1st ranked team in the league) and prepared myself for my glorious return to the field. My highly anticipated comeback happened on Wednesday; I went through the whole practice with no problems.

Towards the end of practice on Thursday, I found myself guarding one of our wings. He drove to the basket, and while I was successfully attempting to stop his charge, my left ring finger got caught in his jersey and snapped - I could feel and hear a clear snap in my left ring finger, followed by an intense rush of pain. I finished practice not being able to catch the ball. So once again I had to report to the doctor. Once again he did some poking and twisting and decided that I had to go to the hospital right away to get an X-Ray. Fortunately, the X-Ray came out negative - nothing was broken, only twisted. I was cleared to play on the weekend with an obstructing bandage between my ring- and middle finger.

The following week I barely escaped what could have easily been my career-ending injury. I was on the right side of the zone, as one of my teammates drove to the basket. I quickly analyzed the situation and concluded that his effort would either result in a basket or a foul (in both cases the ball would be taken out to the top of the key again) and decided to relax and see what would happen. The latter occurred; in mid-air my teammate was knocked down by our American. He came hard to the ground, struggled to regain his balance, and eventually fell down - in my direction. It all happened way to fast... before I knew it, he came stumbling towards me, fell on my right foot and proceeded to fall into my leg. I thought my knee was going to explode. I felt a huge tension in every ligament and instantly thought that my career was over with. It was a scary moment, by the looks of my teammates I could tell that it looked as bad as it felt. After a short break the pain eased and in the end I could finish practice. I don’t know how I got away without any tear or break, but to this day my knee hurts every time I bend it too...

Saturday, February 28, 2009

Back to writing

Hello Everyone,

I apologize that I havent contributed to the blog in so long. A lot has happened in the last 3 months, unfortunately most of it was not good news. But I have a lot of stuff to write about now, so I will put up different entries about all the things that have happened to me.

In this entry I would like to talk about injuries. There is no such thing as "good" or "bad" injuries - any injury is very annoying and can turn out into a huge setback for a player. But often it is the "minor" injuries, those that the people outside of the team dont hear about, that create the most trouble and controversies.

You ask how to define a "minor" injury? This is exactly the issue, as there is no legitimate definition. Depending on who you ask (player, coach, doctor), the definition varies...

For coaches, there is no such thing as a "minor" injury. Unless something is torn or broken, the coach will always pressure the player into playing. On the other side of the coaches are the doctors/trainers. They are most interested about the player's health and are usually very conservative. When something is hurting, you should sit out and let it rest, rather the push yourself through it and make things work. In between these two extremes stands the player, faced with the dilemna as to which side to choose. On one hand you have your health at stake. An "minor" injury that is not treated correctly can easily turn into a season ending injury, in some cases even career ending. On the other hand, you have the playing time, or more importantly your money, at stake. If you dont practice/play, you may loose the coaches trust, you may loose minutes, or another teammate can take your spot in the rotation. What is the right way to go? Well, this is for each player to decide for themselves.

So what kind of "minor" injuries am I talking about? There are numerous, so I will mention only the most common ones: twisted/rolled ankle, pulled muscle, jammed/twisted finger, swollen joints, etc. All of these things hurt, but usually the pain is not severe enough to prevent you from playing, or at least thats what they tell you...

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Basketball is a job

thank you for your comment. I will try to answer your questions in the following post.

I did not complete a graduate degree at UVM, because at the time it didnt seem necessary - I did very well in my undergrad studies and could have gotten a job without it. It is very likely, though, that I will pursue a graduate degree after Im finished with basketball. Without it, it will be nearly impossible to find a job I want, especially since Im planning to continue with basketball for another 2 to 3 years (or until the economy starts growing again... what a great time not to be involved in the financial industry right now).
It is interesting to note that Im one of two players on my team (the other being my American teammate) who have an undergraduate degree. In fact, none of my Spanish teammates ever attended college and never will. Playing professional sports in Europe comes at the cost of receiving higher education. Most players begin their professional careers at the age of 17 or 18 (some even sooner), right after they finish HS. By the time they finish playing, it is too late and undesirable to attend college.
The players, however, are well compensated for their commitment to the sport. A normal contract includes, besides the monetary compensation, a house/apartment and car paid for by the team. The payment depends on the league you play in and, of course, how good you are. For instance, the payments in the 3rd league (the league above ours) start somewhere around 25000 Euros per year and range up to 100000 Euros per year; the best players in the top league make up to 1000000 Euros a year and more. You may think that 25000 Euros is not much, but you have to look at it from this angle: you have no monthly payments for house or car and you work about 6 hours a day. If you do the math, you will see that the pay per hour is excellent.
For the players basketball is a regular job. With the money they earn through basketball, they pay their mortgages, car loans and support their families. For example, all of my veteran teammates have already paid off their mortgages and car loans. So even though they may never earn the same amount of money as by playing basketball, they will also never experience the difficulties of monthly debt payments.
So what do players do after they finish their careers? A lot of them remain loyal to the sport: they become coaches, team managers, agents, or get a job in the basketball federation. The others find a job through their network. It is amazing how many influential people you meet through the sport (team managers, sponsors, fans) and how many of them are willing to help.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Life outside the court

Ever wondered what professional athletes do when they are not practicing? The answer is fairly simple: not much!!!
Let me describe an average day. I usually wake up at 9am so I can have a light breakfast before practice at 10am. After practice - around 11:30 - I go with my roommate David "a tomar algo". This spanish term can be literally translated into "take something"; it means to go to a cafe/bar and have a drink of any sort. Afterwards we return to the apartment and I chill out for the remainder of the afternoon (in this time I eat, spend some time on the internet, take a nap, etc.). At 5:40pm we leave the house for evening practice at 6pm. After practice - around 8pm - I go with my roommate "a tomar algo" again. When we return to the house depends on a lot of variables, such as how tired we are, if we meet friends, if we practice in the morning, if we have a game the next day, if we're having a bad day, etc.; thus the point of return is anywhere between 10pm and 5am.
Since we only play once a week on the weekends, all of the days are pretty much the same. It does get pretty boring at times, especially since I dont have to go to class or work. Fortunately I have a great roommate; David is an incredibly funny guy and makes every day interesting. Ill also be taking a spanish course online so that should keep me busy throughout the afternoons. If any of you have read a good book recently, definitely let me know.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

The Language Barrier

It is impossible to describe the feeling of complete helplessness when you don’t understand a word and nobody understands you... it is something everyone has to experience for themselves. I will try, however, to give you an idea of how I felt during my first day in Spain.

I was very confident in my language abilities after college (I was able to communicate in 4 different languages), so I didn’t bother learning Spanish over the summer (clearly I had better things to do). The first doubts about possible communication problems occurred to me on my flight from Frankfurt to Madrid. All of the announcements were made in Spanish first (at least I thought it was Spanish; it could have been Italian or Greek and I wouldn’t have known the difference), followed by the German translation. At the time I thought it was pretty funny that I couldn’t understand a word, but soon I realized that the joke was on me.

A man waited for me at the airport (to this day I don’t know what his association to the team is/was). After greeting him in every possible language I could think of, he looked at me awkwardly and asked: Espanyol? I gave him the international sign of no (shaking my head horizontally) to which he responded with the international sign of yes/ok/this is going to be difficult (shaking his head vertically). He motioned with his hand to follow him; the next best option was to fly back home, so I gathered my courage and went with him to his car. After 20 minutes of silence this thought shot into my head: you are sitting in a stranger's car, you cannot communicate with him or anyone in this country, you don’t know where you are going... if he robes and leaves you in the middle of some field, you will never be able to navigate your way out of this!!! It sounds funny, but for the rest of the trip it shivered down my spine.

After two hours we made it to Alcazar and the man dropped me off at my hotel. The lady at the front desk spoke very good English; she showed me my room and told me that someone would pick me up for practice later on. It was so comforting to know that there was someone in the hotel that I could speak with (little did I know that the lady was going on vacation the following day and nobody else in the hotel spoke this language).

After a short nap I decided it was time to get lunch. I took a seat, opened the menu, closed the menu (I couldn’t read anything) and waited for the waiter. The waiter spoke at a rate of 10 words per second and was quiet intimidating. With my clueless expression I tried to communicate the following sentence: Good afternoon, sir, I don’t speak any Spanish but I would like to order something to eat, please. He didn’t get the message and stroke back with another series of quick words. This time I responded with: “no Espanyol, English”, which resulted in more confusion and another series of many foreign words. But I stuck to my story; the waiter quickly realized that shooting Spanish words at me won’t get us anywhere and left. After 5 minutes another waiter approached my table (this one was a lot friendlier – he smiled). He knew about 5 words of English, but it was enough for me to order lunch.

My struggle continued later that evening at practice. When I arrived at the gym, my head coach asked me in Spanish if I spoke Spanish. When I said no, he nodded and didn’t bother speaking to me for the next 3 months (no kidding). All of practice was conducted in Spanish; fortunately one of my teammates was fluent in English and translated everything for me. The off-court conversations and locker-room talks were all in Spanish, so the first couple of weeks I was completely excluded from the team.

By December I understood enough to be self-suficient and learned enough spanish words to carry on a 5 minute conversation. I will be taking an online spanish course this year so hopefully Ill be able to communicate fluently by the end of the season. As an end note, Spanish is a relatively easy and rich language spoken by a lot of people in the world; if anyone is interested in picking up a language, try Spanish.

Alcazar de San Juan

Alcazar de San Juan is a small city (about 30000 inhabitants) about 70 miles south east of Madrid. The city is famous thanks to the the story of Don Quixote; Cervantes wrote the book in Alcazar and a lot of the story happens in this area. This is, unfortunately, the only cultural aspect of the city. The climate here is hot and dry (last year it rained here 8 times... Im serious, I kept a count) and the area is utilized for the growth of wine and olives. As a matter of fact, Im in the most uniteresting area of all Spain. Fortunately for this blog, however, we will be travelling all across Spain this year, so I will describe the different aspects of this country as the year goes on.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Last Year in Review

Last year I played with the same team in the EBA League, the 5th league in Spain. There were about 70 teams in the league, divided into 5 regional divisions. At the end of the year, only 4 teams would move up to the 4th league.

The goal at the beginning of the season was clear: move up to the higher league. To complete this task, the team bought 6 veteran, experienced players. These guys played all of their careers in the top Spanish leagues and were the backbone of our team. The rest of us were young players who hustled everyday in practice and did the dirty work on the court (by veteran I mean 29 and older; by young I mean 24 and younger). Our coach was one of the most renowned and successful coaches in Spanish basketball history. He was the last piece of the puzzle and was supposed to lead us to glory and fame.

From the team standpoint, our season was a big success. We won our division and the playoffs, thus moving up to the next league. We did a lot of celebrating throughout the month of May...
From my individual standpoint it was a learning year. Basketball, just like any other sport, is a game of details; everyone can learn to dribble, shoot, pass, play defense, etc. It is the details, such as movement without the ball, reading the defense, running of screens, cutting and passing at the right time, that differentiate the bad from the good and the good from the best. And it was quickly obvious, pretty much after the first week of practice, that I had a lot to learn (and still do).

Let me assure you that the process of learning the details is very easy, yet very humiliating. Maybe some examples are sufficient at this point:

You are in the post playing defense. Now, if the ball goes over your head (without your notice, of course) and your player scores an easy lay-up, you think to yourself lucky play. But if this happens three times a practice over a span of one week, you realize that it’s not a lucky play, but your inability to play proper defense.

You are playing pick and roll with your wing. At the end of the play your teammate passes you the ball at the most unexpected time and you don’t catch it. The second time this happens, your wing (being a considerate teammate) explains to you that you need to be somewhere else in order to catch the ball. The third time you don’t catch it, your wing tells you that he just wont pass you the ball no more (trust me, he didn’t pass me the ball for the rest of the day). The next day it’s the same story, except that my wing didn’t pass me the ball after the first time I didn’t catch the pass (he was still a considerate teammate though).

I think you get the idea. I was very fortunate last year because I was with experienced players who taught me how to play and with a coach who thought I was worthy of playing a lot of minutes. In the end it was a good year for me: I averaged about 20 minutes a game, I got better as the year moved on, and the team decided to sign me for another year.

Welcome to my Blog!

I would like to welcome everyone to my blog. My name is Martin Klimes and I just started my second season as a professional basketball player in Spain.

The intention is to illustrate and bring you closer to the life of a professional athlete. I am happy to talk about anything that may be of interest to you, so please don’t hesitate and send me any questions or comments you have; the more input I receive, the better my pots will become.
Thank you for your participation and enjoy.