“Don’t take a vacation to Romania.”
Myck Kabongo did not enjoy his time in Jijila, a tiny town three and a half hours northeast of Bucharest, Romania’s capital. The Canadian via the Congo didn’t exactly fit in.
“I was the only black person there, so it was kinda different,” Kabongo says. “People (were) always looking at me, looking at me weird.”
Other than his brother accompanying him, Kabongo’s one year stint in this remote corner of Europe was lonely, and mundane.
“Just practice, basketball, home, sleep, eat food. That was it.”
Just how bad did it get? Kabongo says his worst memory was a 36 hour bus ride. From where?
“Europe… somewhere. That’s how checked out I was.”
“There’s no way it was 36 hours,” interjects Kyle Collinsworth, one of Kabongo’s teammates with the Raptors 905.
“It was 36!,” Kabongo affirms defiantly. Though Kabongo is sure of the duration, his mathematical proof pokes a big hole in his credibility. “We went from a different European country to the next one, then we came back. It was round trip. That’s still – 16 (and) 16 – that’s still terrible – that’s 36 on the road. That’s awful. No one wants to be on a bus for 36 hours.”
Kabongo is one of a number of players on the 905 who have felt isolated while playing overseas. The language barrier is the most common complaint, where directions and ordering food become an agonizing chore. But that’s nothing compared to fellow Canadian Duane Notice’s pro stint in Europe.
Notice played his first professional basketball for BM Slam Stal Ostrow Wielkopolski of the Polish Basketball League.
“The weather was cold. I’m from Canada. For me to say that – that means it’s a lot,” Notice laments. Perhaps the weather could have been manageable had Notice had a car. But a vehicle wasn’t made available to him, so he had to walk most places. After only a few months in southwest Poland, there came a tipping point.
“I had no groceries, and I had to walk literally an hour to McDonalds. It was night time. It was really horrible. And I had barely any data so I was getting lost,” Notice says, unable to smile about it even now.
“When that happened I was like ‘I don’t want to be here no more.'”
Jordan Loyd has a different kind of horror story from his brief tenure with Hapoel Eilat in Isreal. The accommodations were fine, and the players felt shielded from the unrest in the region. But one experience had Loyd scared half to death. The date was April 12, 2018, Holocaust Remembrance Day across the country. Loyd and his American teammates were never alerted to the day’s existence, until that morning.
“A big siren goes off. Me and my (American roommate) wake up to it,” Loyd explains, eyes wide open. “All the Isreali teammates are like ‘let’s go – whatever you do just run! Just run! You hear this huge horn like ‘mehhhhhh’ – I’m just like ‘yo, what is going on?'” After Loyd and his roommate scrambled to escape their room, their local teammates told them it was Holocaust Remembrance Day. Loyd intently listened. A minute later, his teammates informed Loyd that the morning’s hysterics had nothing to do with it. They were just messing with him.
“It was a weird way to tell us,” Loyd says. “It was a pretty scary moment for me. Hearing a siren and you’re in a foreign place. You’re like ‘I need to find shelter’. That was probably my scariest moment overseas for sure.”
Every 905er that’s played overseas has a horror story to tell. They also agree that the 905 treatment has been a huge step up. Sure, there are the travel delays. Unlike the chartered flights of the NBA, the 905 fly commercial, which has resulted in sitting on tarmacs for up to 10 hours due to weather issues. Sure, they have to take long bus rides from almost every city they land, as there aren’t flights to places like Fort Wayne, Indiana and Oshkosh, Wisconsin. But at least they know the language, can get food when they need, and feel secure that their salary is going to be paid in full. The G League circuit is far from glamorous, but it’s a far cry from many of the alternatives pro basketball has to offer.