Rolling With Leandro: Gregory Dole's Barbosa File, Part One
Canadian Gregory Dole lives in Brazil, and describes himself as a "freelance writer, English as a second language teacher, basketball coach, basketball scout, and world traveller." That's a career that, not too long ago, took him deep into the life of a certain Brazilian Blur (and, to a lesser extent, William Wesley).
In the spring and summer of 2003, before and after the NBA draft, Dole was Leandro Barbosa's translator. Over the next few days -- frankly, in the hopes of getting a book deal (in case there are any agents or editors out there reading) -- Dole will be rolling out tales of his time with Barbosa. The first one begins when a Brazilian player brings a videotape to Dole's living room.
I guess the story starts with a goofy kid I know from Sao Paulo who wanted to go the United States to play basketball. He was about 6'7", super athletic, and born without a clue. He pulls up to my place one day in July of 2002 with a videotape of himself playing basketball. Before I have the chance to say I was in a rush and I really had to go, the goof puts his videotape in my VCR and presses play.
Two hours later, I am sitting on my couch in amazement. The goof can't really play much, but he can run like the wind and jump like ... does the wind jump? You get the idea. I suggest he take up track and field.
However buried deep in the goof's mixtape is a guard who is off the charts. The player's skill seems almost unbelievable, like a legend of street basketball. I can't really begin to describe it other than to say that he is off the charts. Off the charts and from some unknown universe. An alien basketball lifeform, unlike anything I have never seen before.
Bear in mind, I grew up in Africa when African basketball was like a track and field event. All running all game and most of the players (except, often, for me) run fast. The game is full of turnovers because most of us did not have much ability or coaching, however nothing impeded our ability to haul ass up and down the court at breakneck speed. So I had seen some basketball at high speed.
But nothing like him.
So I ask the goof, who is the kid with the long arms? "Oh that is my old teammate from Palmeiras club in Sao Paulo," he says. "He ok. He can't really play point guard because he just looks to score. But he's a guard and he's got a funny looking shot, and I am not really sure if he could do well playing at the US college level. It's a big jump from Brazil."
"No it isn't," I say, "US college basketball sucks. They are all kids who can't shoot. Leandrinho can play in the NBA. Speed like that does not exist in the NBA. And he handles the basketball like it is on a string."
The goof shoots back, "well he only averages about 10 points a game in Brazil. If he was an NBA level player, he would average much more than that. Brazil is not that good."
Fair point, but I was not going to debate the relative merits and failings of the Brazilian league. Not with a goof, anyways.
Soon after, I was sitting in a restaurant in Sao Paulo with Leandrinho's brother Arturo and his mother Dona Ivete. Arturo is a bit of a freak show, but in a nice and enthusiastic sort of way. We hit it off immediately. Dona Ivete is as cool as a cucumber, well-dressed and ready to talk business. On first impressions, you would not think she was a masseuse but rather a Harvard business school grad.
Arturo starts by saying, "I have dreamed for years that you would show up here. That an American would come and recognize my brother's talents and take him to the NBA."
"Wow. Settle down. Let's hold it right there. I am not American. Let's just get that straight," I respond. "Your brother is really talented and I would like to try and help you guys out."
We spend the next few days going back and forth over organizing videotape that I would be sending out to various basketball people. Out of this back and forth, a Leandrinho basketball mixtape emerged. Little did we know at the time, it would become the stuff of legend and help him get drafted into the NBA.
Fast-forward several months. Leandrinho is putting up 28 points a game along with some eight assists, while shooting 48 percent from the three-point line. He is killing it the Brazilian championship for his team in Bauru.
Of note: Bauru is the starting point for two of the great Brazilian traditions, Pele and the Bauru sandwich. Pele started his football career as a youngster in Bauru before heading to glory with Santos FC. The Bauru sandwich is built on a mini loaf of french bread, filled with sliced contra-file, gooey cheese and sliced tomatoes. (The Bauru has since come to include a chicken version, but it will never be as recognized and respected as the original Bauru, even though some argue that the chicken bauru is in fact superior.)
Leandrinho then is really just following in the fine tradition of great things from Bauru, the spiritual son of Pele and the Bauru sandwich.
But I digress.
Back to the story. Months have past. An acquaintance of mine has tried to get Leandrinho into high school in the States. In fact, this initiative got so far as speaking with the coach for Lebron James' high school in Akron, Ohio. The coach declines, fearing that the high school authorities in Ohio would freak out if they found out that he had followed up LeBron with a Brazilian exchange student who is a ridiculous basketball player to boot. I guess they'd already harassed the hell out of him regarding the King in waiting.
Enter Ron Harper and his manager, ex-boyfriend of Halle Berry and a deadringer for Charles Barkley. No joke. I got caught staring because I could not believe it myself. I can only guess that Halle goes for the Barkley look. You might want to look into that, Charles.
Ron takes a look at the Leandrinho highlight tape and pronounces that Leandrinho can play. In the NBA. Right now.
More to this story in the coming days. Also, here's a video that will give you a feel for both Arturo and the Brazilian program that produced Leandro Barbosa. You'll notice Dole is mentioned briefly too.
(Photos: Getty Images)