Rolling With Leandro: Gregory Dole's Barbosa File, Part Seven
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. In the hopes of landing a book deal, Dole is sharing tales of his time with Barbosa. The first, second, third, fourth, fifth, and sixth parts were published in recent days. There are more to come. When we left them, Dole is on an errand to find a live chicken, in the hopes that some traditional Brazilian healing, or something, might cure Leandro's gimpy hip in time for him to impress a team before the draft. If nothing works, Leandro, his brother Arturo, and Dole might all go home to Brazil with nothing to show for it.
I am sorry. Ohio state law prohibits the sale of live chickens, says the lady at the markets fresh chicken stall, but we do have some wonderfully tasty organic chickens. Dead, of course. Why exactly do you need a live chicken?
I make a quick decision and buy some organic chicken. Its a lot smaller than the good old steroid-fed chickens they sell in stores these days, and it certainly wont pass as a live chicken.
I take it home to Arturo. When I walk in, Leandrinho is covered in popcorn and egg yolk. I dont ask but instead help myself to the remaining popcorn in the pot. Thankfully, Arturo has changed his mind on the need for a live chicken. Apparently there was some miscommunication.
He beats the remaining eggs and batters up the organic chicken a la Milanesa. The tasty entrée is accompanied by a delicious spinach salad with a white vinegar and salt dressing, and the traditional Brazilian beans sautéed in garlic. Arturo may have missed his calling. I tell him to open up a restaurant. We settle in for an early dinner.
Leandrinhos hip takes several days to get better, and it feels like forever. Time is flying by now and with every day comes a lost opportunity to work out for an NBA club. Leandro, his brother, and myself are a pretty depressed crew. What had started out with great promise is now beginning to go down the drain.
Arturo does his best to keep things light, making nice dinners for all of us and inviting in other players Leandrinho has met while training in Cleveland. One of those guys, Andrew Mitchell of Kent State, has gone on to great success in Sweden. Every time I check on the internet, he is leading the Swedish league in scoring and winning championships. Another guy, Juby Johnson from the Miami University of Ohio, has gone on to great success winning championships in Croatias top league. Of note, another player who was training in Cleveland with Leandrinho during that time was a lightly-regarded center from Kent State named Antonio Gates. NFL fans have come to know him as the record-setting tight end for the San Diego Chargers.
To those passing by during those days at the Speed Strength training facility on Euclid Avenue in Cleveland, ours was as motley a crew as you might find, what with undersized basketball players from Kent State and unknown Brazilians. Funny how all of those athletes have gone on to greatness around the globe, in Sweden, Croatia, the NBA and the NFL. Few would have banked on it in the spring of 2003.
I had a lot of time to see Arturo and Leandro interact. Years later, Id hear their story from Enio Vechi, a former Brazilian National team coach:
I was coach at a club called Continental outside of the city of Sao Paulo. Its a really grimy industrial area, near where Arturo, his mother and family lived. Arturo was about 22 years old when he showed up one day and asked if he could train with my team. He was already by then in the military and had no intention of playing basketball professionally but wanted a team to train with because he loved basketball so much. He had an intense enthusiasm for the game so I really could not say no. It was then that our friendship began. Sometime later, Arturo asked me if he could bring along his kid brother to watch us practice. In fact, practice time was when he was supposed to be babysitting his brother, so in fact he was combining both. I said I did not mind. When the five-year old kid showed up, I was shocked by how skinny he was. Whereas Arturo was built like a bull, Leandrinho was a stick figure. He was really scrawny, all skin and bones with really long arms. I cant tell you that I would have ever guessed he would have become an NBA player. In any event, little by little Arturo would ask me for drills that he could teach Leandrinho. And so it started. Arturo would pass on a drill to the kid, the kid would master it and Arturo would pester me for more drills and so on and so forth. As the kid got older, Arturo would ask me for help in finding places for his brother to train. When he became a teenager, Arturo and I would discuss which teams were best for him to play on. I did it because we were old friends. Never would I have guessed Leandrinho would go on to become the prodigy that he is today. I dont believe anyone did. The fact is, Arturo guided him and pushed him. Thanks to Arturos perseverance, the NBA became a reality.
As for the hip, nothing seems to be working. We spend our days going from medical treatment to rehab in the pool at the Athletic Club. The kid is not getting better. Going back to Brazil with his tail between his legs seems more possible than ever.
Leandrinho, Arturo and I evaluated the implications of statements made by Rob Babcock of the Minnesota Timberwolves. As a member of an NBA committee that evaluates draft prospects, or something to that effect, Babcock phoned to say that there was a strong possibility that Leandrinho would go undrafted in the first round. It was hard to believe this, however we went through the various implications. We concluded in the end that there was no point withdrawing from the draft. In fact, it was more like that if he went undrafted and no great offers came from Europe, he would go back to the Brazilian league and become the countrys highest paid player, if only because of the publicity of having tried to enter the NBA. So, like Sinatra used to sing, it was all or nothing at all. The NBA or bust.
We were sitting around watching a Jean-Claude Van Damme flick when we got the call that the Phoenix Suns wanted to fly Leandrinho in for a secret workout.
It was all very mysterious and exciting.
Boston had wanted to see the kid as well, but Leandrinho had declined the opportunity and so I had assumed there would be no more workouts before the NBA draft.
In any event, Phoenix had had their eyes on the Brazilian ever since they saw the famous highlight tape. They phoned earlier on in the
draft process to express their interest in the kid, but no workout dates could be arranged because of scheduling conflicts. At the next-to-last-minute then, the Suns management had offered to Leandrinho fly in to do an interview, even if he could not go through an on-court workout. Or so I was told.
With that we went to Phoenix.
(Photography: Getty Images)