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Monday, May 14, 2007
Rolling With Leandro: Gregory Dole's Barbosa File, Part Three


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 and second parts were published last week. When we left them, pre-draft workouts had not gone well in Milwaukee, and Barbosa and Dole were on their way to Chicago to try again.

In Chicago, Leandrinho falls victim to University of Detroit star Willie Green. It's not even funny. Green is stronger, tougher and jumps higher. To top it off, Leandrinho still can't get his shot to fall. Green seems not to miss.

Back in the locker room, getting ready to head to the airport, we go through the bright spots of the Bulls experience. I marvel over the fact that Leandrinho set the record in the foot speed test that the Bulls have given their players for the past 16 years. I deduce that those records include Michael Jordan.

Leandrinho marvels over the Michael Jordan/Bulls mystique and has to check to see if he is in fact dreaming that he tried out for the former World Champion Chicago Bulls. We are snapped out of the reverie by the appearance of then-Bull Fred Hoiberg.

He is naked.

I have never been very keen on conversation with naked people, but in fairness, Hoiberg comes across as a kind and considerate person, so I politely translate the conversation for Leandrinho, and eventually it's time to go, but not before I am given a pair of Chicago Bulls practice shorts. I don't know why, but it is quite a thrill. I still have the shorts, a souvenir of my brief spell with the Bulls, if you will.

We head out to the airport in a stretch limousine, a first for my Brazilian friend. As we ride out, Leandrinho informs me that he is going to dominate from here on in. And with that pronouncement over and done with, I am both at ease and excited at the prospect of what is to come.

Leandro BarbosaThe next workout is in Oakland with the Golden State Warriors. Our America West flight takes us on a bunch of connections through the southwest. We end up spending time in the airport in Phoenix. I can remember looking out the windows of the air-conditioned airport and saying, "I hope for your sake you don't play in Phoenix. Who would want to live in a desert?"

In Oakland, Leandrinho asks me to ask the team management if he can go shoot around that night. The Warriors practice facility is actually part of the hotel we are staying in, so we head over soon after unpacking. Leandrinho sets up chairs on the court so that he can dribble in and around them before getting his shot off. It is as old-school a drill as one can imagine, something out of a church basement half a century ago.

Leandrinho zips in and out, knocking down shot after shot. I catch myself marveling at his amazing dribbling skill. Its not that he has a million and one fancy, "And 1" moves. It is that he has complete and total control of the ball while running at top speed.

Out of the far corner of the gym, a tall white guy with a buzz cut walks toward us. Leandrinho has no idea who he is. I tell him that it's the director of the club, a guy named Chris Mullin.

Again, no response from Leandrinho. He tells me all the time that he did not watch much NBA basketball growing up in Brazil. He was too busy playing and doing his brother's drills.

"Hey fellas, I thought I would join you guys in shooting around," says Mullin.

I am the first to respond, "Of course, please do," I say. I can't believe it. Here we are shooting hoops with Chris Mullin, former member of the original DREAM TEAM! Barcelona '92!

I grew up in Tanzania, were there a few NBA basketball highlight tapes circulating. My favorite was always the tape with the Golden State Warriors segment on Run TMC. From the courts of Dar es Salaam, I would never have dreamed that I would someday be shooting around with the "C."

Of course, there was something refreshing about the fact that Leandrinho could not give a hoot about Chris Mullin. He wasn't even really impressed by Mullin's shooting skills. I later found out that Mullin wasn't impressed with Leandrinho's shooting skills either, which is a little mystifying, but that's apparently the reason Mullin passed on the opportunity to draft Barbosa. (Can you imagine Leandro, by the way, on the current Warriors team?)

As for the workout the next day, Leandrinho indeed brought his "A" game.

Working out against Dwyane Wade and Reece Gaines, Leandrinho put his past performances behind him and excelled in the moment. Dwyane Wade's athleticism made Wade standout more, but no one shot as well nor showed more pure basketball skill than the Brazilian.

He made the Louisville star Gaines look silly, again and again and again. On one particular drive, for emphasis, Leandrinho spun around Gaines and hooked his arm around Gaines' hip to create more space as he drove toward the hoop. Gaines called foul to no avail but the stage was set. Gaines would later show his frustration by slamming Leandrinho to the floor. I thought a fight might break out, but, showing that rare "leader of men" cool, Wade restored the peace more than once. Wade, it was clear, has an uncommon level of maturity and strength of character.

After the stellar workout, we retreated to the dressing room. I noted that, unlike most other clubs, the Warriors did not let the players keep their workout clothes. For whatever reason, getting free NBA club gear is a huge deal to future millionaires. I guess the Warriors felt the future millionaires could afford to pay for the uniforms if they really wanted them. Too right.

As Leandrinho got dressed, I walked into the training room. A naked Chris Mullin was getting into the bath. (Is everybody naked in the NBA?)

"I was pretty impressed," he said. "I did not believe the tape that I saw. Sometimes a player can look like a million bucks on tape but in real life the kid can't play a lick. I thought he was even better than the tape," said Mullin.

That bloody tape was becoming a legend.

"I don't know what you fellas are up to this weekend," he added. "I would like to invite you to my house for lunch today. My housekeeper is Brazilian and she's cooking up a special meal."

"Of course. Let's go," I responded.

Are you kidding me? Yeah, I am off to lunch at Chris Mullin's house. It's no big deal. Just going to hang out with him and his family. We like to organize get togethers once a month or so. We're good like that.

I hadn't even checked with my Brazilian associate, but I was sure that he wouldn't mind. In fact, there is a Brazilian expression that if you want to attract a crowd, offer free food. As we pulled out of the practice facility in Mullin's fancy Benz, I had to laugh. It was a long way from a side street cafe in Brazil, where this mad adventure began.

(Photography: Getty Images)