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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, sixth, seventh parts were published in recent days. There are more to come. When we left them, Dole and Barbosa are about to embark on a secret, last-minute trip to make one final team visit, to the Phoenix Suns.
We leave Cleveland Hopkins Airport in the early hours of the morning, touching down at our destination just before lunchtime. It has been touch and go as to whether or not we will actually go to Phoenix, but I have convinced the Brazilian that there will be no basketball – just a meeting with the Suns.
With that condition, he agrees to make the flight.
The Phoenix Suns errand guy, a high energy and sunny disposition type, picks us up at the airport. He introduces himself and speaks of his personality, which he refers to as “dog pound." He is infectiously enthusiastic. Going on and on about the dog pound and whatnot. If something requires an extraordinary effort, it is dog pound time. Members of the dog pound rise to the occasion.
It is dog pound time for Leandrinho.
He can hardly walk. NBA executives are phoning to say he might not get drafted at all. We just flew across the country at an early hour at the last minute, on the off-chance the Suns might love him. The media is saying the Suns have promised their pick to a Serbian kid named Zarko.
No guts no glory.
We drive into the basement level of the Phoenix arena. The practice court is buried deep in the building. As we enter the dressing room, I’m thinking it’s a long way back to the Brazilian leagues. There are no walk-in whirlpools at the gym in Bauru. Or Franca. Or Aracatuba. Or Piracicaba. Or Analandia.
As he enters the dressing room, Leandrinho is determined that he’s going in for just an interview. He sees the practice uniform the Suns staff has laid out for him on a chair, and shoots me a look that expresses the kinds of things that came out Coach Hubie Brown’s mouth back in Memphis.
“I am not working out for these guys,” says Leandrinho.
I can only respond with “Ok.”
I talk to the Suns’ dog pound guy, who puts me in touch with Suns’ brass man Dave Griffin.
“Dave, I don’t know if this is a misunderstanding, you guys thinking he could work out and flying him in and so on, but I don’t think Leandrinho can work out. He is in a lot of pain because of his hip injury.”
Says Griff, as they call him, “Well can he work out just a little bit? You know, shoot around some and that sort of thing? Nothing too fast-paced.”
“I will go ask Leandrinho,” and I go to face the kid. He is fuming. He will not look at me. It is not good.
“Do you think you could do a little bit of a workout? Something light?” I ask, hoping for the best. I do not need to wait for an answer.
“It’s a no go, Dave,” I say.
“But all the coaches are here. Bryan’s here. Jerry’s here. Everyone is here to see the kid. Do you think we could try stretching him out to see if he could get loose enough to get out there?” asks Griffin. I could see in his expression that he really wants to get Leandrinho on the court in front of his bosses. Like the Boston Celtics staff, there is no hiding the fact that he is a fan. Griffin too had drunk the Leandrinho kool-aid.
“I will ask,” I say.
“Look I think you should go try and stretch out and see what you can do for these people. They just want a light workout, some shooting around. Nothing serious. The trainer will stretch you out and you will feel better,” I say to Leandrinho. The polite interpretation of the look he shot back at me is "bug off."
It’s worth mentioning that Griffin is right beside me as I have this conversation, but it is all happening in Portuguese. I don’t think Griffin understands the severity of the situation. He’s thinking one thing, perhaps that Leandrinho’s and I are arguing over blondes versus brunettes, meanwhile the truth of the matter is that Leandrinho has no interest whatsoever in working out for the Phoenix Suns.
I am more worried about Leandrinho biting my head off. Of course, with his gimp hip, I could probably outrun him. Maybe. Either way, it’s a tough spot to be in. (And people think being an NBA translator is all glitz and glamour. Let me dispel that notion right now!)
Finally Leandrinho looks up, but not to my face, and says: “I will go out and try, but just remember I am doing this for you, you son of a b----.”
(Listen, if Leandrinho goes on to lead the Suns to championship glory one day, and is placed on the ring of fire or whatever they call it, you might want to put an asterisk beside his name and in the footnotes include mention of my heroic deed to get the kid to tryout for the Suns. He worked out for the Suns, and he only did it because I asked him! Write that down. If Suns fans want to send gifts of appreciation, I am not filled with so much pride and ego to turn them down. Cash is always a nice way of saying thank you. Contact Henry.)
Slowly, and with trepidation, Leandrinho pulls on the Suns gear.
(Photograhy: Getty Images)