Monday, December 22, 2008
Updated: August 6, 4:14 PM ET
On the road for another Christmas, international players get in the spirit
By Maurice Brooks
Whether you are from Brazil like the Cavaliers' Anderson Varejao, France like the Bobcats' Boris Diaw and the Trail Blazers' Nicolas Batum, or Spain like Batum's teammates Rudy Fernandez and Sergio Rodriguez, one thing remains clear.
Regardless of where you grew up, Christmas often is celebrated in similar ways around the world.
When probed about how Christmas in the United States differs from the way they traditionally would spend the holiday back home, the five NBA players gave answers that indicated it really wouldn't.
No matter what country you are from, the common holiday themes include providing for others, spending time with family and friends, and eating well.
"It's a good holiday for my family," said Fernandez, who has emerged as one of the most exciting players in the league in his first season. "My sister is coming for four days. To be together is important. Sharing dinner and talking with my family is very
good for me.
"Christmas here and in Spain is similar, but here it's incredible. It is a big holiday."
Batum, who is also a rookie and who starts at small forward for Portland, was quick to agree.
"In France, Christmas is very important because it's a day when all families spend time together," Batum said. "This year, 10 of my family and friends are coming from France. It will be very big for us. We have the same things back home as here: Santa Claus, a tree and a big turkey.
"My favorite Christmas memory was coming to the United States two years ago. Just for fun, my family -- my mom, sister, cousins and grandparents -- chose to stay in New York for Christmas."
Just like countless other little boys and girls, Batum's all-time favorite Christmas gift had the No. 23 on it.
"My favorite Christmas gift ever was a Michael Jordan jersey when I was 10," Batum said. "For my mother, I usually get her jewelry. I bought her a car last year."
Rodriguez, who is in his third season and is a valuable reserve for the Blazers, has developed his own routine for enjoying the holiday.
"I try to keep my Christmas the same every year," Rodriguez said. "My family is coming. My parents, brother and girlfriend are here. I have a few friends from Spain in Portland. We do the same thing that we do every year. It's very special for my family, having Christmas here. It's different because we are far away from our city."
Varejao, who anchors the Cavaliers' defense with his energy and rebounding, sounded more homesick than the Blazers trio.
"I have a really big, huge, family," said Varejao, who is in his fifth season with the Cavs. "We get together and eat turkey. The way we do it in my family is that everybody has to bring some food. My family is huge -- more than 50 people.
"For eight or nine years, I couldn't enjoy that time. I do what I got to do in Cleveland, and I did a lot of things with friends when I was in Europe, too. It is really tough being away from family. We like to get together and celebrate. It is what it is, and I have to try to have fun here, too. It's tough, but there is nothing I can do."
Varejao's first memory of a Christmas gift had nothing to do with basketball.
"It was a bike," Varejao said. "I used to ask Santa Claus for my gifts. Every present is good. As long as it comes from the heart, it doesn't matter what it is."
For the first time in almost 30 years, there will be five NBA games -- shown in 214 countries in 41 languages -- on Dec. 25, meaning Rodriguez, Batum, Fernandez and Varejao have to work on Christmas.
The action tips off at noon ET on ESPN with the Hornets playing the Magic, followed by an ABC doubleheader that features the Spurs and Suns at 2:30 p.m. and a rematch of last year's NBA Finals between the Celtics and Lakers at 5. For the night games on TNT, the Wizards travel to Cleveland to play the Cavaliers at 8 and the Mavericks take on the Blazers at 10:30.
Diaw, who recently was traded from Phoenix to Charlotte, will have more time to enjoy Christmas than the other four players. The Bobcats get the day off.
"Christmas is big in France, just as it is in the U.S.," Diaw said. "Lots of gifts, friends and family. The only other thing is the Christmas log cake. I always have one of those.
"I plan on going to New York City on Christmas to visit friends before our game against New Jersey on Dec. 26."
Diaw's mother did her part to keep him believing in Santa Claus as a kid.
"My mom had a friend dress up like Santa Claus when I was little, and I
thought it was real," Diaw said. "I knew it wasn't my mother because she was standing
right there, so for a while I thought Santa was in my house."
Although he says it's tough being away from his family, he has had pleasant Christmas memories in America.
"During my first year in Atlanta, I had about 15 friends come from France to spend Christmas with me," Diaw said. "Also, last year we played Los Angeles on Christmas and I went with Ronny Turiaf to his house, where his mother served us a home-cooked meal."
|Varejao, Batum and Diaw won't be home for Christmas, but a festive time is planned.|
Maurice Brooks in an NBA editor for ESPN.com.