(written by Brett)
Despite the amount of time I’ve spent in my life playing, watching, following or working in the sport of basketball I’ve really never had success with my NCAA tournament bracket. I’ve had the occasional bright spot, but despite entering 5+ different pools each year for much of my adult life I’ve had only (I think – but who’s counting) two top 3 finishes. Any success I’ve had was in my youth with a winning stake in my father’s law firm pool one year and frequently winning a family pool – against my Mom and Dad. And, it’s not about the money. All but one of the pools I enter each year are bragging rights only (read: free) and the other is $20 in the pot. So, it’s not the stakes – it’s that I love basketball and love this time of year.
Even with this, my performance after moving to Luxembourg this year has been historically, epically bad. My big pool with a bunch of ex-Sonics guys each year is a highlight. We meet at the Ram – and see each other, in many cases for the only time of the year. They’ve welcomed Quinn in to this mix and he started attending and participating when he was 6 or 7. This year, he sat, eye-to-eye with my friends in the RAM, having a burger and (since I wasn’t there) probably a soda and then at the pre-determined hour woke me up and joined me in via Facetime for our annual “draft.” Never in the 9 years we’ve done this tournament has someone been completely eliminated (i.e. no teams left, not a shred of dignity) by 9:30 PM Pacific on Saturday evening of the first weekend. Until now. Here’s a couple reasons why:
- It was 4:30 AM in Luxembourg when I made my picks. I mean, c’mon…..
- We don’t own a TV
- I spent 8 hours on a train the day of the draft (note, I’ve only contributed two pieces of material to this blog, but this is already a recurring theme. Don’t get me wrong, I like the train system – it is another example of the huge infrastructure advantage Europe has. But my only two train journeys so far have been drawn-out treks). And this one occurred on the day of the draft.
- The best player on the best team in the Luxembourg professional basketball league went to Forks HS in Washington and Central Washington University. This team practices after Colin’s team. Enough said. But wait, the one practice we stayed to watch, the starting center arrived late, in a suit, changed courtside and then jumped into the drills. Dwight Howard is….. never mind.
- The only other live basketball I’ve seen was FC Barcelona vs. Moscow. They pass and cut and play below the rim, but it’s a high level of basketball.
- Our internet service has been atrocious. Kate has documented our struggles here, but the issue came to a head last week. We had managed to deal with the lousy service for the better part of the past 6 weeks. Calling, emailing, escalating, threatening, begging, pleading, imploring, etc. But the prospect of not being able to watch online for the opening weekend of the tournament was too much. The issue came to a head with this exchange last Thursday as I spoke to a supervisor at our ISP:
“BUT YOU ARE STEALING MONEY FROM ME!! Do……you…..understand…..me……? YOU ARE STEALING MONEY FROM ME!!
The technician arrived 90 minutes later and changed a setting. The service has been acceptable since. Though not in time to save my bracket. But, I digress.
- My bus stop leaving work is in front of an English-speaking bar called “What About Bob’s?” As I huddle in the sub-zero temperatures waiting for the bus I can see replays of the previous night’s action on ESPN in HD. Not sure if this is an excuse, but it’s an interesting anecdote.
- It’s a football (soccer) loving country, continent, world.
- The “Turbo” slide at Les Thermes addled my brain. Les Thermes is a pool, water park, spa, health club. It has two three story water slides. One called Turbo. It has a scary looking warning sign (in French) with images of a stick figure, who looks like a naked guy on a luge, demonstrating how to position oneself for safety. It has a red light / green light indicator for entrance and a turnstyle that will not move until safe to enter the Turbo vortex. It’s akin to a TSA checkpoint. I joined Colin a few minutes late and tried to get some street cred by going straight to the Turbo and hopping in. Luckily it’s a very quick ride – unluckily I was not prepared for the 40kmh free fall the Turbo provided. I was shaken, my ears filled with water, equilibrium damaged and then I picked Georgetown and Gonzaga with my first two picks.
- I drew eighth. Out of eight. Seriously, we’ve done the draft nine years and I’ve drawn eighth eight times. The other time I got lucky and drew seventh.
- The trail running is so spectacular here that I’ve lost interest in basketball. Partly true.
- The smoking is getting to me. One of the many incongruities of life in Europe. The food is generally healthier. There’s more emphasis on getting outdoors and “real” exercise. But, the smoking. It’s hard to get away from.
- The youth league bball teams play on 8 foot hoops up to 12 years old. 12 YEARS OLD. Some of the 12 year olds are touching the rim. Colin is the youngest kid on his team and he hasn’t played on an 8 foot hoop for 3 years.
- I like gear, but there’s an odd over-index on gear and prep for kids. The boys have needed: a speedo (seriously a specific call out for no “beach shorts” allowed in the pool), court shoes, rain pants, snow pants, PE uniform, sweatsuit, black pants, black shirt, black shoes and, of course, 17 different medical exams and physicals.
- The basketball court across the street from our apartment has been under snow and ice for much of the past three months. One morning we shoveled it and practiced in temperatures of -5 C. Awesome.
- World Cup qualifying has already begun. Luxembourg played to a 0-0 draw with Azerbaijan the other night. Sounded like a great game – I’m sorry I missed it……
- The Tour de France is only 87 days away.
Or, as with a lot of things these days, it’s a small tradeoff I’d gladly make for broadening horizons.