Culture Shock for U.S. Basketball Players Overseas

Some American players who don't make the NBA find careers in foreign leagues. The Wall Street Journal's Dave Roth reports on the experience of culture shock.

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MIKE PESCA, host:

You know, there's always so much work we, as THE BRYANT PARK PROJECT, can do. You think it's easy putting two hours of radio on the air every day? Sometimes we get tired, sometimes we get sick, most of the time we get lazy, caught up in Britney Spears' stories or the most of the big story. And sometimes we find a story that someone else wrote, and it makes us ache with jealousy. We take those stories, we puree them, pour them into a little BPP shape Jello mold, refrigerate overnight, and what's there in the morning? A segment we called Ripped from the Headlines.

Now for most basketball players of a certain ability, the NBA is the ultimate goal. But what about those guys who aren't at the level of Lebron James? A writer named David Roth wrote an article for the Wall Street Journal about one guy who found himself playing at an unusual overseas league.

David, how are you?

Mr. DAVID ROTH (Writer, Wall Street Journal): I'm good. How are you doing? I'm sorry to make you ache with jealousy.

PESCA: You're - yeah, I'm aching because I loved your story and I loved the guy that you wrote it about. Tell me how you got into the story. Are you a huge fan of international basketball?

Mr. ROTH: I'm just a huge fan of basketball in general. And part of that, I guess, if you're a big fan of college ball is you sort of pass the (unintelligible) at your big fans (unintelligible) disappear when they leave school.

PESCA: Right.

Mr. ROTH: And they don't necessarily wind up, you know, disappearing forever, you know, buying, you know, working at car dealership or whatever. And the way I found out about Josh Moore, who's the fellow I wrote the story about.

PESCA: The subject of your article.

Mr. ROTH: Yeah, I was reading a blog at ESPN.com called True Hoop that was sort of, you know, they have a little bullet point saying every day. And there's a brief little mention in there about a former NBA player playing in Iran, and it linked to a video interview that Josh did.

PESCA: Hold on.

Mr. ROTH: Okay.

PESCA: Two things. Did you know Josh Moore before the hand? Did the name resonate with you?

Mr. ROTH: It sort of did, I think. I mean, I had - he had played in Michigan for two years…

PESCA: Right.

Mr. ROTH: …and he's also from my home state. He played (unintelligible), New Jersey, and he played at St. Anthony's High School, which is a big…

PESCA: Which is the legendary high school coached by Bobby Hurley Sr…

Mr. ROTH: Yeah.

PESCA: …you know, the guy from Duke's father. And the second thing you said is he played in Iran.

Mr. ROTH: Yes, he did play…

PESCA: That must have gotten interesting.

Mr. ROTH: He's also played in China too. He's played for - suited up in quite a few quasi-enemies of the state.

PESCA: I got good news. Josh…

Mr. JOSH MOORE (Professional Basketball Player): What?

PESCA: Are you there? How are you doing?

Mr. MOORE: Yeah. I'm doing good. Good morning, Mike.

PESCA: Oh, wow. What a great article. And you have a blog, which is the best -pretty much the best blog by a professional athlete I've ever seen.

Mr. MOORE: Thank you. Thank you.

PESCA: Good stuff. Give me the short answer to this because I kind of have a sense of the long answer, but how'd you wind up playing in Iran? Meaning, the day before you made the decision, did you have one of those pros and cons list?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. MOORE: Well, the short answer would be I went to the Greenland and (unintelligible). The long answer would be, you know, it just stumbled upon me. It was something that just stumbled upon me. And I actually rejected it for a whole month.

PESCA: Because it was Iran.

Mr. MOORE: Because it was Iran, you know, you watch "Syriana," you watch "Babel," and that's the last place you want to go was the Middle East.

PESCA: Yeah.

Mr. MOORE: And having a family was really - it was a tough sell for a while but, you know, once we - once we finally brought into it, it was, you know, it was a memorable experience.

PESCA: Oh sure. What's the quality of basketball like there?

Mr. MOORE: It's like a men's league in Compton. Seriously, people laugh when I tell them that it's a men's league at best, but the locals are really enthused about it. I think it slowly replaced the soccer in that market, which is huge for basketball to do.

I have some footage on my site where you can actually take a look at and just see the atmosphere of the crowd, the crowd support. I mean, the people there love basketball, but it's a growing league. It's only five years old so it's still developing. I really think that makes crop of talent that comes out of Iran. It's going to be good. And on top of that there, youth team just qualifies for the Olympics in the Asian games. So they're coming a long way but the quality of the league isn't that expected.

PESCA: Right, and you're a guy who played in the NBA. And I read a couple of things. I think Wikipedia might have this wrong because also read the book about St. Anthony's. I know you're a Shaq light in your dimensions, and you know Shaq well, but are you related to Shaq?

Mr. MOORE: Yes. Yes.

PESCA: Okay.

Mr. MOORE: Yes. Yes. That is actually my second cousin.

PESCA: So you're like - you're the only guy in the universe who not only could wear Shaq's hand-me-downs but literally did. Is that right?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. MOORE: And I still do.

(Soundbite of laughter)

PESCA: Like hand-me-down giant rings and necklaces, or…

Mr. MOORE: Oh, please, I've been begging for those for like decades now.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. MOORE: I just want everything he bought his rookie year. That's all I want.

(Soundbite of laughter)

PESCA: Yeah, right. I know you can't ask for too much. But the other thing is the, you know, the blogging aspects shows that you're a basketball player but you are, I think, kind of an unprecedented cultural ambassador. And that works two ways. What's their reaction been to you?

Mr. MOORE: Well, you know - it's really funny when you hear about the Middle East. So many players go over there, and the numbers are cutting back because of all the conflict. But players go over there every year without armed security guards or, you know, armored trucks or things of that nature. And the society and the culture are really just embraced those kids. You know, they really take them in, they really protect them. You'd never hear about incidences. So, you know, they really - they took to me really well, you know. I was really surprised, but I have that type of personality where, if you're around me for longer than five minutes and don't smile, something has to be wrong with you.

PESCA: And the funny thing is, I mean, I've only read a million articles about Iran and you always see the women in head gear. There are so many pictures on your site in people's homes and you couldn't - unless you look hard at the furniture, I mean, it's women in Western-style dress, it's people. I don't know what's in the cups but, you know, lifting a beverage and everyone has their arms around you…

Mr. MOORE: Right.

PESCA: …and it seems like everyone is getting along really well. And I know on your blog you said something about that - you find that Iranians like you or like America. What was your finding?

Mr. MOORE: No. Iranian people really, really like America. I mean, if you've really looked closely at a lot of the pictures, a lot of the people have on knockoff American gears, David so eloquently phrased it.

PESCA: You (unintelligible)

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. MOORE: But they really like the culture. They listen to a lot of the music. They bootleg all of the movies. So, you know, everything, everything is there. They really - they have a lot of opinions, you know, like I had an interesting - mini interview on the plane with a guy going from one small city to the next. And it started out as somewhat of an interrogation about what's going on in our culture and it turned out to be, you know, like Eddie Murphy (unintelligible) because the guy was so funny. I mean, the people have a lot of opinions about what's going on and they really are keen to what's going on in our country so.

PESCA: David, is this - what we hear from Josh's personality in his blog, did that jump out at you is all I got it right, but forget the fact that he's a seven-foot-two guy who played in the NBA is now in Iran. I got to get to know this guy.

Mr. ROTH: Yeah, I mean, to the extent that you can forget that's a seven-foot- two-inch guy that played in Iran, definitely. I mean, like I don't think it could have been easier. I'd just knew it from the first moment, you know, that (unintelligible) in touch with Josh by his guy (unintelligible) who did video interviews with him…

PESCA: Yeah.

Mr. ROTH: …and from the first, you know, I was like this is going to be easy.

PESCA: Yeah. Well, hold on because, Josh, I want to ask you a couple of more questions. We'll take a little break, and then we'll come back talk with Dave Roth and Josh Moore in THE BRYANT PARK PROJECT.

(Soundbite of music)

PESCA: Back on the BPP talking with David Roth, who wrote article in the Wall Street about Josh Moore, former NBA player who's in Iran. Josh is with us too.

Josh, when you found yourself in Iran, I get the impression that you really found yourself in Iran. I think you wrote on the blog that blogging itself kind of made you get out of the professional athlete trap of just plugging in your iPod, playing your Xbox and not taking note of the world around you. Did the blog really help you, you know, notice things and get more plugged in?

Mr. MOORE: Well, the blog and food poisoning.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. MOORE: You know, when you're sick and you can't do anything but rest and then, you know, you can't play either, you know, you're almost forced to take in…

PESCA: How long was the food poisoning?

Mr. MOORE: Oh, well, I mean, it was actually an intestinal infection, and I, you know, I figured out once I got back that I had a parasite. So it's ongoing, but I'm healthy enough to compete but…

PESCA: But they sidelined you for a while.

Mr. MOORE: They sidelined me for a while, right. So, you know, I almost - I was forced to take in the culture and I was forced to take in the society. But when I went there, I mean, that was my full intention from day one was to really get to understand it. And then before I left, my wife was really, really interested in being a part of the trip. And so I figured the way that I could allow my wife and my 6-year-old to see Iran was to take video, to take pictures and, you know. I'm not a photographer. If you look at my video footage, it's really bumpy and raw because, you know, that's usually her job.

PESCA: Right.

Mr. MOORE: So.

PESCA: But, at least, you know, one of your giant thumbs is not obscuring the pictures.

(Soundbite of laughter)

PESCA: And the blog - the blog is really cool because it does what blogs are supposed to do: updates often, talks about lots of different things, and has opinions. The number one posting in your blog right now in there is Obama wins Iowa. How - when's the last time you heard an athlete outside of maybe Charles Barkley holding fort on, you know, current events with something to say? I see that you noticed the same thing I noticed about his speech was that you - in general you're pretty impressed, but then you said something about the give-it-up moment.

Mr. MOORE: Right. Yeah. That is, you know, I haven't dipped my hand yet as opposed to who I'm voting. I haven't made that decision yet, but I didn't like that, you know.

PESCA: The give-it-up moment is when how he introduced his wife Michelle. He didn't say, and now my lovely wife. He said…

Mr. MOORE: Give it up.

PESCA: Give it up.

Mr. MOORE: He sounds like Arsenio, didn't he?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. MOORE: All he had to say was woo, woo, woo.

PESCA: Yeah, I thought maybe the old labor guy is behind them would do that (unintelligible).

(Soundbite of laughter)

PESCA: The other thing about your blog when you talked about honesty, it's not just on world events. I kind of couldn't believe you wrote this. I said, you're a brave guy. I mean, you call out by name current NBA coaches like the coach of the Phoenix Suns as saying, if he was any good, they would have already won. Have you just written off a chance of ever playing for Mike Antonio?

Mr. MOORE: Well, I mean, I'm over six-foot-nine so I don't think there's a chance I'd ever play for him anyway but…

PESCA: I see. You blast the guys who like only the short players. Yeah, yeah, yeah.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. MOORE: No, you know, he does a great job. I must say he really does do a great job with Phoenix and what he's been able to do with the cast that he has, has been remarkable, but the game is changing. It's changing a lot from, well, you know, what I grew up watching. You know, I'm a product of the '80s. I grew up watching '80s basketball. I grew up, you know, I grew up watching those strong teams, those Detroit teams, those Laker teams, teams like that - those Celtics teams. And so when you see the generation changes, it's almost like a culture shock for basketball purists like I'm sure David can attest to himself.

PESCA: Well, they got - you know what, I'm just hearing, Dave, you probably agree with me that they have to hire this guy for FIBA games and for, you know, do play-by-play on international events.

Mr. ROTH: I think he's the greatest. I mean, he's always wanted to do radio, too, so I think this is probably.

PESCA: Okay, could(ph) audition. Look, one question. We got to leave in a second, but Josh, I want to ask you this. I read a book about St. Anthony. It's a very good book by Adrian Wojnarowski and you were in the book. There was a really good passage about you. And one of the quotes about your old high school and your old high school coach you said at the time is when you're on the Nets. Give me - this was a couple of years ago. And you said give me a couple more years, maybe I could say that I'm really happy, maybe I could come back and donate a whole lot of money. Couple of more years I could say I'm happy. What about now in Iran, doing what you're doing. Are you happy?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. MOORE: Well, I mean, you know - I going to tell you something that's really my goal. Bob Hurley is probably one of, you know what, unequivocally the best coach I've ever played for, the best human being I've ever had the pleasure of being around.

So my goal is to dump as much money back into St. Anthony's as I possible can because those people are - they truly do a lot and they give very little credit for it. Sister Allen(ph), Sister Felicia(ph), the people that run that place. So, yeah, inevitably, that's the goal but that place is remarkable. It is remarkable.

PESCA: Dave Roth, Wall Street Journal writer. Thanks a lot, Dave.

Mr. ROTH: Thank you for having me.

PESCA: And Josh Moore, the big man in Iran.

Thanks a lot, Josh.

Mr. MOORE: Hey, Mike, thanks for having me and I'm very, very disappointed that Alison is off today. I've had a crush on her since '93.

PESCA: Well, we're going to play it and tape that for her. Thanks a lot, Josh.

Mr. MOORE: Have a good day.

PESCA: All right. Alison is off but we have four - what?

MARTIN: Second best?

PESCA: Yeah, I know. No, no, no. That's not what I was going to say. I'm the second best.

MARTIN: Okay.

PESCA: We have the regular.

MARTIN: Yeah.

PESCA: A1, blue ribbon…

MARTIN: Mm-hmm.

PESCA: …NBA quality newscaster…

MARTIN: Really?

PESCA: Rachel Martin.

MARTIN: Thank you.

PESCA: Can you bring us some news, Rachel?

MARTIN: I will.

PESCA: All right.

MARTIN: Soon as I have my music.

BILL WOLFF (Announcer): This is NPR.

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