I wanted to write an article about American basketball players in Romania, but my potential interview subjects apparently became shy and failed to return my SMSs and emails when I returned to Cluj Napoca specifically to interview them. That's OK; I enjoyed myself in Cluj anyway. The weather was sunnier and "springier" than it had been during my last visit with Cristina, and my past experience there allowed me to waste no time locating the best places for a coffee or a beer. But it was also a bit of a drag being on my own, and no reporter enjoys being jilted.
In lieu of what would have been a wonderful article, I will state more vaguely in this blog that many Americans are playing basketball in Romania. A woman basketball player from Iasi estimated that there are about five American men on each city team in Romania (there are 16 Division A teams in the country). The pay is quite good. Basketball is held in high regard in Romania, and teams that make money tend to spend it luring Americans to play for them.
Romanian basketball could be viewed as a sort of minor league baseball experience. Some players hone their skills before returning to America to play in the NBA; others not of that caliber enjoy a comfortable living playing the sport in Europe.
A former Romanian-born Cluj Napoca player, Gheorghe Mureşan, enjoyed success as a basketball player in the NBA in the United States. He is tied with one other player as being the tallest man to play in the NBA, but that gift of height also contributed to some serious medical issues which required surgery to address.
Today, Mureşan is retired from the NBA. Now he appears in a frequently-run Romanian television ad for Vodafone in which he performs a karaoke version of a Crazy Loop song before Dan Bălan, the Crazy Looper himself, arrives on the scene to help him out (video below).
Since I was unable to write this article, I toss out the idea of writing about American basketball players in Eastern Europe to any other would-be reporters who wish to tackle it. Odds are that if you are from a major city, there is somebody from that city playing basketball in an unlikely European country (like Romania). It could make for a good local newspaper feature--if you can get the player to return your messages after you arrive to interview them. :-P