In Search of Run
Elliott Curtis quit his day job and flew to Europe in search of hoops and adventure…
by Adam Fleischer
I can’t be totally sure, but I think the first time I met Elliott Curtis was at a Northeastern University basketball camp something like 12 years ago. Growing up in Brookline, MA, a town that borders my home city of Boston, Elliott and I would occasionally cross paths over the next decade before linking back up through a mutual friend a few years back. As is the case with most of us, basketball has been a huge part of dude’s everyday life since we met during those grade school years (and before).
Playing ball for Brookline High School, Elliott, as a part-time starter and sixth man, helped the Warriors win the Eastern MA title and come in second in States (current Golden State Warrior Jeff Adrien was a senior on the squad). He went on to play Division III ball at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, PA and has always used ball as a vehicle to form friendships, travel all over the States and more. It also sparked an interest in sneakers, a passion which led to the co-creation of Sneakerology 101 back at Carnegie Mellon, which he also helped teach (the class was featured in SLAM 120 and Elliott’s been a friend of the fam ever since). In turn, the love for sneakers and street art created a drive to delve into streetwear and establish a clothing company, vitaminTHICK.
On September 15, Elliott—with the support of friends, family and his bosses at the footwear company where he had been working for more than a year since he graduated—hopped across the pond In Search of Run. Maintaining a blog of that name along the way, he has moved about the Eastern Hemisphere with little concrete planning beyond setting arrival dates in each city. With an open mind, a bag packed with a camera, a pair of shorts, Huarache 2K4s, vitaminTHICK catalogs, maps, and a bottle of water in preparation for whatever would come his way, he has landed in London, Paris, Amsterdam, Munich, Berlin, Stockholm, Barcelona, Marseille, Nice, Milan, Venice, Rome and Melbourne (AUS). He’ll be heading to Los Angeles this week before returning home to Boston on November 2.
SLAM caught up with EC to talk about Europeans calling too many fouls, Americans arguing too much when they play pick up, trash-talking Parisians quoting Gucci Mane and more that he’s leaned from his journey.
SLAM: On a basic level, can you explain what you set out to do?
EC: To put it simply, I wanted to travel around the world and experience amazing places, while using basketball as a tool to interact with locals and learn more about the cultures of the cities I visited. I also wanted to use this opportunity to promote my clothing line, vitaminTHICK, on an international level.
SLAM: Have you been able to find what you were looking for at each of your stops along the way?
EC: Well, this is kind of a philosophical question…
Given the title of my blog, the most concrete thing I have been looking for is basketball in any form. In that sense, I have found the sport one way or another in all cities except for Amsterdam, Marseille, Nice, and Milan (all cities I was in for less than 24 hours, so I didn’t have much time to “Search”). On a more metaphorical level, I have been looking for adventure, interesting people, and unique experiences, and I have most certainly found those in all of the stops. I set out with very little agenda other than my travel itinerary and I let the winds dictate my direction within each city.
SLAM: What’s been the biggest hurdle that you’ve faced?
EC: At the outset of my trip, I thought scheduling trains, booking hostels, or communicating in cities where English is not the primary language would be my biggest challenges. As it turned out, however, European trains were made for last minute types like me, hostelworld.com is an incredible resource, and most people I have interacted with spoke English just fine—and for those who couldn’t, my high school level French and one semester of Italian proved to be just enough to get the point across.
With that being said, finding my way around cities without my iPhone—Data roaming rates are killer, so no maps and no Words With Friends!—has definitely been the toughest task. I never like to open maps around a lot of people because it makes me feel like such a tourist, so there have been a number of occasions in which I walked in the wrong direction for several minutes. It has forced me to be patient and add about 10 minutes to the normal time it takes to reach a destination.
Oh yeah, and only bringing four pairs of shoes was very tough for me…
SLAM: Where was the best ball?
EC: This is a difficult question to answer because I took part in various levels of ball, from professional to playground. So clearly, it would be unfair to put every session and city on the same scale. I went to an under 14-year-old developmental game in Munich, and I probably would have dropped 50 if they let me play. I don’t think they would have been able to handle my strength, or nine years in age difference.
Honestly, though, the best comp was probably in Stockholm… We ran some threes, and the squad was comprised of Bobbito Garcia, Rich Medina, and myself. I’m not gonna blow any spots, but let’s just say the US dollar lost some strength against the Swedish Kroner that day. One of the guys that was giving us problems turned out to be Andrew Mitchell, a Detroit native and former two guard at Kent State. He was the best player in the top level Swedish league for the past five years, and his other teammates either played first or second division professionally.
SLAM: What about the worst?
EC: I’m going to be diplomatic and not say where the worst run was—I wouldn’t want to lose any friends in London. Oh, shit…but, really, it was just this one pickup game I played which was simply annoying and sloppy, with bad players thinking they were better than they were… but this happens in States as well.
SLAM: What were some of the differences you encountered playing pick up overseas? In the game and in the way people played?
EC: I’ve focused a number of my posts on this topic. In terms of actual rules: Most places play by 2s and 3s—which actually makes more sense scoring-ratio wise…but I’m sure we would be hard-pressed to find a court in the States that would be willing to switch from the standard 1s and 2s system; “Off and on” doesn’t exist, so there is no need to pass the ball in after the check.
In terms of actual game play, they call a lot of soft fouls. That whole hubris/tough guy mentality of not calling fouls, which is respected in America, does not exist overseas. And, while there were more fouls called, there was exponentially less arguing over calls than in the States…it was refreshing. Finally, there’s the Eurosteps! While this move has been gaining popularity in the US over the last couple of years, Europeans have absolutely mastered it. Fast breaks, in traffic, off screens—it’s really awkward, but pretty deadly.
SLAM: Where was it that the street culture most grabbed you?
EC: Definitely Berlin. It really is incredible how such a vibrant street culture could sprout from the rubble of so much conflict over the past hundred years in Berlin. The music scene is one of the best in the world, the graffiti is tastefully abundant and seems to even be respected by the law, and there are a ton of local streetwear brands and shops that bring something different to the table. I was fortunate enough to be put in touch with some DJs and artists in Berlin which provided a shortcut to a lot of cool locations and events.
SLAM: You must have had some particularly memorably or funny experiences throughout your travels. Care to share one or two?
EC: Well a number of the stories would probably get both of us in trouble with your Editor-in-Chief, Ben Osborne, so I’ll save those. Of what I can divulge, however—I had a pretty funny experience playing two-on-two in Paris one night. The other three guys consisted of two Parisians and one American living in Paris. The two Paris natives knew very little English, but they were able to talk trash using Gucci Mane and Waka Flaka lyrics! It was hilarious. Who knows, maybe there is a Gucci x Rosetta Stone collaboration in the works.
I also randomly bumped into Pau Gasol as I left a club in Barcelona. He was in town for the Lakers game against FC Barcelona, and I swore if I ever met him I would say something mean—as any true Celtic fan would—but he turned out to be a pretty nice guy. It was equivalent to when Turtle played golf with Tom Brady in Entourage.
There are plenty of other tales from my trip on my blog, so I’d encourage anyone interested to head over there and check them out.
SLAM: Is this something you’d like to try to do in another capacity? Maybe across the U.S. or something like that?
EC: You mean travel to cool places while eating great food, promoting my clothing line, and meeting awesome individuals? Don’t twist my arm! The only issue is I would go broke without any sponsorships…If only there was an international basketball magazine that rhymes with “flam” and would be willing to support my travels through some kind of partnership…hmmm. Just kidding!
But yes, I do plan on conducting more “Searches” in the future. I would love to do an Asian or African trip, and an adventure across the States is definitely in the cards. I do have plans on improving the set up of the trip, however. I would like to invite Gus Johnson on my journeys next time. I would intentionally make us late for trains just to hear how pumped he would be once we made it through the doors just in time.