Mango-colored Hoop Dreams
One man’s quiet revolt against soccer.
by Nick Gibson
I used to school kids in Sega Dreamcast’s NBA 2K. I went to battle armed with the Portland Jailblazers, Brian Grant performed lightyears beyond his real life capabilities and Arydas Sabonis was dirty. My weapon of choice though, was Mighty Mouse, Damon Stoudamire.
That was when Stoudamire had a deadly jumper, a quick first step, a clean police record and Dreamcast was cutting edge stuff. Yet when I ducked into a sports apparel store on Barcelona’s famed Las Ramblas, there was that Trailblazers #3 jersey with “Stoudamire” printed on the back. Don’t get me wrong, I was overcome with nostalgia to be reunited with my old gaming partner, but this is Spain, not Oregon.
So after exchanging pleasantries with the salesman (my being from America made me an “Obama person” and he is from Peru which, to me, made him a “Peruvian”), I asked him where one might find a Rubio jersey.
“Ah! Ricky Rubio! Basketball, yes yes yes. I have plenty right here,” he exclaimed as he fluttered his hands through the collection of jerseys literally inches from our faces as we spoke. Thank you, kind sir.
I feigned the old “silly me!” then tried to clarify: “Thank you, thanks. Um, but European jerseys. Like, European basketball? Barcelona?” He sidled over a step or three and did the same hand wave through a nearly identical potpourri of apparel before pulling out something black, yellow and covered in roosters. This battle was no longer worth fighting.
On the way out I flipped through the jerseys like one would an album of old baseball cards. Tracy McGrady’s Magic outfit, a Scottie Pippen #33, Vince Carter on the Nets, Rasheed’s Blazers uni (maybe there’s a town in Oregon called Peru?), then your standard collection of regulars from Chris Paul to Garnett to—and at least this makes geographical sense—Pau Gasol.
My first stop was a bust, but every great journey starts with but a small Spanish shop and random jerseys peddled by aggressive Peruvian salesmen. So I stepped out with a smile, marveled at all the stores in either direction and figured I’d find luck around just about any corner. I asked my walking partner if a right or left turn more intrigued her and she said left. So left we went.
Every third store on Las Ramblas was colorfully decorated with Barcelona’s blue and red, their pinkish alternate (officially termed “mango” judging by the price tags I flipped up) and their new highlighter flavored uniforms that earned the fútbol club a tie against Arsenal a few days back. Each of those stores warranted at least a few steps in their direction before I’d bow my head and turn back disappointed. Soccer. Fútbol, whichever you prefer; it just wasn’t basketball. And while Barcelona was the window candy, everyone was accounted for on the inside: Chelsea, Bayern Munich, Real Madrid, Arsenal, Inter Milan, Manchester United.
No love, still, for the hoops team who sits comfortably in first place in the ACB and is advancing to yet another Euroleague Final Four this year. And of course Zlatan Ibrahimovic (superstar striker for FCB) has to wear Ricky’s #9, so I was ecstatic when I saw mango 9’s from a distance, only to have my heart crushed when I remembered “Rubio” was spelled with five letters and not eleven.
But then a light at the end of the Ramblas: the official FC Barcelona superstore! I seldom use exclamation points, but it was one of those water-in-the-dessert moments. So I scampered in and my eyes darted from wall to wall to floor to ceiling and then back to the walls. Five minutes in and I still hadn’t lost hope. With snow globes, mouse pads, three display cases full of watches, beach towels and key chains galore, surely they’d have a mere replica jersey of one of basketball’s most marketable young stars or the Euroleague’s MVP. Hell, hook me up with some Jordi Trias threads and I’d invite you to Thanksgiving dinner.
But it’s as if neither Ricky, Juan nor poor Jordi even existed. I left dejected (recurring theme) and forged ahead.
I found the Nike Store and searches both floors. Same story. And then another FC Barcelona shop. No Pete Mickael. No Boniface N’Dong. My head out of ideas and my Sperrys virtually out of comfortable steps, I sent a text to a friend who not only lives in Barcelona but also works in the basketball industry. He responded: “Have you tried the Nike Store?”
I was cracking. I needed to feel that mango slip over my head and onto my shoulder. Screw it, I’m rocking an Ibrahimovic jersey. At least it sounds like he came up in the Partizan system.
And then something came over me. Not anger or sadness—I was running on reserves in those departments as it was—but a “me against the world” kind of pride. If I give in and buy a soccer jersey, then what does that say about me? Does it leave any hope for the Euroleague? For my supposed Euroleague adventures? How adventurous would it be to jump ship when times got tough and adopt the outfit of the enemy? I dream of a world where babies toddle around with Rubio and Kleiza on their backs, not Ronaldo and Kaka. If I wish to grow old in that parallel universe, a jersey with sleeves is simply not an option.