Tuesday, June 30, 2009


Alas, the time to leave had come! However, there were still some fireworks to enjoy before departure. I met with our point guard ST at Gallery 2, the lone basketball gear supplier here in Tokyo, and picked up our newly tailored Jersey's.
As you can see, the jersey's are hot! White joints, Jordan Brand, with the Rising Suns logo on the front. This created a nice little buzz as I commenced to packing my things. Big ups to Gallery 2 for the sponsorship!

A few hours later we all met up in Narita Airport. 1/2 excited about the destination 1/2 dreading the actual journey to come. In total we flew for 15 hours. 3 to Taiwan, and 12 to Paris. Factor in the train rides to and from the airports, and you've pretty much got yourself a full day on mass transit. But when it's a free trip to Paris on the line, somehow, ya just don't mind such trivial things. As a unit, we all remained pretty upbeat and excited. Crackin jokes and laughing throughout almost all of our waking hours. And I stress waking, because I timed my fatigue up just right. Staying awake for the 3 hour flight and then passing out from right after the 1st meal to just before the final meal on the the 2nd flight.

I've never been one to criticize plane food. 9 outta 10 times, it's delicious. I don't know if it's because I'm now traveling in Asia or if the airline was just too cheap to invest in such things as legitimate chefs, but 2 of the 3 meals we ate were tasteless. The worst of which was when I asked for the "Chicken."
I was utterly displeased when I pealed back the foil to see some ground beef looking like stuff atop my rice. I asked the stewardess..."Uhhh, Miss? Is this Chicken?"
She said "Yes.." (as if I was an idiot)
Well, "What's this brown stuff?"
All of my cultural inhibitions and attempts to be considerate flew out the window as my Japanese teammate, Atsushi, looked at her and said "GRAVY??!"
I hollered, "THANK YOUU!! I was over here thinking maybe I'm some kinda ignorant American who doesn't know anything about Asian cuisine, but you confirmed...this is NOT Gravy!! Thank YOU!"
We laughed, I ate, and it certainly lived up to expectations..nasty.

We touched down in Paris at about 6:30 AM. We were all happy to be there, but you would never had known it had you looked at our faces. However, things started to shift when a Frenchman approached, accompanying Jason, (our organizer) shook my hand and said, "I'm Fred...You're Driver!" I said, "Wooord?!? I like the sounds of that?" And this was just the beginning, as we stepped out of the airport and saw the official Quai 54 van there to pick us up. And in an instant things went from what was previously a dream, to a very very pleasant reality.

Just our luck, as timing would have it, we got stuck in rush hour traffic on our way into the city. A trip that should take 20 minutes was shaping up to be and hour and a half. But this was destiny! (or something like that) Fred decided to take us through the city instead. What a blessing in disguise.

As soon as we exited the freeway, I could feel the shift in energy. The 1st wave to hit me was just how edgy Paris is as a city. The streets had character, but even greater, the people have got SOUL! And it was oozing from their walks, clothes and antics. 5 minutes in and I was suddenly aware of just how docile the city of Tokyo is. And that's not a bad thing whatsoever.

I was steadily trying to make every light post or tall structure into the Eiffel Tower as we drove, but to no avail. But all those ambitions withered quickly as we drove across the Seine River and got our 1st glimpse of NOTRE DAME. Absolutely Breathtaking. From near and far a truly magnificent piece of architecture.

This got the ball rolling for us, as we continued to pass relic after relic with seemingly every block. The Pantheon, where many of the "greatest" thinkers and artists are commemorated. And countless other monuments and statues which attested to the rich history that characterizes Paris.

The moment we got to our hotel, I set out to find a patisserie for my 1st of many rendezvous' with the true love of my life "Pain Au Chocolat." I must say, French people got it right...They eat Chocolate for Breakfast! All the pastries and desserts looked incredible too. It was around this time, that I realized I could be a very happy man if I lived here.

Soon after, we walked over to the park to get our 1st glimpse of where the tournament was being held. They were still in the process of painting the court and putting the finishing touches on it. Even still, it was an impressive sight.

But not nearly as impressive as it was to see the pair of Limited Edition Quai 54 Air Jordan's awaiting us when we returned to the hotel. That was a stunner for all of us. But we were all smiles when we saw those boxes. I've seen prettier J's, but somehow, when they're free, they just look and feel a lil nicer than they would have.

After a lil rest, we hopped on the train to go play ball at a park across town. 5 minutes into our train ride a real cool guy sat between Atsushi and I and delighted us with stories about the city and insider's information. Our conversation was perfectly timed because it immediately put to rest any preconceived notions that French people are ill-willed or mean-spirited. Most notably to Americans. It was clear, this guy had such a good heart, and we'd soon see, so do his fellow countrymen. (and women)

Our basketball adventure got cut short, as the rains dowsed us early and often. We shot around in the rain for a bit before eventually making our way to our French guide/coach's neighborhood to eat a nice greasy dinner at the local sandwich shop. That's one thing I didn't realize I missed until I had it. A nice greasy sammich! But this one prolly clogged the arteries up good enough to last me til my next trip abroad!

Unlike Japan, it doesn't start getting dark til about 10 o'clock out here. So we were all in disbelief when we had to rush to catch the train before 12:30 to get back to the hotel. As fate would have it, I stepped down off of a cement structure and rolled my ankle on the curb. Talk about scared, I was speechless for the next 10 minutes. All I could think of was, "Damn! What if I came all this way, to end up not playing at all?" But about an hour later everything was cool.

And just like that...our 1st day in Paris was in the books!

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Countdown No More

We`re leaving out tomorrow. And there was only one glimpse of exhileration.... as I clocked out from work for the last time this week!! Don`t get me wrong.. I Love My Job! But somehow, it just doesn`t size up to playing in one of the biggest basketball tournaments on Earth.

If you haven`t recently, you should check the Rising Suns website. There are some cool videos up, that will give you an idea of what we`re getting into. Of course I`m doing every last push-up, pull-up, and sit-up I can squeeze in before departure. But ultimately, it will boil down to that moment when the jump ball goes up and where everyone`s heart is.

It was dope, my `best friend` from the neighborhood is a guy named Katsu, who works at the Yakatori stand down the street. He speaks no English, and I no Japanese. But through our telepathic powers, (the website) I managed to convey to him what we`re getting into. As I left his stand today, he gave me that stern look, pumped his fist, and said Gambatte! Which translates to Good Luck and Fight Hard. (Or something along those lines) And the look in his eyes was one I will carry along with me to Paris. Cause I could see in him a great deal of Sincerity and Pride. As if he said, Represent!

Only time will tell what becomes of all of this...but one thing is for sure... We`re Ready!

Monday, June 22, 2009

Ignance is Bliss

Looking back on the days before my departure, there was one common question that repeated itself over and over. `You speak Japanese?`


And here I am 7 months later...still illiterate, and grasping all of 37 words in the Japanese vocabulary. Unlike Arabic, I have yet to learn how to curse. But that`s just because these people are far too polite to even need such words. However, I had a recent epiphany.

My neighbors in the house next door all speak English. And it is common to overhear their conversations from time to time. (Especially seeing as how their windows are about 3 feet from mine.) Obviously, what someone says in the privacy of their own home is their business. And that which gets overheard gets overheard. But what I learned from the proximity is, with English, when I hear something, I internalize it. Form opinions (on occassion.) Attach ideas and thoughts to whatever it is I hear.

Yet the beauty of Japanese is, I have no idea what these people are talking about. Their tone sounds light and playful, even sometimes amusing. For all I know they could be talking about me like a dog, but doing so with a smile on their faces. And honestly, I have no attachments. Whether they are naughty or nice is on them. I`m living..and Enjoying!

Of course there are times when the language barrier is frustrating. Especially when I feel the hearts of the people surrounding me i.e. my teammates, and I know they are good folks. The type I would be good friends with. Yet we`re rendered to the simplest of expressions. But they are some hilarious gestures, I must say!

It`s been fun, finding common ground with very little use of language. In terms of the team, we`ve been cracking up early and often as we tell stories with more gestures than words. Lately, after we finish a set on the weights, we step up... puff our chests... out and say `PARIS!` in a deep musclebound voice. That is...until one of those sets drains the life out of us...then it`s more of a girly soundin...`paris`

Although there are still times I feel a bit alienated, I`m definitely fortunate to be the type of person who is comfortable living in my own headspace. Whether that`s with the team, or on the train. It`s crazy, to be surrounded by tens of thousands of people and still feel lonely. But I`ll tell you what, if they were all speaking English, I would`ve probably left this country months ago!

2 days til our departure...then we`ll all be foreigners!

Friday, June 19, 2009

Media Smedia

We had our "Media Day" yesterday, which was a grueling experience for all involved. 4 hours of pictures, videos and interviews. I know, I know, I should be thankful anyone is even interested in something I'm involved with to want to go through such a process, but that's the last thing on anyone's mind when you reach that 3rd hour or so.

It was actually a nice event there. There were a few Japanese media outlets that showed up and had genuine interest in what we've got going on. I can't say that we're the talk of the town or anything, but we are certainly raising some eyebrows around here. Now if we can go to Paris and make some noise... I think a whole heap of people will take interest in our efforts.

As for Paris, this just in... Mickael Pietrus, of the Orlando Magic, will be playing in this year's tourney. Poor Mickael, he's gotta go from guarding Kobe, to guarding Me?? No rest for the weary right??

If this training is any indication, we'll certainly be able to run with the best of em. Although the talent level here in Japan pales in comparison to what we'll be matching up with in Paris, the good thing is, everyone here runs and cuts and passes in a similar fashion to the European game. So at least in terms of style of play, we've got a solid foundation. Anyhow..only time will tell. 5 days til we leave!!

On a music note, a friend of mine is getting married next weekend. He asked me to write a song for he and his wife. And to make a lil video for it. Today we filmed the 1st few scenes of the video. I have no idea if it will turn out corny or cool, cause it's kind of a sappy song, as can be expected since it's for a wedding and all. Regardless, my 1st video will be done in the next week. Whether you get to see it or not remains to be seen!!! But I'm excited!!

Blessings and Light

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Japanese Temperment

In the few scrimmages we've played so far, I've got a chance to get a better understanding of the mindset and attitude of my fellow teammates. In general, I'd say Japanese people are polite to a fault. Apologizing for any and everything. Often times when they weren't even involved in the problem at hand. However, as I reflect on my days in other cities back home, I must say, I'll take an unnecessarily(cause that's a word)-apologetic person over an inconsiderate punk a$$ ANY DAY!

The crazy thing about Tokyo is, there are something like 30 million people living in this metropolitan area, yet when I walk through the EXTREMELY crowded train stations, rarely do I feel any sort of stress or frustrations. My friend Theresa was just out here from New Jersey and she commented on how orderly everyone is. They wait in lines to get on the train and are very polite about sandwiching into a train car that has at least 25 more people in it than any New Yorker would ever allow. I will confess, I wish someone would just push em out! Believe you me, I've tried to play that 'intimidating black man standing at the door' card, but they didn't bat an eyelash at sliding their hand inside the train, FOR LEVERAGE, and throwing a hip right in. I'll give em credit though, they're real slick with it. They put their backs to you, and just PUSH. No eye-contact, no acknowlegement whatsoever. Just a "I'm getting on this train whether you like it or not." Deal with it!! (defeated voice) "And I do."

Back to basketball, 4 of the 5 Japanese members of our team play for a streetball league called "Legends." This is something similar to the And 1 mixtape tour that we see back in the states. For those of you who've watched any of the And 1 shows, you know things can get real heated, both on the court and in the lockeroom. With this squad it's been exactly the opposite. The demeanor that each uses towards each other is surprisingly respectful. Although this is the cream of the crop, I was expecting a little more fire during time-0uts. However, what I really love, is everybody's got a little swagger with em. Unlike most ballplayers I've seen out here, they're not afraid to just holler, for the sake of hollering. Hit a shot, and let someone know about it. I'm hoping that edge continues, as we'll soon be matching up with talent far greater than what we've seen so far here in Japan. But regardless of how it goes down, I know my guys are gonna rise to the occasion without question....... right guys??

Monday, June 15, 2009

Fiesta Fiesta!!

I don't know know how to say 'party' in japanese, but I'm pretty sure the whole world knows how to say it in Spanish!!

We had our Rising Suns blast off party last night. Team founder, Jason Hutson's vision could have never been more evident. He started his own non-profit, Ballers for Hope, (now Hope 81) just over a year ago. The premise of which is to foster community and break down cultural and social boundaries by way of using Basketball and Sports in general. When I looked at the array of faces and nations being represented last night it was a tribute to his foresight and drive. Cause that man has really poured all he has into US these past few months.

I performed for a bit and it was a cool experience. Rocking for a crowd where only half (at best) of the people, could understand my words. Yet I could see they could feel it. There was a real subtle moment, that spoke volumes to me of the growth we've had as a team. It was midway through my 2nd song, when my teammate Matsu walked over to another ballplayer Mitsi, smacked him in the back and gave him that look like, "Yo...this is Free man, Get Yo Ass Up!" And the both of them made their way to the front and got all the way live!

There was a whole crew of female Japanese ballplayers in the house too, which was real dope. It really gave that feeling that people are getting excited about our invitation and showing us all kinds of support. Thank God my Dad wasn't there. He's on an endless pursuit for grandchildren. He would've been sizing 'em up... "Oh, Geoffrey look... she's 6'4"!! " with that look in his eyes saying (whisper this) "Maybe she's THE ONE" Using his japanese-english dictionary to tell them his plans for the two of us to make him a whole starting 5 of grandbabies!! Miss ya Dad!

But all in all, it was a great night. Everyone that came through showed us all types of Love. All of which seemed to add more fuel to the fire, as we keep preparing to Represent Japan out in Paree! I can't wait.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Almost forgot, our website went up today. Check it out!

It's Friday...You ain't Got no Job..

Unlike most, Friday happens to be my day off. Despite all the hard work we've been putting in as a unit, I still manage to find time to kick back and enjoy the choas that is Tokyo. It just so happened that a friend of mine's exhibition was closing out today, so we stopped in to show love and sponge some of his work.

The exhibition featured the ceramic expertise of D.H. Rosen interwoven with the photography of Ryan Bruss. www.ryanbruss.com Ryan's an incredible guy, who's got a good handle on the ebb and flow of the arts out here in Tokyo. Check out his work, it's definitely on point. As for this exhibit, it was cool, nothing that will lead you to re-evaluate your place in the cosmos or anything like that. But definitely a light hearted enjoyable display. I always embrace any opportunity to speak with artists about their work. And this was no exception as both Ryan and Dan added perspective to the pieces with their anectdotes and such.

After the session at the gallery we were starving. One of my boys recommended this restaurant nearby in Ginza. So we set out on what turned out to be a hour and half long journey, ON FOOT before arriving at the restaurant. And don't you know as we walked up, my eyebrows dimmed in disbelief as he tugged on the door just to discover they were CLOSED! Unbelievable! We ended up finding a cool little Yakatori spot where they overpour your hot Sake on purpose! It's phenomenal. I told the waitress, you just made a customer for life. She didn't understand a word, but still...it needed to be said!! As is often the case here in Japan.

Epiphany for the day: As I was walking through the train station, soaking in every possible person I could get my eyes on, I realized this basketball experience was changing my impressions of Japan on a much subteler level as well. After getting to know the guys on the team and getting a feel for their personalities and such, I now find myself being able to relate to passers by much stronger than before. I can sense their characteristics and almost feel what type of people they are. Every now and then I cross paths with a Japanese person who reminds me of someone from back home. (that's always a trip) However, now that I've got family out here, it's cool to feel that shift to a sense of interconnectedness with people I was recently feeling extremely alienated amongst. One

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Pain is Universal

So of course the initial inhibition is, 'Damn, how is this going to work? How can I blend in with a group of guys who already know each other well, and speak very little English?'

Well...the answer came a little sooner than expected. And came in the form of 'Coach!' Jorge Ivan, currently the strength and conditioning coach at Cal Berkeley, was so gracious enough to offer some guidance to our preparation and training for Paris. Thankful as I am, I cursed the day he was born at least 9 times the 1st day he took us out on the track.

There were 6 of us there. And let me tell you, nothing can draw a group of guys together quite like suffering. Coach saw to it that no more than 20 minutes into the workout we were all feeling REAL unified in our struggle. I was probably the 1st to scream (in anguish.) But I certainly wasn't the last!!

He had us tappin our feet in and outta ropes. Doing defensive slides for what seemed like miles. And evilest of all, he finished us off with SUICIDES! I haven't done those since High School. But to make matters worse..he TIMED us (the nerve of this guy.) So our 2nd run had to be faster than the 1st. Only problem is, I thought I was about to toss my cookies after the 1st. I was thinking 'How the hell am I'm gonna conjure enough energy to do this again? Let alone FASTER!?!?' But then I looked to my left, and my boy ST looked at me and said.... 'SHIIIIIT!!' And just like that, the language barrier had been broken!!

The good thing with coaches approach is he put us in teams, so we were constantly competing to better our previous times. This made for some comraderie amongst us as we got to clapping and shouting, routing each other on... That is, when we had the breath to do so.

Looking back I think that was a monumental day for our squad. Prior to that we'd only had conversations about what we were setting out to do. This solidified a commitment from everyone. Bound by our pain, there was a heightened sense of respect. As each of us knew, not only what we'd just been through, but also what it was we were getting ourselves into...

The Gaijin Experience Vol. I

As some of you may know, I've been selected to play for a Japanese basketball team, the 'Rising Suns.' We're currently in training to prepare for our forthcoming trip to Paris, France to play in the biggest (in every sense of the word) streetball tournment on the planet, Quai 54. www.lequai54.com

'Gaijin' pronounced (guy-jin) is Japanese for foreigner (or something like that.) As one of 2 Americans' on an all Japanese squad, this is my attempt to offer a unique perspective of what it's like to wrestle with the language barrier and still find universal ground on the court.

With the tournament just 16 days away, I'm a do my best to give you a sense of the build up and preparation that the team, and management is putting forth to not only make this dream come true, but also give us the best opportunity to shine when our moment comes in Paris! Buckle in my friends...cause the ride has just begin....