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Photo by Tracy Gilbert
Terence Morris in action
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Photo by Tracy Gilbert
Pete Mickeal (L) and Terence Morris, US players on the Regal FC Barcelona basketball team
Regal FC Barcelona has most certainly been on fire this season, burning up the nation’s basketball courts. Number one in the Spanish League, and at press time it looked as if Barcelona’s preeminent basketball team might even repeat its famed banner year of 2003, when it swept the Spanish League title, won the Copa del Rey and ascended to the title of European Champions. Regardless of how it finishes, it has been an outstanding season, and while all the limelight shines on Spanish wünderkind Ricky Rubio, it is the club’s two, less acknowledged American athletes who, between them, have scored more points this season than any other two players on the team.
Terence Morris, 31, and Pete Mickeal, 32, joined the club this season, having played previously for various other European teams and briefly in the NBA. In conversations with Metropolitan, they shared their observations about competing and living in Europe and Spain. “I think the level’s pretty much the same,” Morris opined, after considering the question, although he has noticed certain idiosyncrasies among the supporters. “When we’re losing, the fans are still cheering. That’s a little different than being at home, where when you’re losing you don’t really hear anything.”
He also noted a few other distinctions: “I‘ve got a translator when I’m out on the court. That’s new to me, because the other places I’ve played the coaches spoke English pretty well. Also, here, you have to pay for your own stuff. Your house, your car. That’s a little bit different.”
Pete Mickeal differed with his teammate somewhat, maintaining that the game is played differently here than in the US. “There’s really no comparison. Europe is Europe and the States is the States. NBA’s a different lifestyle, different game.”
Arguably, the fundamental difference between European and American basketball is reflective of the differences between the two cultures: the European game lends itself more to team play, whereas the American game emphasises individualism. The NBA, with all its highlights, flashy dunks and one-on-one play, contrasts with the steady passing game of the Continent.
Part of these variations can be ascribed to small differences in the structure of the game: Europe has a 30-second shot clock compared to 24 in the NBA; five fouls instead of six; goal-tending is permitted; the trapezoid-shaped lane works against large players who excel at rebounds and the three-point line is one metre closer than in the NBA. All these differences, according to Mickeal, conspire against show-boating superstars who would otherwise sparkle across the pond. “That’s why, in the NBA, you see so many guys putting up 30 and 40 points every night, because it’s a one-on-one game.”
Basketball has been played here since 1921, when an Asturian priest, Eusebio Millán Alonso, formed the Laita Basket Club in Barcelona, the first team in Spain. He had first seen the game being played by US soldiers who invaded Cuba in 1906. On December 8th, 1922, the first organised game in Spain was played between Laita and CE Europa on Laita’s home field in Gràcia. Europa beat Laita 8-2.
FC Barcelona’s basketball team was formed in 1926, and was overshadowed by other teams in the Catalan League until the Forties, when it became a six-time winner of the Copa del Generalísimo (later to be called the Copa del Rey). However, in the Fifties, the team began a decline that bottomed out in the Sixties when it dissolved for a year; after reforming, it was later knocked down to the second division for a time. However, in the mid-Seventies, the team climbed out of its rut and marched into the Eighties. From 1980-1990, they won six Spanish League titles, five Copas del Rey, six Catalan League titles and a Prince of Asturias Cup. Still, it wasn’t until 2003 that they won their first Euroleague title.
Since the Liga Nacional began in 1956—and was replaced by the ACB in 1983—US players have always been part of professional Spanish basketball, according to an ACB spokesperson. “Since 1983, just about all of the 16 participating teams have had one or two foreigners, the majority of them Americans.”
A 12-player Spanish league basketball team may be composed of five Spanish nationals, five players from the European FIBA League and two players from outside Europe. This year’s two Americans on the Barça squad share superb ball-handling skills, and NBA-level skills, but they have drastically different personalities.
Whereas Pete Mickeal is voluble and emphatic in his speech, Terence Morris is soft-spoken and unassuming. When he graduated from the University of Maryland he immediately signed with the Houston Rockets, but found himself spending a little too much time on the bench, which fuelled his decision to try out the European League. He played with Greece’s Apollon Patras in 2004-05, then signed with the NBA’s Orlando Magic the following year. “As a basketball player, you want to play the whole game,” he told Metropolitan. “When I moved to Orlando, it was similar to the way it was before. So, I felt it was better for me to come over here and get more playing time than I was over there.”
Morris’s contract with Barça is in the neighbourhood of €1 million*, which is about double what he earned in Orlando. Still, he stressed that salary had little to do with his decision to play in Europe. “It’s really not the main thing. If you like to play basketball, if you feel love for it, you want to experience it the best that you can. I had the chance to experience it over there, up against some good players and things like that, but here it’s a little like the college atmosphere there. It’s cool.”
Mickeal’s decision to play overseas was similar to Morris’s. After being drafted by the New York Knicks in 2000, he was frustrated by not being put in game. “The coach was Jeff Van Gundy, who didn’t believe in playing the rookies at the time. I had Latrell Sprewell and Glen Rice in front of me in my position. And those guys were NBA all-stars. So I said, okay, I’ll learn from them and I’ll wait. But it just didn’t work out that way.”
While Mickeal never managed to find success in the NBA, he was voted Most Valuable Player (MVP) 2002 in the second-tier American Basketball Association (ABA) as well as the Spanish League Finals’ MVP in 2008. And although he originally came to Europe in order to show the NBA what he can do, he’s extremely satisfied with where he is right now. “Barcelona’s a nice city. The States, that’s always number one. But if I have to live anyplace in Europe, it would most definitely be this city. Just the feeling I get every day here. The atmosphere is good, the weather is good. And the people. To me, that’s the most important: the way the people look at you here, the way they receive you, how they are with you.”
Neither considers himself a ‘club person’, and both tend to meet with friends in restaurants. They also feel that Spain is Americanised enough for them to feel basically at home. In short, they have no complaints. Although basketball is not nearly as important a sport here as it is in the States, nor as celebrated here as football, neither man feels any rancor for their lack of star status.
“These football players, they can’t go anywhere in this city,” said Mickeal. “But as a basketball player I can go places. People recognise me, but they’ll just say ‘Hi’ and keep moving. There’s days when you don’t want so much attention, so it’s good when you can stay in the background, kind of coast and relax.”
*A million euros to come live in Les Corts for a season, and play basketball for Regal FC Barcelona, may seem like a tidy little sum. In fact, it may seem like a hell of a lot of money. But take a look at what the top 11 NBA players are making for the 2009-10 season, according to the website, http://hoopshype.com/salaries.htm . Catalan Pau Gasol comes up 11th with an annual salary of more than $16 million (€11.3 million).
Tracy McGray (Houston)—$23,239,561
Kobe Bryant (Los Angeles)—$23,034,375
Jermaine O’Neal (Miami)—$22,995,000
Tim Duncan (San Antonio)—$22,183,218
Shaquille O’Neal (Cleveland)—$20,000,000
Dirk Nowitzki (Dallas)—$19,795,714
Paul Pierce (Boston)—$19,795,712
Ray Allen (Boston)—$19,766,860
Rashard Lewis (Orlando)—$18,876,000
Michael Redd (Milwaukee)—$17,040,000
Pau Gasol (Los Angeles)—$16,451,250