I would say that I have had an uneventful basketball career and by that I mean that nothing crazy has happened to me in games. Yes, I have had a lot of personal and team success but nothing that makes a really good story. That was until last night.
We had been preparing all week long for our game against Kumanovo. It was a big game for them and for us as well. Kumanovo is celebrating their 65th year of having a basketball team and they picked our game for their big festivities. Their gym is big and holds 5,000 people but they wanted all of the room in their gym for their fans and banned the Family Aerodrom (our fans) from the sport hall. That was a little hard to believe too because our fans have not been banned from our other away games and just add to the great atmosphere at the games.
When our team bus pulled into town we had to stop at a police check point. I don't know the exact reason but I suspect it was because they didn't want any of our fans sneaking into the town. I have never had that happen to me before but I thought it was kind of cool. It just showed how important of a game it was.
The gym itself was old and for lack of a better word, crappy. There were holes in the walls, the chairs in the locker room were all broken into pieces and there was standing water in the bathroom that smelled terrible. I guess these things mean nothing to the fans because the gym was loud and packed.
I got dressed pretty quickly because I wanted to get out onto the court and get a feel for the rims. As I was walking out of the locker room one of the team vets stopped me and told me not to go out yet because I would get things thrown at me. I had to wait for the whole team to be ready so we could go out together.
We left the locker room after Coach's pre game speech and headed out onto the court to some of the loudest boos I have ever heard. It wasn't just boos either. Old men were spitting at us and little kids were flipping us the bird. The crowd also broke out into some pretty raunchy chants. My teammates told me they were just singing some fun songs when I asked them but after the game they told me what they were really saying. I don't know they age demographic of my readers so I won't put them on here but I would be afraid to tell my mother what they were saying.
We were ahead the whole game but the fireworks really started after halftime. The Kumanovo fans decided to give us a confetti shower while we were warming up after the break. It took awhile for the 2nd half to start because as soon as the custodial staff cleaned it up, the fans would throw more on the court. It was very frustrating because we just wanted for the half to start.
With 1:56 left in the 3rd quarter, a lighter was thrown from the stands and landed at my feet as we lined up at the free throw line and then the show started. The refs told both teams to return to their benches as they met at the scorers table. Macedonian rules states that if the game is delayed 2 times by the fans then the fans have 10 minutes to evacuate the building and the game will resume with no fans. If they fail to leave then the game is played the next day with no fans in the gym. We know this rule quite well because it happened to us once already this season at home.
The official at the scorers table packed his things up and returned to the locker room. The fans did not appreciate this gesture and pelted him with various objects as he was escorted out by security. The security guards also instructed us to return to our bench as things began to be thrown our way. We had a covered bench like the ones you see at soccer games. The security guards also surrounded our bench so we were not attacked by the fans. One of my teammates stood up briefly and an 8 inch piece of wood was thrown at his head and narrowly missed him. Things were getting really crazy.
We just assumed the game would be resumed the next day because the fans were obviously not leaving the stands. Amazingly the official came back out and ruled that only the 1st three rows of the stands had to be vacated and the game would be resumed. I guess this was not according to the rule book but I was happy that we would be playing again. We had 5 minutes to warm up and we would start the game with 1:56 left in the 3rd quarter after a 35 minute break. As we were warming up about 5 fans were flipping me the bird and kept calling for me to come over. I just averted my eyes and kept doing my thing.
We came out after the break and Kumanovo didn't score the rest of the quarter and we led by 11. The game was hot all the way to the end and we wound up winning 88-81. With about 3 seconds left in the game the fans started throwing more stuff on the court including full bottles of water, coins and lighters (a lot of people smoke here.) We were so hyped we won but left the court with our jerseys over our heads to avoid getting hit by anything big. The locker room was pretty rowdy after the game. We were high fiving and screaming. Our coach even handed out a few high fives which he never does so it must mean he was pretty happy.
I wanted to get out of Kumanovo after the game and return home to my wife. There was just one problem though, apparently there was a threat on the team after the game and we couldn't leave the locker room area without a police escort. I thought we were in the clear once we were on the bus but I was wrong about that too. Coach told us to pull the window shades and move to the inside seat of the bus. Apparently, the fans planned to attack the bus with rocks on our way out of town and he didn't want us hurt or cut if the windows were busted open. We had another police escort and thankfully nothing happened to us.
We had a team pizza dinner once we got back into Skopje which was very fun. Unfortunately it made Liz very nervous. She saw that there was a long delay in the game and was scared about that and when I didn't return right away she was scared something happened to us. I received a long hug once I walked into the door.