Here is Part 1 from May 2009.
Man in a Suitcase Part 2
by rick olivares
Last year while attending a FIBA tournament, I became friends with one of the American imports of Al Riyadi Lebanon, Chris Charles. Former Villanova Wildcat and friend of NBA hoopster Randy Foye. I wrote about Chris and other American basketball players plying their trade in leagues all over the world in a piece titled “Man in a Suitcase.”
Chris Charles wasn’t even “the man” in Villanova. That title belonged to Randy Foye. In fact, he didn’t get to play much and that ended any chance of an NBA tryout. So he took his trade with him to the Middle East where he helped Syrian club Al Jalaa to the Syrian League championship and claimed several honors. His success there saw him get a stint with Lebanese team Champville prior to joining Al Riyadi in the FIBA Tournament.
After the FIBA tournament where Al Riyadi finished third, Charles went back to Lebanon to get his pay. Only it took him about a month before he got his full pay (and only after threatening to not come back) that delayed his return trip back to his native Milwaukee, Wisconsin for some much needed rest.
His return to the Middle East was eventful in so many ways he never saw coming. This is the continuation of that story in his own words as he would learn later that “life has a funny way of sneaking up on you.” My notes in between are in regular font.
Going back home was great. During the season I didn't really get a chance to sit back and think about how successful of a year I had. So it was only back in Milwaukee where I was able to take it all in once things had calmed down. Coming back home as a "champion" for the first time in my professional career after going through so much just to land some gigs was extremely gratifying. I had just experienced my most successful year as a pro. The accolades came in one after another (center of the year in Lebanon, all-import team in both Syria and Lebanon, finals MVP, a championship and FIBA bronze medal) and I looked forward to thanking my loved ones in person when returning to the States. From being somewhat of a b-ball vagabond to coming home an MVP.
My friends and family followed my progress via Facebook, Skype, Twitter, emails, and my blog. My best friend Adebisi who is the frontman for hip-hop act Fresh Cut Collective actually gave me a special shout out during one of his performances at a big Milwaukee festival. That was his "moment" in front of hundreds of people and he took the time to recognize my recent success. When attending my good friend Randy Foye’s charity event he told me how happy he was for me and that he knew I had success coming my way. It meant a lot because he has been one of the biggest supporters in my hoops journey being like a brother to me.
My blogmates Philwaukee & Greendale Andy encouraged me to document all of these basketball adventures with videos so I posted clips of me winning the title in Syria & bronze in Indonesia. Most of the satisfaction came from knowing that I made my friends proud because honestly without their encouragement & support I wouldn't have had those opportunities.
In October of 2009, I returned to Champville because I renewed my contract with them but about four months into the season I had a minor back injury that kept me out for a few days. They team was heading to Dubai for a tournament and I was told to stay back to rest and that they'd see me when they returned to Beirut. The day after they departed for Dubai I received a call from the management notifying me of my release from the team. My numbers had decreased from last year and I had a gut feeling that the injury gave them the opportunity to pull the proverbial trigger and hand me my walking papers. Shortly after things started to develop with Al Jeish, the Syrian team. Everything happens for a reason...
Al Jalaa is the perennial Syrian league champion while Al Jeish is one of those bridesmaids-but-never-the-bride types. Think of them in the vein of Toyota-Crispa, Real Madrid-Barcelona, or the New York Yankees-Boston Red Sox.
The job with the Syrian team came when they received word of my availability back in January. After getting the pink slip in Lebanon I waited in Beirut for my flight to be arranged by the team to head home. Al Jeish, the Syrian team made a nice offer but wanted me to come directly from Beirut. The agent that I was working with wanted to be assured that my injury wasn't serious. I was briefly examined by a "doctor" in Lebanon but needed to get a real diagnosis so I told the agent that it would be in both of our best interests for me to get a professional examination when I went home. So I came back to the States and was cleared after about a week and a half in at home in Milwaukee I signed my contract with Jeish and was off to Damascus to continue the journey.
Actually the same day I left for Damascus I had a small cameo in my friend Dana Coppas video (http://vimeo.com/9927520) left the video shoot, said goodbye to some family and it was off to Syria!
It was an interesting scenario joining the same team that I had defeated in the finals last year. I have been told that each game is an audition and this situation proved that observation to be true. Jeish was impressed with my MVP performance against them that they wanted my services...flattering. Once I arrived my teammates were very welcoming and the coach really had faith in me. There was no bad blood from me being one Jalaa from last year. They would ask me "do you think we can beat Jalaa" and ask me to compare my experiences with Jalaa and now with Jeish. I chose my words wisely not wanting to offend my new teammates too soon haha. They were saying that I was the missing piece to them winning it all. Jeish had the guards to compete with theirs now they had someone to battle with their two big imports. Well, it was a fairy tale ending for Jeish and myself.
Charles parlayed his success in the Middle East into a tryout with his hometown Milwaukee Bucks. Although he wasn’t signed in the summer of LeBron, the opportunity to try out is something he will cherish. His adventures continue. You can follow them on milwaukeehoopers.blogspot.com.