Friday, February 12, 2010


Literate basketballers (did I say that?!)

If pressed (!), I bet I couldn't name a dozen NBA players (let's just say that I'm not a fan). After reading this, however, I might just have to start following some o' them too-tall fellers ...

As the NBA prepares for Sunday's All-Star Game, international players are becoming an increasingly prominent force on the court. The number of players born outside the U.S. who have cracked the top 40 in scoring and minutes played this season is more than double the number a decade ago. This season, foreign-born players have nabbed five of the top 15 spots on the NBA's highest-paid list.

As their numbers grow, these players are also bringing a different sensibility to the locker room. While many of their American-born counterparts fill their down time with laptops, phones, DVD players, videogame consoles and iPods, these NBA imports like to kick it old school. They don't just read books, they often read the sorts of weighty tomes you may not associate with professional athletes.

The Cleveland Cavaliers say Zydrunas Ilgauskas, a Lithuanian center who is obsessed with military history, often reads right up until tip-off. Orlando Magic center Adonal Foyle, who was raised on an island in the Grenadines with no electricity, says he's the only player he knows who stocks up on hardcovers before every road trip. Mr. Foyle started a book club recently with some nonbasketball friends and acquaintances and hosts discussions during the off-season at his home in Orinda, Calif.

New Orleans Hornets center Emeka Okafor, whose parents both hail from Nigeria, is one of the league's most accomplished fans of literature. He has finished six books this season, including "The Road" by Cormac McCarthy, "Interpreter of Maladies" by Jhumpa Lahiri and Junot Diaz's "The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao." He says the reading binge is meant to make up for all the time he spent last year watching DVDs. "I had to get my book game back up," he says.

Many of the NBA's 83 foreign-born players say reading was always the main form of entertainment in their home countries. Cleveland's Mr. Ilgauskas says he grew up with no videogames and a TV that had only two channels. Nenad Krstic of the Oklahoma City Thunder says his basketball coaches in Serbia probably gave him as many books to read as his schoolteachers did when he was a child. "People are just brought up with more technology here," says Milwaukee Bucks center Andrew Bogut, who grew up in Australia. (Mr. Bogut says he's such a bookworm he can't bring himself to use a Kindle. "I get more of a thrill out of going through the actual book like you're supposed to," he says.)

Check out the rest here.

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