"Vladivostok: Dr. Shivago, I know now why you loved Russia..."...

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January 4, 2008...Sunset on the frozen bay of Valdivostok, Russia from a truly picture perfect window in my hotel room...

It's cold, but NOT that cold compared to Changchun, aka Coldchun, China...maybe 25degrees, no wind or breeze, unless you're waiting to cross the street and the whirlwind of a passing car hits your face, and then you remember "cold" as it once was 2 weeks ago in Changchun...

I arrived in Vladivostok from Seoul, Korea about 2pm today...I was met by a Non-Government Official by the name of Demitreyev Motolivov, who goes by "Dima", and is working with our State Department on this event and other events that our State Department asks him for help with, either by translation or planning...He has a Driver, whose name would begin here: and end here...so I nicknamed him Igor...he doesn't say much, but his eyes tell a myriad of stories and experiences that he has learned over his 40+ years in Vladivostok...He handles his Mitsubishi 4WD like it's a VW bug as he wound thru traffic as if he were blind and knew what the other driver would do before he would turn, pass or stop...Let me get back to the Hotel Vladivostok...If you were to go back to earlier blogits, you would find my "story" on Vladivostok very interesting, as we were here in the early part of October for an International Tournament, if you remember...Back then, I mentioned the first hotel we stayed as a team and how it smelled of smoke, like there must have been a fire or something, only to find out later there was, one floor below us, the week before, and every one of the players' rooms smelled like the fallout of a serious fire had taken place not long ago...Well, the lobby is repainted, they've added a Business Center and the Rule: No Smoking in the lobby...and you could immediately tell that there was something "fresh" about this return already to Hotel Vladivostok...until...I get to my room...I'm on the 9th floor, and as I stated earlier you couldn't ask for a better view of the Bay and looking upon the frozen ocean, dotted by brave ice fishermen, who fish near one another or within "save me please, the ice broke" distance...this was the same Bay where Windsurfers braved the cool winds in their wetsuits to soar and land continuously before Sunset back in October...The trees are skeletons of dark bark and branches, nothing here is green life, save the automobiles that have that color when driving in town...My room: when I opened the door and got hit by the waif of some stench only familiar to a stockyard cowboy, I felt like Michael J Fox in a short version of Back to the Future...Wheeeeeeeeew, that strong...But, I am not complaining as I appreciate every effort on the Russian side and our side to make this epic event happen...Just to make sure that the 'methane particles' I sense are in the air, I choose not to take anything out of my suitcase and hang, although I did have to take my suit out and put in the closet, which is okay, because I have a plastic cover over it...just when I thought I wanted to complain or whatever, I just looked out my window and relished with good spirit/feeling of "what a view...what a view" and forgot quickly any other malodorous distaste for where I was going to stay for the next 9 days...

Viktor Euopvov, Public Relations Manager, Translator for Team Spartak, Russian Premiere League, came to the hotel to visit me around 5pm, today, and boy is he really "feelin" the pressure of being the Translator for his team...Evidently, the team has not paid its players in almost two months, and the two foreigners in one month...They've just returned from an uneventful trip to Moscow, playing 3 teams on the road there and like my previous team, Jilin Northeast Tigers, could not eke out a "W" in any of the three contests...which doesn't help the management come to terms with the players now...Poor Viktor, he looked like someone who accidentally fell into a oversized Dryer/Tumbler and no one found him for a month until now...I knew I just had to make "his day" and help disarm the "ill" that he felt at this time with his current situation...For the life of me, I've never understood how "professional" teams and their management group think that they can withhold any team members salary, coaches included, yet I hear this every year and have heard it for the last 36 years, and have been victimized by that disrespect also, both as a player in Belgium and also as a Head Coach in Greece and Japan...This I will say about Mr. Qu, the Jilin Tigers owner, he was always fair and on time with all salaries to players...give or take a week to ten days, but did 'honor' each team member and coaches contract...There were however, other CBA teams, whose owners "failed" to meet their financial obligations to the Chinese players, but always paid the Americans...bad balance there, I'm afraid, because the Chinese players make a quarter of what the Foreigners do, and when you "honor" some and not all on a team, baaaaaaaad things happen...Such is the case right now with Team Spartak, I'm afraid...I didn't press Viktor for details but told him I would like to take he and his wife out to dinner tomorrow night and get away from his "stress mess", and I won't take 'no' for an answer...He looked at me and smiled and laughed and said my "wife would love for me to be able to do that sometime..."...He too had not been paid in a month, but didn't want to dwell on that aspect...Tonight was a "big management" meeting with coaches, players and support staff, meaning that Viktor must translate what is going to be said regarding contracts and payments for the rest of the season...He's worried that the two Foreigners will leave, one being JR Bremer, former Ohio State player of years ago, and a pretty good one at that...Evidently they needed to get at least one victory on this last road trip in order to make the Playoffs and now it's almost impossible for them to join the Top Eight...I'm hoping to see Coach Sergei Babov, Head Coach of Team Spartak, and hear how he's doing through all of this...He and his Assistant Coach, Michalev, were very kind and open to me as a colleague when our team was in their tournament...I'm hoping that I can bring some little joy to Viktor and his wife tomorrow night...He has been painstakingly trying to translate my "handout" materials for the coaches, and I told him not to, but he wanted to be sure that the coaches understood everything that I was teaching and demonstrating this week...What a guy!!

Okay, I'm here, fired up to get back on the court and ready for Russian Bear!! Will let you know how tomorrow night goes with Viktor and his wife...I'm thinkin a nice restaurant with a bottle of Red Wine for the occasion...I gotta do something for this gentle man who put so much time and best effort into the planning and coordinating of this event...

By the way...I didn't "lose" a box or a suitcase on this trip...Glory!! Best to all, safe travels, Coach tom

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