08 December 2011
As my team in Belgium is working hard to improve our record, I am still sidelined waiting for my foot to fully heal. I love watching basketball, but not the games of my own team while I am not able to help. I can't wait to be on court again.
Now that my career is at its final destination, media, fans and people in general often ask me which was the best place I have played at during these last 16 years. That's a hard question to answer. Every place had its pros and cons. Some had more cons than pros.
My first foreign destination, Bologna, Italy had the greatest fan base one can imagine, the best food ever and has left me with some friends for life. One had to wait for his pay check once in a while but when you are young and a little crazy you don't care as much as when you are a vet with a family and plenty of responsibilities.
Italians also made me understand that being a successful player is also about playing your heart out every single night, no matter how many points you and your team is down. In the end they seemed to care almost more about the right state of mind than about the final result. It was a good lesson for a young fellow like me who was kind of soft back then and had always counted on talent to achieve his goals.
From Bologna I went to Rome. I was lucky to be living and playing in the most beautiful city in the world although my two years there weren't the best I had throughout my career. Teams with great history often tend to be very nostalgic and try to go back to the glory days of the past trying to skip some steps in the process of rebuilding -- something I noticed also when playing for Milano. The city itself was more than amazing and if it weren’t for my wife, we would probably move back there tomorrow. History, art, shopping and a great atmosphere: you know where to head for the upcoming holidays.
Everyone has probably heard the craziest stories about Moscow, but with a team like CSKA that had everything taken care of until the last details one can only be honored to play for such organization.
Okay, we heard the crazy stories too, and flying these old Russian planes that needed a couple of tries for landing wasn't all that fun sometimes but looking back on it now I can say this is probably the closest to an NBA organization one can get. Top of the line housing, cars with drivers, best possible hotels and on top of that a team that kept winning it all with great chemistry. It also helped that our owner back then was current New Jersey Nets owner and famous billionaire Mikhail Prokhorov and that defense secretary Sergei Ivanov liked attending our games and joining us in the locker room to celebrate after wins.
No need to say more.
Before joining Real Madrid I also had two short stints in Poland and in the Ukraine. While my stay in Sopot, Poland was really enjoyable living right on the Baltic Sea, playing well and with lots of minutes, there is not too many positive things I remember about Mariupol, Ukraine except for the fans. No hot water for almost a week at once, electricity breaking down several times a day, tons of pollution and lots of waiting to get paid. In a city that relies fully on local steel factories maybe the steel price drop of 60 percent at that time didn't help but I was very happy to leave for Madrid after few months.
In Madrid, in basketball players turned out to be the little brothers of the soccer team but hey, that wasn't so bad.
Madrid offered a great quality of life and we were treated really well. Perfect organization, playing in front of over 10,000 people every home game (even though some were played at noon on Sundays) -- we were living the high life on the back of the popular soccer players and getting free VIP tickets to one of the best soccer teams in the world every week.
What else could one wish for?
Tomas Van Den Spiegel is a professional basketball player who has played around Europe for the past 16 years. Currently a center with BC Oostende in his native Belgium, Van Den Spiegel has spent time with Fortitudo Bologna, Virtus Roma, CSKA Moscow, Prokom Sopot, Azovmash Mariupol, Real Madrid and Olimpia Milano. A proud father of two children - Ana and Theo - Van Den Spiegel's "Big Man In Belgium" column is featured regularly on Beyond the Beat. You can follow him on Twitter at @tomasvds
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