By TOM KNIGHT

“If you don’t drink after a bad game you are never going to make it out here.”

“What do American Beer and sex in a boat have in common? They are both f***ing close to water.”

Who uttered these quotes? Hemingway? Foxworthy? Dad? 

The first quote came from my teammate/roommate after my first professional game in Finland. The second came from my head coach while having a discussion about our favorite adult beverages on the way to a game.  I don’t know how or why we talked about this before the game, but welcome to Finland. 

I don’t want you to think the takeaway from this is that the only way to play pro basketball in Europe is to become an alcoholic, I just want you to know that if you are going to make it across the pond you need to find something.

When I originally signed to play, I was offered a 10-day contract, a tryout.  If I played well they would sign me for the rest of the season.  If not, I would be shipped home and have to find employment elsewhere. Luckily, at the time I signed we had two games in those ten days where I could make my case for being kept. Unluckily for me in that first game, I fouled out in under eight minutes of play, scored only two points and grabbed only one rebound. By any standard that is not good enough, and certainly not from a fancy American import.

Upon arrival at my apartment after the game, I grabbed my phone, called my parents, and told them I ruined my career.  And after I hung up, I laid on my bed and turned on the most recent album by Adele. Needless to say, a lot of tears were shed that night (we could have had it alllllllll…).  After an hour or so of self-pity, there was a knock on my door.  Standing on the other side was my roommate, beer in hand, asking if I wanted to go out that night.  I politely said no thanks, that I wasn't in the mood.

“If you don’t drink after a bad game you are never going to make it out here.”

This was against everything I’d ever heard.  Why would you go out when you know you could be released at any moment? I stayed in that night and woke up the next morning feeling like absolute garbage. A lot of self-reflection happened over those next ten hours: was this career path for me? Am I good enough? Do I even like basketball enough to do this? And this is where the issue lies with many American professional basketball players playing internationally: you are more or less completely alone, none of your loved ones, liked ones, even acquainted ones for thousands of miles. 

You are an island and the water your thoughts. When those thoughts are on the possibility of getting fired, it does not lead to anything constructive. You need a crutch, something to get your mind away from the destructive loop. To my roommate it was going out, to others it may be something completely different. But I will tell you, the next time my roommate asked if I wanted to go out after a bad game I took him up on his offer. And this was something that occurred quite often leading up to Christmas break. Even though they signed me for the season once the 10-day was over, they could still terminate my contract at any moment if they felt I was not playing up to their standards. Even though most nights I was one of the more sober, it still did me good.  For a stretch, it’s safe to say I became a regular in da club.  There's something about watching a bunch of Scandinavians jumping around, listening to EDM accompanied by strobe lights and fog machines, with absinthe flowing through their veins that takes your mind off a bad game.

People-watching therapy did me good and the season took a turn for the better. Instead of fouling out in eight minutes I started playing thirty minutes a game, started messing around and getting double doubles.  The season ended on a high note with us winning the championship as I channeled my inner Kevin Love/David Lee.  I’m not saying it’s because I was going out and getting loose, but I’m not saying it wasn't.

After a while you learn to just let things go. It sucks having a bad game, letting the team down, and not performing to the level you are capable of. But if you dwell on those things then they will continue to happen. If all you think about is the possibility of getting fired, you are not going to be at your best and you probably will get fired. Once you realize worrying about what management is going to do is pointless, you will be on your way to success. That’s how it was for me anyway. 

Alcoholism is a sickness, so please don’t read my words and buy a bottle of Jack Daniels Tennessee Honey.  Actually, don’t read any words and decide to buy a bottle of Jack Daniels Tennessee Honey.  But momentary escapes from life are important, especially when life is not going your way. Moderation is the key, but if you ever find yourself struggling, maybe it wouldn’t be a bad idea to go buy a few adult beverages, turn on some music, and get the strobe lights and fog machine out of the closet.

07.13.15