Saturday, 25. October 2014
04. 04. 14. - 15:00
By Maddy French
An LA-born professional basketball star who played for teams around Europe, including Austria's St. Pölten, has written down his experiences of life as an American expat sportsman in Europe.
Being the first sports memoir I have read, and having never even seen a live a basketball game, I wasn't sure how I would get along with Pete Strobl's 'Backspin'. Aside from a few pieces of basketball lingo that I was happy to skim over, I found the book was an easy and interesting read even for someone who don't have basketball running through their veins.
Really it is a book about an American living abroad and as the author spends time in a vast majority of Western Europe there are an array of experiences that most European expat readers will be able to relate to or at least recognise.
In the summer after he finished his degree at Niagara University in the US, where he was studying on a full athletic scholarship, Strobl was considering his options for his post-college future. And then a call from France came inviting him to come and join the Roanne team suddenly made his choices a lot simpler. He quickly accepted and with just a day to pack and say his goodbyes, Strobl was setting off across the pond to start his European adventure.
Strobl exhibits qualities that many people typically associate with American scholarship athletes - competitive, driven, focused. Early on in his book, at the start of his journey from US to European basketball, he is also sensitive of falling into the trap of an American expat stereotype many Europeans are quick to recognise and poke fun at.
A reluctance to sample foreign cuisine or learn a foreign language are some qualities that - perhaps unfairly - are commonly associated with visitors from the States and early on Strobl himself is made acutely aware of this. An embarrassing incident in a tobacconists during his first few weeks in France leaves him determined to master the French language. His early dismissal of smelly French cheese is also an incident that he looks back on with some embarrassment but by the time he comes to Austria, he admits he is slightly more open-minded and is quick to both learn the language and try local dishes.
After the stint in France, Strobl in 2001 began playing for Austria's UKJ St. Pölten basketball team, where he stayed for three seasons. Moving to Austria was in some ways more familiar for Strobl as it was the land where his father was born and he affectionately remembers his grandparents teaching him 'European ways' such as the proper way to hold a knife and fork.
The first chapter on Austria is called 'Back to my roots' and from the international demographic of his new team to his first taste of schnitzel and seeing the beauty of the old St. Pölten town, Strobl is quick to appreciate some of the best elements on offer in Austria. He stays at St. Pölten for sometime, focusing on developing his talent and learning that every time he thinks he knows the sport, there is always someone there to teach him some new tricks.
After Austria, his journey then takes him to Germany and Ireland where he gets a position as a coach and finally to Switzerland, where his European adventure sadly ends on a bad note - but you'll have to go buy the book to find out why.
For European basketball fans this memoir comes strongly recommended as Strobl offers insight into both positives elements of the game on the continent and some of the problems he encounters with management and clubs. As not a particularly passionate follower of basketball, but an expat living in Austria, I found that the book was still an enjoyable read, not least because it offered the rare chance of seeing Europe through foreign eyes very different to my own.
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