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Robin Lopez Travel Diary: Not Hot Enough For You

Trail Blazers center Robin Lopez, along with his twin brother Brook of the Brooklyn Nets, are on traveling through Russia as a part of an NBA tour to increase interest in basketball overseas. Here’s the second installment of Robin’s travel diary (as told to Casey Holdahl) …

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rolo100Greetings again from behind the Iron Curtain. Transnational diplomat and noted basketball player Robin Lopez here, still traveling with my brother Brook and a crew from the NBA to promote basketball in Russia. I’m not at liberty to discuss the diplomat part, at least not in the middle of such sensitive negotiations, but as for as the basketball goes, I’ve got some updates for you.

On Friday, Brook and I did a couple interviews, a little TV appearance. Not surprisingly, there were a lot of questions about the Brooklyn Nets and their Russian interests. But it was a great time to reflect upon the development of basketball in Russia and the Russian players in the NBA like Timofey Mozgov, Andre Kirlenko, Alexey Shved. The Nets are definitely Russia’s club if anyone in the Western Media is looking for a juicy angle to take in these unstable times.

But what was even more fun was afterwards. We got a few cab rides and they took us out to Red Square and outside of the Kremlin. So I had to thrown on my  Adventurer’s hat to check out St. Basil’s again, though this time I took a camera.

What was really cool, I hadn’t been able to check out the Kremlin yet, which is right next door. They have really cool gardens with awesome fountains that surround the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and the Eternal Flame, which honors the soldiers who fought and died in World War II.  I was trying to get the optimal angle for the optimal picture, but then a bunch of security guards blew their whistles and started running towards me. For a second I thought I was going to be thrown into the gulag or sent to Siberian prison camp. Our handler said it was because I was stepping on the grass, but I’m pretty sure it was because they mistook me for Indiana Jones, which I guess would make Brook Shia LeBeouf’s character, Mutt. They’re still a bit salty about those Crystal Skulls. Either way, we managed to avoid an international incident, though just barely.

Just got back to Moscow from Perm. We were back to the hotel for a day. We went to a different airport in Moscow than I had been to previously. It was probably the biggest airport I’ve ever been to … while also being the most disorganized airport I’ve ever been to. There were people flying around all over. There wasn’t one guard rail, not a single line in sight. It was just insanity. It made me long for JFK or Dallas Fort Worth or LAX. I suppose I could have used my size and strength to push my way through, but I prefer to bob and weave through crowds, especially at airports. I’m too nimble not to.

Although Perm is one of the biggest cities in Russia it felt like a different kind of Russia. In Moscow, you have the Kremlin, St. Basil’s, a lot of Soviet iconography everywhere. In Perm, it was a different side of Russia. A little more folksy. If Moscow is an iron statue of an eagle, Perm is a matryoshka nesting doll.

We went to a nice little restaurant after we landed and had a very long, European-style meal, very regionally based. They brought out many appetizers, many plates. We dined with a few local politicians and some members of the local Perm basketball team, Ural Great Perm. The players, the coaches and the staff were members of the 2001 team that went onto the EuroLeague championships. They pulled an upset against CSKA Moscow, which is THE club in Russia. We had a little diner. Well, it wasn’t little, it was actually very long. After the dinner it was pretty late, but in Russia, particularly in Perm because it’s so far north, I didn’t realize how late it was because the sun didn’t set until around 11 PM.

Back to the food real quick. It was kind of funny because there were so many peppers in the food, but they weren’t spicy at all. No spice whatsoever. I’m here to tell you, Russia isn’t messing with hot peppers. I hear Russians and spicy food, they don’t gel well, so you’re not going to find a lot of great Mexican food out here. They asked me about coming to play for their club team if there’s another lockout. I said I’d think about it, but if I can’t get a California burrito, that definitely puts them in a deep hole as far as their bargaining position goes. It’s a comfort thing. I’ve got to be able to get a good burrito. It’s like Popeye and his spinach, or baseball players with … other substances. Then again, caviar and quail eggs are a decent substitute.

Speaking of international culinary delights, every country I go to, I have to go to a McDonald’s. It’s a tradition I have with one of my friends from high school. I’ve been to McDonald’s in Spain, Greece, Turkey, Ireland, Norway, Denmark, Holland, Scotland, Hong Kong, Japan, Canada and Singapore. Despite that, I’m still without a fast food endorsement, which hurts a bit because you’re not really somebody unless someone is paying for your McDonald’s. Please feel free to forward along all of your sponsorship opportunities to my representation.

So we tried a Russian McDonald’s. It was okay, but I’m not sure what’s going on with the sauce. It was kind of peppery. And there was no cheese. It wasn’t my favorite international McDonald’s, which would probably be the McDonald’s in Japan because they have these gelatin drinks that are just unbelievable. I mean, Russian McDonald’s was solid, definitely above average. Nevertheless, I’m lovin’ it!

I was pretty exhausted by time we got back to the hotel in Moscow. The next day, Brook and I had an event at a school, or I guess I should say, a school where a lot of young athletes go to get better at their respective sport in between regular classes. They have basketball and a lot of martial arts facilities, which I was kind of interested in trying my hand at. When I get in a jam, I revert to more of a brawling-style fighter, so maybe it’s time I fine tune that, work on my edge. Right now, I’m way more Arnold Schwarzenegger in “Predator” than I am Jean Claude Van Dame in “Kickboxer” or Chuck Norris in “Delta Force.” I definitely need to add some “Big Trouble In Little China” Kurt Russell moves into my fighting style, though I already look pretty good in a tank top and tapered jeans.

They had us come out of a tunnel at the assembly, which was cool. I was really surprised at the reception we got. They were very excited to see us. I’m not one for getting misty-eyed at these type of events, but to be so warmly received all the way across the world, that was an indelible moment for me. That’s something I’m not going to forget, even if they did acknowledge Brook a little more, what with the whole Brooklyn Nets/Mikhail Prokhrovov thing.

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So we broke out into different groups, separated the kids out among four different stations. I got out there and and immediately started blocking kids’ shots. I’ve got to set the tone early on. There was also a hot spot game in the competition, so they broke the group into two teams: The Nets for Brook’s team and the Blazers, my team. The Blazers ended up winning in a landslide, of course, partially because I was out at the three-point line just making it rain. I must have hit three or four threes, so let no one say that I haven’t been working on adding skill to my offensive arsenal this summer. I’ve been traveling the world picking up new moves, kind of like David Carradine walking the earth in “Kung Fu” though I hope things turn out a little better for me than they did for him.

After the clinic, we had a little autograph signing and photo session and the kids were getting a little crazy. Actually, it was some of the parents who were going a bit nuts, sort of in a good way, but sort of not. It got a bit too weird, so I ended up pulling an Indiana Jones moves by sneaking out of a window, just like in “Last Crusade,” minus Sean Connery that is.

We’ll be heading back to the United States by time you read this, but I’ll try to wrap up the trip back home, at least once a get a few burritos in my system. Until then, poka!