Two weeks ago, as reported here, we had a pleasant conversation in a local restaurant with Gediminas Petrauskas, head coach of Šiauliai’s professional basketball team. Coach Petrauskas reported on that occasion that spending a thirteenth year at Roanoke (VA) Catholic High School changed his life. We suspect what he meant was that playing basketball in the United States and perfecting his English language skills made him completely bicultural and bilingual, which is how he can be a credible coach for both American and Lithuanian players. (In the top picture, above, Coach Petrauskas has his back turned to the camera, just to the right of his blond-haired assistant in gray suit.)
Anyway, Coach Roanoke urged us to come to Šiauliai Arena to see a game, and we did so last night—a playoff game, at that, though we don’t really understand how the playoffs work in the Baltic Basketball League. It was an interesting experience. We took the bus. We went early so we could get something to eat, only to discover that the menu at Šiauliai Arena, at least for basketball games, is limited to potato chips and beer. Here are a few of the more subtle differences we noted between Lithuanian basketball games and the NBA.
· We were able to get two front-row tickets for last night’s game for less than $10 per ticket. I hate to think how much two front-row seats would cost for a playoff game at the Verizon Center, assuming such tickets could be had in the first place, which they could not be.
· There were no ushers at the arena, which meant that seating assignments were somewhat provisional, though that proved not to be a problem for us; Lithuanians might be a little more law-abiding than Americans.
· The public address system was loud, but not bleeding-eardrums loud, like NBA games at Verizon Center.
· Both teams were skilled, well-coached, aggressive, and (unlike recent Washington Wizards teams) interested in playing defense.
· Šiauliai was clearly the better of the two teams, and one wonders whether that has something to do with the fact that they have five Americans on their roster, compared with only one for Klaipeda. And that in turn suggests something about the value of Coach Petrauskas’s bilingualism.
· There were no extra time-outs or breaks in the action for the purpose of slipping in more television commercials.
· The coaches didn’t try to manage the clock at the end of the game by purposely fouling the opposition or calling time-outs (though concededly, this might have something to do with the one-sidedness of the game). So, the game started at 7:00 and ended almost exactly at 9:00.
· We enjoyed watching Chris Cooper (uniform #20, see photo #2, above), who played his college ball at Old Dominion University, and whom Ken saw strolling through the pedestrian district the other day. A 6’9” African-American man tends to stand out on the streets of Šiauliai.
· We noticed, finally, that the cheerleaders’ uniforms were reminiscent of the Grinch’s heart—i.e., two sizes too small (photo deleted on the advice of attorney, and wife).