Ulanbaatar, Mongolia— It was American Thanksgiving and the two basketball players for the BZ Bulls in the Mongolian Pepsi National League were stoked that their team general manager had planned a special dinner for them. It was supposed to be a festive evening. Chicken and rice with mushroom soup was on the menu but 6’7” Raphael Harris (Masters College, Santa Clarita, CA-2010) was craving dessert. Ryan Nelson (Valdosta State-2010) went at a strapping 6’6” and he said, “A can of Pringles sounds good about now.” “You know, since Pepsi sponsors the league…..you would think we would get complimentary Pepsi products.”
They started walking for their apartment accompanied by a local gal-pal. This was another freezing cold Mongolian evening (-30 F) and Harris mumbled, “You’re going to learn today.” He was always saying that. Right then, five toughies came up behind them and jumped them. They held their own but were soon tackled and the jackals started to kick them.
The perpetrators ran off eventually, but no one could tell the American basketball players why this had happened. Stranger still, the General Manager, Maestro Chimba, was angry that the two import players filed a police report and he forbade them from going to the American Embassy for satisfaction and assistance. “This will reflect badly on our company Chimba said through team interpreter J. Sainaa, (they also owned the Everyday Food Markets.) Some said it was a cultural rite of passage, that drunken male bonding dictated that the lonely males jump on a bigger man. It’s a Mongolian thing.
Their teammate and interpreter, Turuu Sulde didn’t come over that evening to check on his associates. Sulde was disappointed with management also and he eventually left the team. He drove them to the hospital the next morning for medical attention.
Maybe yes, maybe no, but I don’t think Genghis Khan would have approved. How non- ambassadorial. F.I.B.A. needs to get involved and make amends to these two players.
What a turn of events for Nelson who was playing his first season overseas. He was having a great year, averaging 28 points and 15 boards. Other than the strange food and bitter cold, everything was going great.
The two Americans got a few curve balls though. The pollution and air quality sucked, according to the two imports. The apartment was not up to western standards. The neighborhood was real bad, blood on the ceiling, no washing machine, cold showers and no internet. How could Ryan send internet messages to his mom for some extra spending money?
After Chimba would not satisfy their basic needs, they said, “See you later, we are out of here.” The team coaxed Harris back with a larger per-diem and a new apartment and added playoff bonus. The BZ Bulls ended up playoff champions. Harris was MVP but the other new American; Dean Hadley just got jammed up with a false accusation regarding a vicious bar fight.
Nelson’s advocacy for better treatment did have a legacy affect though. Smoking will be banned in the intimate Ulanbaatan Sports Center Arena next season. “I couldn’t take it. Running up and down the court and having to suck-up large amounts of second hand smoke.” “Management just didn’t get it,” he added.
“It’s not that I couldn’t cowboy-up. The locals weren’t anti-American,” Nelson said. “They just couldn’t understand why we were so tall.” There are over 1,000 former NCAA basketball players competing overseas currently.
By Ryan Nelson as told to Raymond Rolak