June 2015: Brazketball

I had hoop dreams as a kid. I wanted to play in the NBA. I wanted to be on a Topps trading card. I had a mini-hoop nailed to my bedroom wall, on which I’d practice dunks and challenge my sisters to games of 1-on-2.

Every Saturday I watched the show NBA Inside Stuff with host Ahmad Rashad, which got me so pumped up that I’d play basketball for hours afterward on the school court across the street from our house. In 8th grade, every morning I’d wake at 6 am and jog two miles while dribbling a ball, then practice drills for 45 minutes before school started.

Then the high school team cut me. So I became a runner.

But what if I had attended at a smaller high school, could I have excelled? Or had I lived in a different country all together, could I have been… a contender? I recently found an American basketball player in Brazil who is living out this idea.

Larry Taylor, a mediocre point guard from the Midwest, came to Brazil in 2008 to play in the nascent pro basketball league. Since then, he’s been crushing it: five-time league all-star, two-time champion of the Americas competition, and most amazingly a member of Brazil’s Olympic Team.

Taylor was given Brazilian citizenship in 2012 so he could play in the London Games, and he’s been picked to play again for Brazil at the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.

I profiled Taylor for a story in Zócalo Public Square. This was part of something of a basketball bender that I went on in May/June because of the excellent NBA Playoffs, which also inspired me to write a story for Fusion about Brazil’s growing presence in the NBA. For the past two years, each NBA Championship team had a Brazilian player (are they the secret ingredient to success?).

While a few Brazilians are living the dream in the NBA, Taylor is living the dream in Brazil. I met him in June at the league’s all-star ceremony, held at an upscale lounge in São Paulo: I walked in to find him standing atop a podium performing his new hip-hop single. His music video showed on huge screens around the room (picture at left is from the performance), his face projected all around.

Taylor is one of thousands of Americans today playing abroad in the foreign leagues of Latin America, Europe, and Asia. America pumps out basketball stars like Brazil pumps out soccer phenoms.

But Taylor is living out a unique hoop dream. Brazilians love him, as you can see from those crowding around to get a photo and autograph when he was introduced as the newest recruit to Mogi das Cruzes, a suburb of São Paulo. He said he’d win them a championship next year.

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