Robert Day's basketball career took a big turn recently: no more 25-hour bus rides that end 15 minutes before the game starts. That's what it was like in Mexico, just another stop in his vagabond life as a semipro basketball player.
You don't remember Day? He starred at Portland's Benson High in the late 1990s and became Western Oregon University's most prolific scorer ever.
"It was a growing experience," he says of his time in Mexico. "Sometimes we played in front of 7,000 people, and sometimes it was more like 300—and not in the nicest part of town."
Didn't know they played pro hoops in Mexico? How about in Spain, France, Saudi Arabia, Canada or China?
How about the International Basketball League and Portland's IBL franchise, the Chinooks, who began their 23-game season March 11 with a 139-120 win over the Vancouver, Wash., Volcanoes?
As March Madness goes into overdrive for today's college basketball stars, the average sports fan's hoop dreams may be all about big-time basketball. But for many players like 25-year-old Day, hoop dreams are all about making a couple hundred bucks a game in front of about 1,000 people who come out to see them play. The IBL has teams in 31 cities, including Bend, Medford, Salem and Eugene.
After leaving Western Oregon, Day bounced around Germany, back to Portland and then to Mexico. But by his second season he was burned out on the long bus rides to as many as four games a week.
Now he's back for a second stint with the Chinooks. His teammates include David Lucas, a two-time all-Pac-10 player at Oregon State University who hurt his knee after finishing school in 2005; Hasan Artharee (Portland State University, class of 2000); and former Oregon Duck Andre Joseph, who will join Day as soon as he's done with his own season in Mexico.
The IBL's Vancouver Volcanoes have an even more Portland-flavored roster, with Michael Lee (Jefferson High and University of Kansas), Tyron Manlove (Oregon), Kevin Field and Porter Troupe (University of Portland).
The Chinooks practice in a gym off Northeast 122nd Avenue. They pay players from $30 to $300 per game. Some players share apartments and get help finding part-time jobs; Day works for a contracting company.
"It's a great way to stay in shape," Day says, "and I'm always looking for a good opportunity. Some guys, depending on where they're at in their career, are still striving to get to the next level. Some guys are just here because they love the game."