photo by Zereshk, from Wikipedia Commons

Immersed in the intricacies of the post-communist region for about 15 years now, and having had to learn the names and capitals of all these post-Soviet and post-Yugoslav republics, I’m always intrigued by how the outside world perceives “our” region. Obviously, this has been frustrating over the years, hearing people back in the United States continue to call my new home “Czechoslovakia” a decade after the division, and having had an educated college friend worry about coming to our wedding in 1997 in the Czech Republic because of turmoil in the Balkans.

But mostly it’s just amusing, as it was earlier this week when I was reading the sports pages of The New York Times, an addiction since my youth. Last week, the Times ran an article on Gary Neal, an NBA player who had been undrafted in 2007 and ended up playing a few years in Europe before being “discovered” by the San Antonio Spurs. This year, he’s been a big surprise and a key player in their run to the top of the standings. Asked about the success of the Spurs in finding these unknowns and then turning them into important cogs in their long-term success, Spurs coach Gregg Popovich answered “We’ve had our share of good hits. But we’ve got some guys over there in Uzbekistan and places like that that we don’t want anybody to ever know about.”

How, I wonder, did he think to choose Uzbekistan as his ultimate example of a place no one would ever consider finding a basketball player? Perhaps a decade ago, Popovich might have just said “Siberia” and left it at that, but with a few Russian players now in the NBA (the New York Knicks recently “found” a young center with promise, though he isn’t playing much) that isn’t exotic enough. Still, Uzbekistan? Most Americans would have a tough time even recognizing that land as an independent country, I would think. I have a newfound respect for the geographic knowledge of American basketball coaches, that’s for sure.

Jeremy Druker

Jeremy Druker is the executive director and editor in chief of Transitions Online. Twitter: @JeremyDruker Email: jeremy.druker@tol.org

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