Our good friend Joey Vickery is in town for his yearly visit between basketball seasons. He has played in Austria for the last 3 years and will likely go back next year as well. Neither age (40), marriage, parenthood (he only has 1 kid, so why would it) or a highly questionable dietary regime (ie. only chicken nuggets, snickers and pizza) have slowed Joey down. With a shooting release like he has, Joey could play for another 10 years if he had team-mates who wanted to get him the ball.
Joey was a big part of the reason Les and I were able to smoothly transition to life in Europe. He played with me in Paris (Poissy Chatou) in 1997-98 and has been one of our best friends ever since. I say "our" because Joey was a great friend to both Les and me right from the beginning. Joey was a 30 year old star in the league, single, confident and enjoying life in Paris. I was a 22 year old rookie who had to work his butt off every day in practice just to fit in, I had my girlfriend with me and knew nothing of being a professional athlete. These differences meant nothing to Joey. This introduction to living in Europe made a big impact on our subsequent experiences.
In that first year we played, partied, studied (Joey and Kory Hallas made a mockery of Les' Canadians in Paris book club)and travelled together. We went West to Brest (where Kory and I somehow ended up drunk enough to dance in a cage at the club), East for a weekend skiing and partying in the Alps, North to Amsterdam to see the liberal side of Europe and South to Spain.
At the end of the season, Joey, Les and I decided we wanted to put some miles on the team car so we drove all the way from Paris to Gibraltar and back. By the end of that trip we were either going to slit each other's throats or know that we would always be friends. Luckily everybody survived, as did our friendship. Apart from the daily battle between Joey wanting to go to McDonalds and Les wanting to find a quaint Spanish cafe, we formed a great travelling team. The highlight of the trip was definitely the day we spent at the festival of El Rocio where a million people from all over Spain congregate in one tiny village to commemorate (by eating and drinking to excess) the sighting of the virgin Rocio. (I'll save that story for another Retro-blog. Below are a couple of pictures of the festival.)
The best of all our trips together however, has to be a couple of years later when we were team mates again in Austria.
The time Joey headed up with just me in a tiny plane and we flew for a couple of hours over the Hungarian country-side (where navigation is really dangerous with every village looking the same and air traffic control incomprehensible) was a highlight in bravery but not fun. No, the best trip we ever took was when we flew to Kenya in November of 2001. The team made the mistake of telling us we had 7 days off in the middle of season and we took full advantage. We left a sub-zero Vienna airport, flew all night and arrived in a tropical paradise just outside Mombasa. Although the team threatened to cut us for taking the trip, I think the physical and mental break we got on this trip was one of the biggest reasons we won a championship that year.