As we did each day during our stay in Bangkok, my dad and I would pick a destination as a starting point within the city, and explore from there. Today our destination was to take the air tram to its last stop across the river and walk back towards downtown Bangkok. Our explorations led us into Chinatown where we discovered my favorite food so far on the trip. I can’t remember what its called, but essentially it’s a food stand that sells noodle dishes. You pick the type of noodles and meat you want, they boil them, add green vegetables, spiced broth, and serve it to you hot. It’s a simple, fresh, and delicious dish. One bowl cost 30 baht or 1 US dollar.
After we finished our meal we continued through Chinatown, went back for another bowl of noodles five minutes later, and then we were really on our way. As we walked around town we came to an area that looked like the courtyard of an apartment. However, the area in the middle of what looked like small apartments was a full-length basketball court. There were a couple of young men standing near the far hoop, but neither one had a basketball. We decided to go inside and check it out.
I stuck up a conversation with one of the guys near the hoop. He was a tall, skinny, and wearing a basketball uniform that said “Southern Church” on the front. He told me that the buildings surrounding the court were part of a Christian school he belonged to. He told me that his team was having practice soon, and that they might play a full court game later. We talked about the NBA. I told him my favorite team was the Celtics. He told me his favorite player was Dwight Howard. Shortly after I started talking to him a couple more students arrived at the court, one of who had a basketball with them. I started shooting around with the players on the team.
I shot around with my new basketball friends for about half an hour before the “coach” showed up. Out from the stands (that surrounded one side of the court) I heard someone say, “Can you dunk!?” A short man wearing a blue jersey approached me. I told him yes. “I would very much like to see that” he said. I threw down a two handed jam (did I mention I was wearing flip flops today?), to which he replied, “very good.” He stepped onto the court and the team (13 players aged 18-28) huddled around him. He introduced himself to me in front of the team. “My name is Kim, what’s your name?” I told him Sam and I asked if he was the coach. With a bit of sarcasm in his voice he said, “Yes, I am sort of the coach.” He said something in Thai and the team laughed. Kim was a very animated guy if you can’t tell already. He kind of reminded me of the MC (or whatever you’d call him) from the And 1 mixtape tour, the guy who screams after every play. Most of the things he said, or yelled rather, got a laugh out of the team. He explained to me that we were at a Christian school. That he was Christian and the members of the team were not. He told me that he was teaching the power of god, or the gifts of god (I forget how he phrased it) through basketball. He said that the team was going to practice and play a game later. I asked if I could practice with them to which he said with surprise, “You want to practice with us?” I told him I loved to play basketball and that it would be a lot of fun to practice with his team. He said I was welcome to join them. We took a moment to stand together and pray, and practice was under way. Side notes: Kim was wearing a #4 jersey that said “Jesus loves you” on the back, and there was one guy, Bob I think his name was that was wearing a green and gold #7 Al Jefferson Celtics jersey, both were pretty awesome.
I practiced with the Southern church team for about two hours. We ran passing drills, shooting drill, rebounding drills you name it. I can’t remember the last time I participated in a basketball practice. It must have been college. It was a lot of fun. While the drills were very focused, the overall atmosphere of the practice was relaxed. If a player made a mistake he was corrected but not overly criticized. Everyone wanted everyone else to succeed. There was a lot of laughing and joking around. If a player missed a shot he had to do push ups, and when some of the players who were not so good made a shot, it was a celebration. As I mentioned I had been wearing flip-flops this entire time. When it came time to do the three-man weave, I ditched the flip-flops and went bare foot. The surface of the court was concrete, but it was smooth, and the only set backs I suffered were sore, dirty feet.
At the end of the practice we split up into two teams of five, and one team of four. We played some version of rocks, paper, scissors to decide teams. I didn’t really understand it, you had to throw either a fist, two, or five fingers, all I know is I was on team three and we had to sit out the first game. Each game was five on five, full court, to two by ones. The first team to score two baskets stayed on the court. One player from the sitting team was given a whistle and was the referee for the game on the court. When my team got on we only had four players, so Kim joined our team. Kim was ten times more animated as a player than as a coach. Every time he drove to the basket and barely even got touched, he would scream in Thai, I’m assuming calling a foul. He had a lot of energy and was a pretty good player. Kim, myself, and the rest of our team won at least seven or eight games before we lost.
The practice started at 5:30 and it was now 7:00. We were playing under the lights. My dad had been watching in the stands the whole time, the misquotes were out, and as much as I know he enjoyed watching this interaction, he was ready to go. After my team lost I told the team I had to leave. I gathered everyone together for a picture and told them that it was a great experience playing basketball with them. I thanked them for inviting me to play and that I hoped to play again with them in the future. They told me next time I should bring shoes.
In regards to basketball ability, the players on the team were great shooters. All of the players could knock down open shots from all over the court. They were slightly less skilled in other areas. They could definitely use more practice working on their passing and dribbling. In the end, I had a lot of fun playing basketball with the Southern Church team and I think they enjoyed my presence as well. Again, I want to thank Kim and his players for allowing me to practice with them. It was truly an experience I will never forget. I walked back to our guesthouse with my feet covered in dirt, throbbing in pain, and a big smile on my face.