Seattle Storm guard Sue Bird, a First Team All-WNBA selection in all three of her seasons in the league, is playing overseas in Russia this winter with Dynamo Moscow in the EuroLeague. She departed on January 1 to join her team and will be there with them until the completion of the season sometime in April. She will be checking in and sharing her experiences with WNBA.com twice a month until she returns.
From Russia With Love: Volume Three
From Russia With Love: Volume Two
From Russia With Love: Volume One
Before I fill you in on what I've been doing - let me apologize first for being late. My internet went out a couple of nights ago and so I haven't been able to get online to send this entry. Also, we started the EuroLeague playoffs, so everyone, including the guy who should be fixing my connection (apparently), is extremely busy. Anyway, I'll make up for it by writing a LOT. How's that sound?
February 24, 2005, Moscow, Russia: Kak Dela? You probably have no idea that I just asked "How are you?" in Russian. When I sat down to write this journal, it was the first thought that popped in my head. Do you know what that means? Someone is learning how to speak this language, and that someone is me! Ok, so I'm nowhere NEAR being fluent, but I've made huge strides since my arrival in Moscow, and that's pretty good for someone who openly admits to having had no interest in the beginning. My vocabulary list is up to 20 words and counting, which I am very proud of. For Christmas my dad got me a "Learn Russian in Seven Days" DVD that I just opened, so I'll keep you all posted on how that goes.
Learning a new language is fun, exciting and, at times, embarrassing, but I still do miss English. More than anything I miss being able to communicate with other people. When my coaches speak, I have no idea what they are saying. When my teammates are gossiping in the locker room about the coaches, I can't join in. This is truly a nosy person's WORST nightmare! The good thing is that you can tell a lot by just watching facial expressions, which gets me by (for the most part).
So if you were in Moscow, and it was one of the coldest nights of the year, what would you do? I'm sure everyone is thinking, "stay inside, build a fire and drink hot chocolate!" Well because I'm a fool, I went to a hockey game! It wasn't just any hockey game though. Because of the NHL lockout, superstar forward Jaromir Jagr (right) was playing, and so this was my chance to see him play live and in person!! Jagr is from the Czech Republic. Of course, Kamila and her boyfriend were really excited.
Their excitement was contagious because I don't even
like hockey all that much and, yet, I couldn't wait to go. As I said, it was one
of the coldest nights in Moscow and here we were, taking the metro, hopping on
buses and walking what felt like miles and miles... all the while thinking, "YES!
I get to see Jagr play in person." And then it hit me. I can see him play
live and in person whenever I want in the NHL. All of the sudden, I wasn't too
happy about being in the cold. For Kamila, its different, though, because she
can't go see him whenever she wants. He is a Czech hero, and my association with
Kamila makes me half-Czech, so I'm glad I went!
During our trek (right around the same time it started to go numb in my extremities), I began fantasizing about hot chocolate. I didn't think there was a chance that they would actually be selling it at the arena, but the first thing I saw after we arrived was a huge HOT CHOCOLATE sign. (Ok, I didn't see it because I can't read Russian, but Kamila told me what it said). So I ordered a cup. Now you know Russians enjoy their shots of vodka, right? Well I guess the same goes for other beverages, because this was the smallest "cup" of hot chocolate I've ever seen. I took my shot of cocoa and we went inside. Of course, Jagr got hurt in the first three minutes of play, his team ended up winning 7-1 and we froze all the way home. Ahhh, what a night!
As I mentioned in my previous journal,
my dad came out to Moscow for a visit. This was his first time out of America,
so before he even got here, I knew we were going to have an interesting time.
He did what every American does the first time they are outside of the country:
Compare. "The milk tastes different." "The Coke is DEFINITELY different,
they must use a different mixture." "Sue, even the Pepsi tastes different!!!"
I must have heard these three statements at least 100 times within the first two
days. He soon got past the comparison phase and moved on to what I like to call
the "surprise" phrase. He was surprised that there were no anti-pollution
systems on the cars. "Sue, I got in the car and had a flashback to the 1950's!"
Next, he was impressed by how far the country has come since Communism and soon
he realized what everyone does eventually: Its not much different than the U.S.
In fact, there are a lot more similarities than there are differences.
Lucky for my dad, the people at Dynamo were super nice and set us up with tours of both Moscow and St. Petersburg. On our way to St. Petersburg, my pops got a full taste of the Russian experience because we took a train there. This wasn't an overnight train, so no uncomfortable beds. But trust me, it's a train ride he won't soon forget. These trains are very similar to what you'd see on an Amtrak line. There was some initial confusion as to our seat location, but after 10 minutes or so we were finally settled in. That's when it started to rain.... on my dad. OK, not like real rain, but there must have been a leak or something because every other minute, my dad would get hit in the head, the lap, and the legs with drops of water. As far as I could see, he was the only one getting rained on, which was great for me! The tour of St. Petersburg was amazing! It is such a beautiful city with some unbelievable architecture. Its right on the water and some like to refer to it as "The Venice of the North." It also has a little bit of a Washington D.C. flavor to it because of the colonial look. Either way you see it, it's georgeous!
Our tour of Moscow brought us to many beautiful sights and landscapes as well as the Swan Lake Ballet at the Bolshoy Theatre. My dad's favorite was a cathedral that Stalin tore down and turned into a swimming pool during the rise of Communism. It was later restored and now holds a painted depiction of Russian history inside. Definitely a must see if you ever make it to Moscow! The funniest moment came, once again, right outside the Red Square. This time it didn't involve monkeys but a fur hat salesmen instead.
Some background - my father's name is Herschel Bird and his family is originally from Russia. In fact, our last name is really "Boorda." My great grandfather brought his family through Ellis Island in the early 1900's and we were soon known simply as Bird. This makes me half-Russian (not Czech!). So in my dad's eyes, this gave him a false sense of belonging. Every time I'd say "Dad, stop acting like an American" he would come back with "No one can tell I am not from here" and then attempt to say one of the three Russian words he remembers from his college days. He truly believed that no one would notice, which makes this story even better.
We arrived at the Red Square with a group of people when a furry-hat salesman appeared like a shark smelling blood. I think he could read "sucker" all over my dad's face and went into his best sales pitch. My dad politely declined, the salesman was pushy and proceeded to put one of the hats on my dad's head. This is when my father broke out in a full-out sprint to get away. I'll admit, you had to be there, but I'm not sure I've laughed that hard in a long time. While he provided a lot of laughs, I'm glad he was able to share this experience with me, and more than anything, I was glad he got to experience the cultural differences. I think Elena Baranova summed it up perfectly when she said "In America, you can't lock your bags when you fly because everyone is scared of terrorism. In Russia, we lock everything up because we are worried about people stealing our stuff." Viva la Russia!
quick basketball update. We are still competing in the regular season of the Russian
league and, as mentioned earlier, the Euroleague playoffs are already underway.
They have an interesting set-up here as the first and second rounds are each a
three-game series. Unlike the WNBA's Away-Home-Home deal, the Euroleague uses
a Home-Away-Home system. It is definitely more of an advantage for the higher-seeded
team, but there is also a lot of travel involved. You just have to pick your poison
when it comes to these things. After the first and second rounds, there will only
be four teams left and then they go into a Final Four format like the NCAA Final
Four. This should be decided by the end of March, but the Final Four won't start
till the end of April, so you have a month to prepare. Lucky for us, we'll be
in the Russian league playoffs by then. A month of practice would have been a
little rough! I'm not sure if this interests anyone, but people ask me how it
works all the time so I figured I might as well explain it to everyone!
I'm actually in Poland right now getting ready to face off against Pee Wee Johnson's team for the second game of our series. We won the first one, but it was a close game and I'm sure it'll be even more difficult for us on their court! Not to mention our team just hired a new coach and we are still adjusting to his style. With that being said, its time to go to bed! See you all next time!!!
Sue's List of Shout Outs:
1. Televisionwithoutpity.com - If you are ever out of the country, or just in a place where you can't keep up with your favorite TV shows, then this is the website for you. It allows me to read a summary every week on all my favs, and the writers are hysterical.
2. Trajan Langdon & Lynn Greer: These two play for the Dynamo men's team and not only am I shouting them out because I want to wish them luck but also because they introduced me to SKYPE. Its an Internet program that allows me to call home for 2 cents a minute through the computer. The best part is, if someone else has skype you can call each other for free. Its seriously been a life saver!! Otherwise, I would have blown a whole seasons salary on my phone bill alone. Thanks guys!
3. Go Pro Nike Basketball - This is a ball I helped endorse along with Allan Houston, Duke women's coach Gail Goestenkors and Arizona men's coach Lute Olson, in order to help all inspiring shooters fine tune their skills (see picture). I was in a sports store in Russia and to my surprise they were selling these balls! I thought that was pretty cool for some reason
P.S. -- Just in case you were wondering, I took my dad to sushi twice. Come on, would this really be one of my journal entries without a sushi reference?