Monday, October 06, 2008

My Date With Big Gheorghe

*Disclaimer:Sorry for the lack of posts. I was in Ann Arbor all weekend enjoying Mudbowl (post on that forthcoming). Oh yeah, and I decided that because I was going to the Arb that I would just delay all my work for the paper until today (Monday) and Tuesday. Just to give you some perspective, it's 630 on Monday right now and I just completed writing my 15th story of the day. And I think it's safe to assume none will win any sort of awards (well actually maybe one will, hopefully). Now that I'm done venting, back to the regularly scheduled post about, of all people, Gheorghe Muresan.

I think that picture pretty much explains it all in terms of just how surreal my Thursday was last week. Just admire that thing, I'm close to 6-foot-1 and I go up to Gheorghe Muresan's armpit. I was meaning to put this post up sooner, but I wanted to wait until my story in the paper appeared online. It's a good read (at least I hope it is) if you're into the sappy local news stories that appear in small papers all over the country.

So let me give you a little background on this whole experience. I came into the office a few weeks ago to find a message from a local writer. He was calling to promote this new fitness book that he, Gheorghe and Gheorghe's longtime trainer had teamed up to write. Specifically, it was a fitness book for kids.

My immediate reaction was how the hell can Gheorghe Muresan put his name on a fitness book when 1) I wasn't sure if he spoke English and 2)During his NBA career, and more importantly while playing for the Bullets back in the day, he was consistently the last man up and down the court and oftentimes wouldn't even make it across half court on offensive possessions. That's how slow the guy was. But even though I was skeptical, chances to interview people who are 7-feet-7 tall don't come around every day.

When I told the head honcho editor about the possibility of interviewing big Gheorghe, she came up with the novel idea of visiting him at his home since he lives in Potomac, just like me. I called the writer guy back, and since it seems they are pretty desperate for some publicity, big Gheorghe agreed to have me in his home.

That brings us to last Thursday. I drove to his home (about 10 minutes away from mine) with some genuine nerves. To be honest, I wasn't sure what 7-feet-7 was going to look like and I wasn't sure if I was going to get a legitimate interview since Gheorghe is Romanian. And I was quietly hoping for a Behind the Music-type moment where Gheorghe would expose how he went through some kind of drug addiction after My Giant bombed at the box office. As you'll be able to tell, I didn't actually see this.

As soon as I pulled up in his driveway, this giant Great Dane leaped into my car. I'm talking in my lap, licking my face before I had a chance to move. Once I got rid of the canine, I made my way to Gheorghe's door, which to my surprise was no bigger than your average front door.

Of course, the doorbell didn't work and since nobody was responding to my knocking, I began to peer through the side glass into the front hall. Out of nowhere, I hear this booming voice, "Who's looking in my window?" and judging from the giant shadow approaching, it was pretty obvious who the voice belonged to. Maybe when I see some of you reading this in person later, I'll admit to not being scared. But thinking back to that moment, I'll admit I definitely wasn't confident.

Gheorghe opened the door with a huge grin on his face, and almost immediately put his arm around my shoulder. I'm assuming this is a tried and true method for making others feel comfortable around him since, well, he is 7-feet-7 tall. And it worked, because it broke the tension. We sat down and started the interview from there.

One of my first questions was about the legitimacy of this fitness book, and I even cited the example of him not getting across half court. This is where I learned Gheorghe is much more than just a buffoon giant basketball player. His response was:

“You read the book and you’ll see why you should trust me. If you read the book, you’re going to see there are the right exercises in the book. I work out under the trainers, and good trainers, for 15 years. I work out with program, I don’t just go to the gym to work out. No way. For me, it was dangerous to go into the gym and just work out. All the time, when I go to work out, I have a trainer with me. I have a couple different trainers. Those trainers made me play in the NBA. My rookie year, I don’y play that much, but I worked with those trainers the most during that year. I work in the weight room, basketball court and agility and this make me to stay fit, to help with confidence in myself, and to be all the time prepared.”

As you can probably tell, Gheorghe speaks English but with a pretty thick accent. You can definitely understand him, though. And although he gets stares wherever he goes due to his height, he's a pretty normal guy. He's got two kids, a wife, he runs a basketball clinic company, and works for the Wizards as a suite ambassador (basically he schmoozes with the VIPs at Wiz home games). That's what my story in the paper is about. A normal guy in an abnormal body.

Now I didn't pass up the chance to talk a little hoops with Gheorghe. I asked him about Gilbert. He said he's just every other Wizards fan, who is anxious to see if Gil can come back fully healthy. I asked him who he thought the team to beat in the NBA was this year. He said the Houston Rockets. He made a good point about how Tracy McGrady won't have to play defense anymore because they have Artest to cover the opponent's best player now. I also made sure to ask him about that Bullets team from 1997 that made the playoffs only to lose to the Bulls in three games. His response: "Jordan was good".

I specifically mentioned Webber and Michigan in that convo, too. When I asked what he thought about CWebb taking money in college, he just shrugged and said "We all like money." I found it kind of weird that he didn't have much basketball memorabilia in his house. Or at least I didn't see any. I was hoping for some random pictures of him with someone who you totally wouldn't think of ... like Donald Trump or something. I was at least expecting something of him and Billy Crystal since they starred in My Giant together.

All in all, it was a pretty unique experience with a fairly intelligent guy. He really is just a normal Romanian immigrant trying to raise his family. He lives and breathes for his kids. There's a tree house that he claims he built for them. I asked if he needed to use a ladder to build it. He laughed and said "No way." He's even got this jumbo-sized bike (it really is the largest bike I've ever seen) so he can chase his kids around the yard. I tried to convince him to ride it so the photographer could take a picture of him doing it, but he was too smart for that. If I had convinced him, that thing would have been priceless.

But that's really it. Except he's nicer because he has to be. People like me would be scared of him if he wasn't. I guess I'll leave you with a final word from my interview:

“Right now, the life I live right now because I can see my kids do their homework and take care of the kids. I can spend more time with my wife and my kids. But I miss traveling, I miss that action with the team sometimes. I’m not crazy, I don’t cry, but I sometimes I miss this action. When I play ball, every morning I wake up 730, eat breakfast, and I go to practice. I miss that, going to practice. And what I miss the most is that energy after I have a good workout. When you are in good shape, you have a good workout, you take a shower, an hour later you have a lot of energy, this is what I miss.”

“I tell you, if I have to trade between my family and traveling, no way. Because I can go to the gym when my kids are in school and have fun with my family. Sometimes we play basketball, play a little racquetball, and then have a sauna and shower. Then we go home.

Sounds like a pretty good life to me.

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