Never imagining that there was anything that could draw me away from my career as an aspiring college basketball coach, alas a non-profit organization called People-to-People International did just that. Created in 1956 by President Eisenhower to promote international friendship and goodwill through grassroots people-to-people exchanges, in 1991 it made the error in judgement of hiring me as its Director of Sports Programs.
Talk about having the world opened up before you! Before I knew it I was in Moscow for their first-ever American football "super bowl." As the USSR was crumbling, all manner of officials from the Olympic committees of the newly formed members of the CIS to their university sports system wanted a meeting with this American from People-to-People...as if I was from the White House or something!
Only a month later, I lost a men's ice hockey team who were on the last flight into St. Petersburg when the coup against Gorbachev happened. Literally for a week, there was no communication in or out of the country. I had mothers, wives, girlfriends, ringing my phone off the hook, sick with worry, and I had nothing to tell them. Gulp!
Soon enough the globetrotting would include a basketball tournament in Cuba to help prepare their national team for their first opponent in the qualifying tournament of the 1992 Olympics, The Dream Team! Not long after it would be a basketball barnstorming tour from mainland Spain to the Canary Islands to play Croatia in what would prove to be NBA star Drazen Petrovic's last game before his tragic death.
For all the basketball we were involved with, I would just call on old coaching friends to lead the tours. Still a young fella myself, I usually tried to select young assistant coaches who were on the verge of being ready to get their first head coaching jobs. Maybe the tour could help elevate their profile in the profession a little. Who knew? Lofty but worthwhile.
Then over an adult beverage with my old college lacrosse teammate, Bob Leary, the guy who guarded me everyday in practice, we thought: Why not lacrosse to Australia? So I rummaged through as many old directories and guide books as I could find (what's an internet?) and made all sorts of calls to different sports governing bodies -- even to the Aussie consulate in New York. From all this, I managed to "harvest" about half a dozen fax numbers (which was an astonishing new technology) and fired away. Lo and behold some wonderfully generous leaders at the Australian Lacrosse Council (looking at you Peter Hobbs) allowed us to participate as an exhibition team in their 1993 Under-18 national championship tournament. Instead of bye day, each of the Aussie state teams would play People-to-People's Team America. Needless to say, it was incredible...and it's been incredible ever since.