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Brazzil - Sports - July 2004

Brazilian NBA Star Shines Back Home

Brazilian-born Nenê, a basketball star in the U.S., went to Brazil
for an NBA-sponsored program involving sports and education.
He talked about his happiness to be seen as a role model in
Brazil. Despite all his enthusiasm for Denver, however, he is
having problem with the food and took his own cook from Brazil.

Luis Waldmann


Picture Beside the towering Sugar Loaf Mountain and the still, blue expanse of the Guanabara Bay, Denver Nuggets' Brazilian-born Nenê took part last week in an NBA-sponsored program in Rio de Janeiro, spanning five days of basketball and social activities.

Alongside New York Knicks' Dikembe Mutombo and fellow countryman Leandro Barbosa of the Phoenix Suns, Nenê told youngsters about education, HIV prevention, and as one could imagine, he taught them basketball.

"It's nice to have the kids seeing me as a role model," Nenê said during the Basketball Without Borders Americas program in Rio de Janeiro. "I'm doing my part and that's the reward."

In light of his help in thrusting the Nuggets into the playoffs for the first time since 1995, Nenê acknowledges that his popularity back in his home country has ballooned.

"It's not only one or two people that know me anymore, but the whole of Brazil," he said.

In order to chase his long dream of playing in the American National Basketball Association (NBA), Nenê had to leave behind his beloved Brazil. He pinpoints the English language and the American culture as the most daunting barriers upon arriving in the United States.

"When you leave your country, you lose the people that support you," Nenê said. "But I'm adapting well and getting used to it."

Although he now feels more confident with his English, he still has a bit of a hard time coping with the culture. According to him, Americans "are very rigid, too uptight compared to Brazilians."

Nenê's feelings towards Denver, where he has been living for two years, are nothing short of enthusiastic. He even considers the weather comparable to that of São Carlos (São Paulo state), his hometown in Brazil. "But only when it's not snowing," he added.

Despite all the good vibes with Denver, his aversion to American food is unlikely to be addressed anytime soon. To this end, Nenê even brought his own cook from Brazil. "She cooks everything Brazilian at home." Nenê said.

As the competition within the Nuggets' roster stiffened in the last season, Nenê concedes it has become harder for him to excel. Nevertheless, he claims to be in good terms with all of his teammates, including NBA Rookie of the Year, Carmelo Anthony.

"Carmelo is a child just like me," Nenê said fondly. "He is always smiling, even looks like a Brazilian."

Nenê's 4-year contract with the Denver Nuggets ends next year. Although it was signed in 2002, the Nuggets hold the option whether to keep him for a fourth season.

"I was told that the entire team wants [me to stay]," Nenê said. "If I play well this year, they will renew it automatically."

Luis Waldmann welcomes your comments at l.wald@br.inter.net.

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