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."
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 email@example.com.