Summer in the DR
James Maye is in his 14th year of playing professional basketball overseas. He has played for teams in 16 countries throughout every continent. He also is a member of the Dominican Republic National Basketball Team. He talks about his hoop journey and the ups and down of this past season in the Dominican Republic.
“IT’S BEEN A LONG SUMMER!”
The summers of most players revolve around spending time with loved ones, traveling, and enjoying the fruits of their labor. Offseason we call it… meaning that we still workout but we allow our bodies to get in “out-of-season” mode. Water is traded for alcohol, healthy meals for junk food, and late night film sessions for simply late nights! For the majority, that’s what their summer entails. Just not mine.
Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic… hot sun, extraordinary beaches, and fine women are the three things going through your heads right now. But Santo Domingo is a city, not far from the beach, but a city… the city that I have made my second home since about 7 years ago when I started playing there during the summers. I might as well be a native… oh wait, I am, sort of, depending on what your definition of native is. They told me I’m Dominican now. I mean, I know the history, I play with the national team representing the country, yo hablo español, and I can’t get enough of that damn food. Obtaining dual citizenship as a player is one of the best things that I have done… carrying both American and Dominican passports. Not the fake ones that some guys used to pay $500 to $1000 for. A real one… with stamps in it… that comes up in the system when swiped. Playing as a local instead of an import always has its perks… well, almost always! I don’t have to be the best player on the team like an import does, although they hold me to that standard anyway. I don’t have to worry so much about being released as quickly for poor play either. Locals, or natives, are usually secure. Or are we?
June 28th… the day El Capitán landed in Santo Domingo this summer. El Capitán. That’s me. Anxiety had been wearing on my sleeve for weeks having originally being slated to have arrived 20 days earlier. With a pregnant wife at home, I had decided to use the supposed “3 weeks until June 8” at home after Puerto Rico to focus more on her and less on basketball. After all, in 13 years, I never really took a break and more importantly, I hadn’t seen her for the first few months of her pregnancy and was going to be gone for the rest of the summer. It was only right. 3 weeks they told me… 3 weeks of preseason tailored just for me as soon as I was to arrive on June 8. Owner approved… with pay! 10 days one-on-one with a personal trainer. Join in with the rest of the team on the 18th to work myself in for only the evening half of 2 a days while also keeping up morning workouts with the trainer. Then transition into full team activity 5 days before tipoff. Again, all of this was “owner” approved.
He spoke of championships and dynasty, this guy. New owner… for the first time since I had been on my team, my same team for which I played all of my years, we had a new owner. Not the guys that I was used to, that I had known, that I grew with. I was with this team when they were on the bottom. I grew with them as they with me. Together… we slowly rose to the top having come within a few minutes of a championship 2 years in a row. Those damn game 7s. This guy had expectations when he came in. Running his mouth. Everything sounded of gold. Who wouldn’t want to be a part of this? That’s what he thought. You could tell this guy was new.
We started on the wrong foot. Rumors spread as six of us walked into practice hours after we arrived. Half of the team. 4 starters. Possibly the best 6th man in the league. And an over-talented rookie who would come off the bench. Why did we arrive 3 weeks late? Money issues they said. But surely we had never had that problem. And this new owner, he had money! Well, his family did. The season started after two days of practice. We had the best team on paper but the worst chemistry on the court. Only 3 players remained from the back-to-back finals run and I was one of them. The leader. The captain. It took us a couple weeks to get ourselves together after dropping the first few games. One payday had passed with another quickly approaching. Meal money was steady but salary was another story. Rumors of budget tightness spread and a move had to be made. Negotiations of trade rumors arose and I was right in the middle of it. Me for cash? After 7 years? Thoughts of spending my whole Dominican career in one place now in jeopardy. I understood that it was business but damn, everything I built. They owed me… and I felt some kind of way like D Wade did departing from the Miami Heat. Luckily, or unluckily, depending on how you view it, it ended with a different outcome. Our owner defaulted and the league took over the team.
The organization, as was our play, was up and down. Then we caught a run. Smack. Smack. Smack. Smack. 4 in a row and working on 5. The more time that passed without pay, the more anger arose… and that anger… translated to the court. We couldn’t be stopped, or so we thought. You see, when the league takes over, they control everything. Remember when the league-owned the New Orleans Hornets and they vetoed the trade of Chris Paul to the Lakers. Yeah… that was nothing. Influencers basically put a bounty on our heads. Refs were “influenced” to edge us out of winning games. And they got active very quickly. The next game was taken from us on the road in overtime. I remember before the game started somebody telling me not to be surprised of the outcome. I guess I didn’t listen. I was furious.
It was just the beginning. Over the next five days, there was a consistency never seen before. 5 players in 5 days. Not coming in… going out. They fired a player each day for the next five until we were basically depleted. The rookie got hurt as well. Fired the general manager, his assistant and all other office personnel. I was still there though. I couldn’t be moved and I knew that. I wasn’t there because they wanted. If they had a choice, I would’ve been the first gone. But I was the face. One of the faces of the team. Like any other time the league owns a team, it’s like the bank holding a foreclosed home. They weren’t in it to keep us. They had us by default. Abandoned. Left on their doorstep. We would be sold once the season ended. And they needed the “faces” for marketing purposes.
I still had my American center. And another veteran starter who also plays national team. He was our 4 man. The other face of the team. We had enough… just not enough to beat 5 players and 3 refs… not every night. It came to the last two games of the regular season. We needed both to make the playoffs. Playoffs meant more money… more for us… more the league would have to pay us… which wasn’t what they wanted. I hadn’t been shooting particularly well but I was still gunning for it. We were gunning for it.
The game before, our 4-man was conveniently tossed out with 20 seconds left… at home. So much for home cooking. Automatic one game suspension. So the first of the last two, although at home, would be very difficult. There was one option… to put me as the 4. I mostly played 2, sometimes 3. Now they needed me at the 4 and I accepted the challenge. With nothing to lose, and after putting up 22 points with 17 rebounds while playing out of position, we won the game. I had never grabbed that many rebounds in my life.
The last game of the season was on the road. We started rough. Got down early. Hung around with about a 10-point deficit. I couldn’t buy a bucket. I was like 1-for-life midway through the 3rd quarter. Then it happened. I crossed over and got bumped into a one-leg fade… near the short corner… on the baseline… out of bounds… from behind the backboard… and hit it! Flame on. Within a minute, I scored 8 points and sparked a comeback that ended in victory in the last 30 seconds.
The emotion flowed through our veins as the clock wound down. We had done it. Us… and all of our fans that were present… all 20 of them… 17 family members of one of my teammates plus 3 stragglers. The arena was quiet outside of our screams and running footsteps through the hall to the locker room. We dumped the water out on the coach and chanted as we jumped up and down. Making the playoffs was a small feat to some… but with all the odds and everyone against us… for us… it was a huge accomplishment. No matter what circumstances you are under, sometimes, if you set a goal and reach it, you too can feel as though you won the championship. We didn’t, but hey, we could finally breathe again.
It’s been a long summer!