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Leigh Ellis quits his job to play pick-up hoops world wide


For greater than a decade, Leigh Ellis went to extraordinary, and self-deprecating, lengths to share her ardour for basketball. The previous NBA TV persona and standard podcaster consumed scorching peppers, donned a moist swimsuit and even shaved his chest in varied on-air stunts as he sought to deliver a lighter tone to the discourse.

However the quirky 46-year-old Australian had severe chops, too, due to an encyclopedic data of gamers relationship again to the late Nineteen Eighties and an old-school philosophical method to the sport, formed throughout his travels to 40 nations. Ellis uncorked his signature catchphrase — “very stable play” — to reward bounce passes, backdoor cuts and below-the-rim finishes which may not make it onto “SportsCenter’s” High 10. A lifelong pickup participant, Ellis had fastidiously thought-about nearly each facet. of the game, and his ideas on how three-point contest contributors ought to arrange their ball racks as soon as led to a personal capturing session with Golden State Warriors star Stephen Curry.

Ellis surprised his colleagues and listeners in October, then, when he joined the Nice Resignation, abruptly saying his departure from “No Dunks,” the Athletic’s flagship NBA podcast, with out lining up one other job in sports activities media. Whereas touring along with his spouse, Roxana, and his two younger sons through the offseason, Ellis concluded that he had soured on many points of the NBA grind. After taping greater than 2,500 reveals over the previous 11 years, he felt that the common season was far too lengthy, load administration had run amok and a variety of superstars had misplaced contact with the common fan.

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“Anthony Davis can solely ever play for 2 weeks at a time,” Ellis stated by phone from Europe final week. “James Harden wished respect for giving again $7 million in free company. Kevin Durant stated to fireplace everybody in Brooklyn. These types of men do not encourage me anymore. Perhaps that is an age factor. If you’re a child, you look as much as these guys as heroes. Now you take a look at them and also you go, ‘What the f— is improper with this man?’ The NBA season does not have the identical spark.”

Though Ellis was burned out on the NBA, basketball remained a driving power in his life. He had arrange a pickup sport in Barcelona over the summer time and posted about it on social media, and invites to play poured into his direct messages from Portugal to Pakistan. As he ready to depart what had lengthy been his dream job, Ellis cultivated a brand new dream.

What if he may take up all of the Instagrammers on their affords? Why not journey the globe, manage runs, hang around with the locals, take in their basketball tales, eat their delicacies after which doc all of it on video and social media? Thus started Ellis’s self-funded “20 Cities, 20 International locations, 20 Video games” international basketball tour. In latest weeks, he is bounced by way of Germany, Slovenia, Croatia, Serbia and Greece, eschewing fancy indoor gyms for out of doors courts at each cease.

“I do not know if I can flip this right into a profession, however I wish to discover out,” he stated. “If I do not do that now, it isn’t going to occur. Nobody was going to return to me with this concept and ask me if I wished to do it. The one means was to make a clear break and dive in head first. I felt like I needed to attempt it.”

When Ellis laid out his admittedly unfinished plans to his longtime podcast companions, they have been supportive however shocked and a bit of skeptical about how he would financially maintain the venture. JE Skeets, the co-host of “No Dunks,” had lengthy referred to Ellis as “the Worldwide Man of Thriller” due to his circuitous life journey from Sunbury, a suburb of Melbourne, to London in his 20s, to Toronto in his 30s, after which to Atlanta, the place he presently resides. Provided that background, and Ellis’s tales of taking part in pickup in Brazil, Egypt, Mexico and Peru through the years, Skeets understood why some followers envision him changing into basketball’s reply to Anthony Bourdain.

“Are you having a midlife disaster? As an alternative of shopping for a Corvette, you are touring the world to play basketball,” Skeets stated. “However after a minute of serious about it, I noticed that this was Leigh Ellis. He takes probabilities in life. I’d like to journey the world and play pickup. That is why it resonates with folks. Not a whole lot of us can do it. It is ballsy.”

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Ellis’s public announcement of his tour drew a whole lot of recent invitations from Nepal, Sierra Leone and in all places in between, and he instantly set to work on potential itineraries. How lengthy he can keep in movement stays to be seen.

Along with juggling his obligations as a husband and father, he’s performing as his personal journey agent, location scout, reserving supervisor, occasion planner, public relations chief, content material creator, video editor and, after all, capturing guard. He is acquired assist from a photographer and has relied on connections and suggestions from his 29,000 Instagram followers, however he is largely a one-man band. Whereas Ellis hopes to draw sponsors or flip the journey right into a sequence for a streaming service or appeal to sponsors, his foremost focus has been preempting a lifetime of regrets.

“I am not afraid of failing at this venture,” he stated. “I am extra afraid of sitting in the identical job in 10 years wishing that I had performed this. Journey is the most effective life expertise. You possibly can’t educate touring, you’ll be able to solely study. Each time you get up, you’ll be able to say that you simply did one thing for the primary time. ”

Already, there have been some notable successes. Ellis went to a raucous five-hour barbecue dinner with Sasha Doncic, father of Dallas Mavericks star Luka Doncic, and met Biserka Petrovic for a go to to the museum devoted to her son, former NBA star Dražen Petrovic, who died tragically in 1993. Damjan Rudez, a Croatian ahead who spent three seasons within the NBA from 2014 to 2017, supplied a tour of his childhood dwelling, full with tea brewed with leaves grown on the household farm.

Ellis has compiled a cultural catalog alongside the way in which. The shot-happy, full-court, five-on-five video games he was accustomed to at Atlanta’s Underwood Hills Park have given strategy to a pass-and-move fashion within the Balkans, the place three-on-three video games are the norm. The 5-foot-11 Ellis has needed to adapt to the quicker sport, and a latest opponent appreciated him to Warriors star Klay Thompson due to his dependable jumper from him. Throughout intense mixed-gender video games in Barcelona over the summer time, he seen that the ladies have been usually as bodily within the paint as the lads. In Germany, he marveled on the agency metallic rims and chain hyperlink nets that have been constructed to final a long time, whatever the climate. In Belgrade, he took to a spongy courtroom floor that was simpler on the knees than typical concrete.

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After months of working from an remoted dwelling workplace through the coronavirus pandemic, Ellis’s life has abruptly change into a sequence of likelihood encounters with fellow pickup fanatics and meetups along with his loyal followers. Boshko Shukovic, a Serbian basketball coach, stated that he was “heartbroken” when Ellis left “No Dunks” and was so excited to fulfill his favourite podcaster in Belgrade that he had “jitters” for days forward. Shukovic launched Ellis to a courtroom contained in the Kalemegdan fortress, and he broke out a brand new pair of sneakers for the run. That evening, the assembled hoopers traded tales about Serbia’s basketball historical past and Ellis’s NBA experiences.

“Leigh approached me and gave me such a heat, welcoming, heartfelt hug,” Shukovic stated in a sequence of textual content messages. “He at all times felt so real on the present, and I used to be ashamed for pondering he is perhaps completely different in actual life. Inside just a few possessions, he felt like he was considered one of us and we have been his associates. Leigh was only a righteous dude.”

Ellis is cautious to notice that he isn’t working away from his actual life in Atlanta, and that his spouse supplied her full blessing earlier than he acquired severe about his tour. He is given himself six to 12 months to show his touring act right into a viable enterprise earlier than he considers a extra typical job to pay the mortgage.

Both means, he’s savoring his first prolonged break after almost 30 years of nonstop working. Another person can fear about whether or not LeBron James and the Los Angeles Lakers will make the playoffs, or whether or not the Brooklyn Nets ought to commerce Durant. Ellis, who retains his classic Allen Iverson sweatbands inside arm’s attain, has one other sport to get to and one other stamp so as to add to his passport.

“Nearly in all places I’m going, I do not communicate the language of the folks on the courtroom,” he stated. “However basketball brings us collectively. You possibly can go from being a stranger to a teammate in two seconds. There is a sure understanding and chemistry that comes in a short time. In the event you make the precise play or the precise cross, or hit a game-winner, you bond and it simply leaves you with an amazing feeling. That is basketball at its purity.”

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