Neal Walk describes his experience playing in Puerto Rico. (NBAE Photos)
If my memory serves me, my first thought – as well as those of some of my teammates – was that we were a little bit surprised and full of wonder as to why in the world would we go to Puerto Rico to play the Bucks… on a floor placed between first and third base and over the top of the flattened pitcher’s mound. Usually, in exhibition games you might play a game near the other team’s city, such as playing the Bucks in Green Bay – drawing more fans from the region, exposing your product… But in Puerto Rico? What affiliations were there and whose brainchild was this? At least the weather was better than you’d find in Green Bay at that time of year. Of course, there was the flight to consider which stopped in Miami and made for a long ride to the island. San Juan was and probably still is a lively place, so that wasn’t rough on us. The real fun began with the game. Of course, the whole set up looked weird – a basketball floor across a baseball field. It was much odder than playing in the Super Dome with bleachers pulled up on one side and acres of empty space.
The night was humid and breezy to almost windy, which made for swaying backboards – much like the swaying palms in the distance. The basket seemed to be hanging in the sky. After not having played outdoor ball for at least 7-8 years, it was quite an adjustment to make. But no one really adjusted. I remember taking a shot from the leftwing right in front of Head Coach Bill van Breda Kolff. I heard him say “looking good” but with the swaying rim and breeze, to boot, that ball drifted and was “stay press…” no iron.
Then with the time of year in the tropics, it was quite humid and the sweat dripped and the floor had a mist of dew of its own, so it was slippery. And being an island, there were many seafowl around, and they would land on one end of the floor and then as we ran to that end, they would fly off and then return. I do not think that anyone who participated enjoyed the game very much at all. But many seemed to enjoy the night life of San Juan.
For much more fun, we traveled on a plane that the Wright brothers must have put together. We were going to the other side of the island to a town named Ponce. Now this was much better, we thought. They had a floor and a roof in an actual building… except there were no real sides to the place and the weather that evening was like that of a Category 3 hurricane. So without sides, the place was virtually exposed, and the rain and wind came in on an angle and made for another miserable game. To top it all off, on the plane ride back to San Juan, we encountered some heavy turbulence and with Lamar Green hollering, he wanted off every time the plane was buffeted or dropped in altitude. All I could think of was “Whose @*#*$*) idea was this?” And that he or she should be on this plane. On the upside, we won both games against the Bucks, but it was exhibitions and no one cared and it didn’t count. It is my fervent wish that when our squad plays in Indian Wells, there are no climate anomalies. Indeed a trip to remember.