If you are fan of Leandro Barbosa, don’t expect to spot him at a posh night club or hidden behind the tinted glass of a lux car cruising the streets of downtown. You have a better chance finding him on the side of the road helping someone change a flat tire.
Leandro Barbosa signs his autograph for a fan at the Celebrity Waiters charity event. (NBAE Photos)
Or helping a bewildered soccer mom find a paint brush in the dizzying isles of Home Depot. Or he’s helping the frightened lady next door kill a scorpion with his size 12 shoe. He’s just that kind.
I know this because my wife and I attended the annual Celebrity Waiters charity event at Barcelona restaurant in Scottsdale. The main attraction, of course, was the chance for fans to interact with their favorite Suns players. Boris Diaw dealt cards at the poker table, Brian skinner mixed drinks as a bartender, and rumor has it that Amare played one-on-one with some lucky fans.
I don’t know what Leandro was supposed to do, but I know he never got to his post because the fans wouldn’t let him get through. I stood back and watched the commotion. Everyone was happy and frantic, waiving their camera phones at his face, yelling his name, giving him basketballs to sign. His handlers were given the job of bringing him from Point A to B, but Leandro was reluctant to leave the room. He was patient and kind, making time for everyone. This went on for over twenty minutes.
Finally his handlers pulled him towards the exit. Leandro stepped out, then turned back to the fans that still wanted to meet him. He looked each person in the eyes and, with his Brazilian accent, comforted everyone by saying. “Don’ woorry, I will be righ’ back.” Then he put his hands forward as if to remind people not to move and said again, “I will be righ’ back.” He hesitated, then turned to back towards the door. The fans smiled and waved goodbye as Leandro disappeared out the door and into another crowd. It was like they were saying goodbye to their best friend.
Leandro is the fastest man in the NBA, and he’s quickly becoming one of our top scorers (not bad for a man who rarely starts the game.) He is a threat to each team that encounters our Suns on the court. He’s just that good. In every post-game interview (he’s been getting a lot of them lately), Leandro always defers praise to his team. It’s not the predictable false humility you hear all day in ordinary life, but authentic humility matched with gratitude. It was a special moment for me to witness Leandro’s character in greater intensity off the court. He’s just that kind.
I guess this is what was special about the Celebrity Waiters event, and why I’ll come back every year–you get a chance to see the personalities of the players come to life. You get closer to the magic that’s made Phoenix such a fun city.
If all goes well, Barbosa will retire after many years in the NBA and run for mayor of Phoenix. When he does, I’ll be right there with him as his campaign manager. I’ll be handing out campaign buttons that read: Leandro Barbosa: A Name You Can Trust.
Matt Smith moved from New York City to Phoenix in 2001. He caught one Suns game on TV in 2004 and has been hooked ever since. Flip on MTV and you might spot Matt in some re-runs of The Real World and Road Rules Challenge. Check out his website: www.supafly.com