SOMEWHERE IN EUROPE — HeLP! I Am LOcKed in A bAseMent aND my hANds aRE tiEd aND my mOUth IS gagged aND I AM wRiting tHIs WITh my toEs oN a tYPewriter and aLL beCAuse my BOss toLD HIS hENCHmen to maKE sure tHAt no maTTer wHAt I diDN’t sneak off and go BACk to tHAt hORRibly expenSIve IdITArod– Wait! Just kidding!

Last time I said something like that, my boss was so swamped by mail, we didn’t see him for a month. Which was kind of nice. But the truth is, we can’t blame him. Not this time.

Though even now, thousands of miles away, I hear the call of the Alaskan wild, the howling of the dogs, the urging of my trusty bush pilot, Old Jim Okonek, saying to me, “Go ahead, step in it, it’s not deep . . .” I will not be returning to The Last Great Race on Earth.

Not this year.

Oh, I love the Iditarod all right. Especially the part about showering in an igloo with frozen soap. A man can’t do that enough, if you ask me. But, like a first kiss, some things can never be repeated.

Besides, last year was mush. And this year is . . .

. . . Manicotti!

That’s right. While contemplating what to say to Susan Butcher if she asks me, “Ruff, grrr, ruff, ruff?” I stumbled upon these phone numbers: Rick Mahorn. In Italy. Adrian Dantley. In Italy. Darryl Dawkins. In Italy.

And I’m thinking, Italy, foreign country, great stories, temperatures above zero . . .

And suddenly, I am off to the Land of Pasta and Pisa for a new adventure: To see how Americans play basketball once a week for millions of dollars in a country full of people who can’t understand a thing they’re saying, including the referees. This is gonna be fun.

True, Italy is not the Iditarod.

But they do have hot water.

(Mitch Albom’s series on American basketball stars in Italy will begin Monday, March 9. Or as soon as we locate him.)

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