We arrived in the capital city of Tirana in the early evening. The truth was, we didn’t really do any research on what to do in Albania. As a result, we did what we always do – hit the street courts and try to play ball with the locals.
Luckily, there was a court in walking distance from our hostel. As we walked through the darkening streets of Tirana we grasped our first taste of Albanian culture, as well as realized that we were nearly the only foreigners. By the time we arrived to the courts it was dark.
“I wonder if there is anyone playing?” the four of us asked one another as we turned the last corner before we hit the black top. Boom! 30 plus Albanian hoopers we’re running the court. Four on four half court with two games going on at a time. Winner stays, kings court. Originally, no English.
The floor general? An older man in a wheelchair that collected money for using the courts as well as managed who got to play next. My friend Munzy, who’s known to hit you with his nasty hook shot, went up to the floor general and asked if we could play next. We waited. 20 minutes. 30 minutes. An hour had passed by and we still hadn’t stepped foot on the court.
Finally, one of the players on the winning team said “where are you from?” we quickly responded with “Canada, can we play?”. He replied with “ok Drake, you get one game but if you lose you have to leave”. Thankfully for us we showed up to play. An hour later we had won 6 games straight and made a dozen new friends.
What was remarkable was the bond that we quickly adopted with our Albanian opponents. Many spoke little English, well others spoke English very well. Despite having entirely different cultures, languages, and backgrounds one thing was true – we all loved hoops and we all felt unified that we grew up across the globe and were brought together through our passion for a ball and a net.
Our new friends welcomed us on and off the court. After hoops they showed us what Albanian night life is all about and I can proudly say I will always have friends in Tirana!