DubNation Diary: Bravo, Bilbao! Viva Le FIBA!

HOTEL MELIA, BILBAO, SPAIN — Bob Hill is an assistant coach for Ukraine, under head coach Mike Fratello, whose name you might find familiar as the “Czar of the Telestrator” as an analyst for The NBA on TNT and former celebrated coach of the Dominique Wilkins-era Atlanta Hawks.

Hill happens to also have ties with NBA trainer Frank Matrisciano, who made a name for himself as the guy who forced Blake Griffin, among other NBA draftees, to run up the sandy hills of San Francisco’s Fort Funston as part of some pre-Draft training.

That was the summer when I met Hill and invited Jeremy Lin to a few scrimmages at the now-defunct Burlingame Sports Center.

We met briefly before Ukraine’s allotted team meeting time at the Melia’s conference room, official hotel of Group C’s teams — except for USA Basketball’s Men’s National Team (#USABMNT), which was stationed at the swankier Silken Grand Domine (with their own private chef, I heard).

Hill, who resides permanently in San Antonio, where he coached the San Antonio Spurs for two-years-and-some-change, mentioned things were going well for him career-wise and the only matter of note was recently when the team was getting ready in Ukraine’s capital of Kiev during the country’s independence day, and were asked to stay in the hotel for two days straight, a safety precaution should the rebels choose to take advantage of that stage with any range of unpredictable hostilities.

Hill also saved my day by informing me of a mall down the block that had a McDonald’s and Burger King. It’s not that I wanted American fast food, which I rarely consume back in the States, it’s that I knew the mall would have similar establishments that offered some more robust choices at 430pm in the afternoon than those little finger-food-sized pinchos at the various bars lining every boulevard of Bilbao.

So off to the mall I went and found me a Mr. Wok buffet, owned by a Chinese family who originally had immigrated to Bilbao over thirty years ago.

Despite the “hungry man” meal challenges, Bilbao was more than well-equipped for FIBA’s marquee basketball event.

Shops were adorned with basketball stickers, hoops-themed knick-knacks and even special-edition magazines and guides, even if they had translations into English — at least “American English” — a little too literally.

(Photo: LetsGoWarriors.com)

(Photo: LetsGoWarriors.com)

(Photo: LetsGoWarriors.com)

(Photo: LetsGoWarriors.com)

While most of Bilbao’s employees spoke only a few words of broken English, everyone was quite welcoming to FIBA’s patrons. I managed to find a coffee shop run by a British woman and her Spanish-born daughter, right around the corner from my flat.

As for Bilbao, think Portland but more modern, yet with more history. Yep, Bilbao is Portland on steroids. The largest city in the “autonomous community” of Basque has so much to offer and all within walking distance.

Feeling nostalgic? Head over the Zubizuri bridge to Old Town. In search of vibrant nightlife? Poza Lizentziatuaren (Basque spelling) is where it’s at. There’s even a library and full-service gym at Alhondiga and a park with gigantic swans and romantic paths for couples to stroll. I’m sure I’ve left out a few “can’t-misses”. And I haven’t even mentioned the Guggenheim Museum!

Perhaps the coolest modern exhibit I’ve ever seen is “playing there” (a more accurate depiction than “on exhibit there”): The Visitors. Google it. Trust me.

The subway in Bilbao is remarkably easy to figure out, very high tech, and affordable. At 1.70 Euro per one-way trip, it sure put my $4.05 to #Roaracle (#DubNation’s adoring nickname for the Golden State Warriors‘s Oracle Arena). I took it everyday to the arena at Bilbao Exhibition Centre, aka the BEC or, more chic, the “B!E!C!”, as they’ve self-labeled on the outside.

Take the subway out a little further and you’ll find yourself pounding the pavement to some nearby cliffs and beaches by the Bidezabal station.

Be it 15 minutes by foot or by subway or by free (!) bicycle rental — #shotsfired at New York City’s “CitiBikes” — pretty much everything is at your disposal.

Bravo, Bilbao! Bravo, FIBA!

[NOTE: For all your previews, recaps, and other stories from FIBA World Cup #Spain2014 with a Warriors bent, please check out @LetsGoWarriors]

Leave a Reply