Following is an excerpt from JR Holden’s memories – a book available soon called “Blessed Footsteps”. After the excerpt is ordering information as well as how one can get a rebate by pre-ordering the book.
A Leap of Faith
A month or so after graduation, while sitting at home unsure of what I was going to do next, I got two offers to play ball. That should be a great thing, right? Wrong. I did not accept either offer. One agent, Michael Garner, got me a deal for $1,200 a month to play ball in Hungary. I said, “No way, that money isn’t worth it. I have a Bucknell degree.”
Then I got a call from another agent, Harold Woolfolke, around the same time offering me a deal in Holland, or somewhere like that for $1,500 a month. Again, I said, “No way. No need to go that far away from home for that little money.” I mean no disrespect to the offers or the teams trying to provide me with an opportunity to play professional ball, but I thought I could get a 9-to-5 job right here in the United States for more money.
Consequently, I didn’t sign with either agent. I don’t believe they were pressed to have me as a client. I wanted someone who really wanted me. I wanted an agent who believed in me and thought I could excel at the professional level. I didn’t want to be an afterthought. I have always been an afterthought as a basketball player.
A week before my 22nd birthday, my mom came to me and said it was time to start looking for a real job. Plain and simple, she said that it was time to be a man. She was right, and I decided that chasing this basketball dream was for the birds. I would start looking for a job the day after my birthday.
To my surprise, the day I started looking for a job, I got a call from a man named Petri, from Sweden. He said that if I had a passport, then he had a basketball offer for me. I told him I had a passport. He said that he had looked up my career on-line after reading some information about me. I said, “Well, I’m glad you looked me up,” and asked him where I was going to play. He said that it was only a try-out, but I would have to leave the next day if I wanted to do it. I told him that was no problem. He said they would pay me $400 for the try-out week. Then, if they liked me, I would sign a contract worth $30,000. I thought to myself, “Hell yes, better than a real job.” Before hanging up the phone, he said he would call me in a few hours with the details about the flight. I jumped off the phone and ran upstairs to my room to start packing. I didn’t have any suitcases so I grabbed my trunk from college. I figured this would only last for one week anyway – taking my trunk would be fine. Plus, I didn’t have the money to go buy suitcases.
I didn’t even know where the hell I was going or if this basketball offer was real. After that quick reality check, I decided to wait until he called me back before I started to pack in earnest. I called my then girlfriend, Nicole, and told her about the phone call I had just received. She was excited and started preparing me for the next time Petri called. She gave me a list of questions to ask, a fax number he could send any information to, and a list of other things that she had on her mind. I then told my mom, sister, and Darius about Petri. They were happy, but they were fearful and unsure of what was going on. I didn’t blame them for how they felt; I really didn’t know what was going on either. But, true to his word, Petri called me back an hour or so later with the details of the offer.
Petri said that I would be going to Riga, Latvia, to try out for one of the top teams in Latvia. He told me to pack for a few months, just in case I made the team. I wouldn’t be able to come home until November or December if I made the team. I was happy, shocked, and fearful all at once, listening to him on the phone. I was in such a daze that I forgot to ask him the questions that Nicole had suggested. I just said yes and OK to everything and got off the phone. Quite stunned, I sat on my bed in my room for about half an hour before I started packing.
I had been to Europe before to play ball, but this was different. This was my life, my future – a job was on the line this time. I had no idea where Latvia was located, or what I needed to survive there. It didn’t matter anyway because I could only pack the belongings that I had. This was about surviving; I just needed enough stuff to survive. I just kept saying over and over in my head, “This is it. This is my chance to make it out of Pittsburgh. I don’t know where I am going or what I am doing, but I am getting out of here and this is my starting line.”
As I got on the plane for Riga, I was the most nervous I had ever been.
Riga is the capital of Latvia, situated on the Baltic Sea coast, on the mouth of the river Daugava. It’s the largest city in the Baltic States.
I had traveled before, but not for a job – not to become a professional basketball player. As I walked onto the plane with jitters, I realized that I had 12 to 15 hours to think about this journey. I reached my seat in the back of the plane and discovered that I was the only black person on the flight. Right away it hit me – I was doing this alone. Part of me wanted to run – I couldn’t do it. I heard the flight attendant say that the door would close in a moment and reality set in; this journey has begun!
Unable to sleep and cramped in coach class, the 12-hour flight felt like three days of cross-county driving in a pinto. I’m not the tallest guy in the world – 6’ 0” – but coach class and flying that far killed my knees. By the time the plane landed, I was exhausted. All I wanted to do was sleep.
Unaware of my surroundings, I was on edge. I hoped everything would be OK. After grabbing my trunk from baggage claim, I felt alarmed. I thought, “What if no one was there to pick me up?” I had $150 in cash, one Discover credit card that I could put $500 on, and that was it. I guess at the very least I could get on the next flight back home if worst came to worst. I started to relax a bit as I walked and heard a voice say, “Jon-Robert.” I looked back, and he smiled as he said my name again. He said my name with a bit of an accent – not too strong, but strong enough.
I thought to myself, “Who is he and does he work for the team?” He shook my hand and introduced himself as Edger Sneps. He was a smooth looking dude, real friendly and hospitable. As we walked to his car I felt like I was in a time machine. Everything looked so old and out of date. We got into a mid-sized vehicle that didn’t look too shabby compared with the other foreign, old, dirty-looking cars in the airport parking lot. As he drove me to the gym we had a light-hearted conversation. I looked out of the window and thought, “Where the hell am I? And what have I gotten myself into?”
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Pre-orders for the 208 page book – priced at $19.999 through BFS Publishing – are already being taken for worldwide sales starting January 11, 2011. For those interested, send heinnews an email – firstname.lastname@example.org – and in collaboration with JR we are offering a $5 discount if you order before January 1, 2011 for a purchase price of $14.99.