Atlanta basketball player overcomes cultural differences


Charlie Frierson, a professional basketball player, says playing basketball overseas as an American is not quite what it seems to the public eye.

“I dislike the uncertainty of the situation at all times,” said Frierson, “It’s a gift and a curse at the same time. Playing overseas is super cutthroat.”

It’s not quite like the National Basketball Association.

Most of the Americans who go overseas to play do not have a concrete secure job or contract. They rarely speak the language and need a translator everywhere they go to eat and shop and understand the coach and local players. The perks include a good salary; while not NBA money, it is all untaxed and sometimes paid in cash.

Frierson, 32, is a 6-foot-6 shooting guard and started playing overseas in 2007 for the Turun KMKY in Finland, and has played overseas for most of his professional basketball career.  Frierson played for two different schools in college, Youngstown State and Dominican College.

He had a tryout for the Atlanta Hawks coming out of college but was cut on the final day of tryouts. He is very proud of where he is at with basketball and how far he has come. He last played in Bolivia for Lasalle and is currently playing for San Juan in Chile.

Frierson lives in Atlanta during the off-season.

One thing he makes clear is that playing overseas, missing home and family back in the United States is a big obstacle to overcome.  He also emphasizes that there is the reward of continuing to play basketball at a high level and getting paid to do what you love.

“In non-Spanish speaking countries it is tough to interact with coaches and players, but playing-wise it’s easy because basketball is universal,” says Frierson.

The language barrier can be tough for some players to overcome. For some players, an English translator is assigned, and he follows the American everywhere they go so he can translate everyday interactions of the locals in that particular country.

In other cases translators are not an option. Kendrick Jones of Atlanta, who is currently deciding to play in South America or Europe, has played nine seasons overseas. Sometimes he had translators and sometimes he did not.

“There are certain things that are helpful for Americans to adjust to the culture,” said Jones. “Like having pictures of food on restaurant menus so you can just point to the food you want to order.”

The absence of a translator can affect the player and the way they play and interact in games.

“When there are concerns you want to express to the coach without a translator it is hard because you can’t fully express or get across what you want to,” Jones says.

The general consensus in the basketball world is basketball culture overseas is different in the way the fans interact and how some fouls and violations are called. It is perceived that fans there are a lot more flamboyant and passionate.

“In general the game is played more physically than in the United States,” said Jones. “The fans will throw stuff onto the court at a bad call from the referee.”

In essence playing overseas is not for everyone and is dependent on the person. There is a high risk and high reward for playing overseas. The cultures may vary and the language barrier is always there, but if the person is OK with being away from family for long periods of time, it can work.

“Playing overseas is not as easy as you think but you are still living your dream of playing basketball as a profession,” says Frierson. “If you are lucky enough to play overseas, embrace every moment of it.”


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