- The Washington Times - Monday, February 12, 2001

Mr. World 2001 also known as Uruguayan TV sports broadcaster Ignacio Kliche came to the United States to immerse himself in the world of American basketball, where the players are as tall as sequoias and their salaries equal the budgets of developing countries.

A male beauty pageant winner turned sports reporter, Mr. Kliche was one of 320 credentialed journalists who arrived in Washington late last week to cover last night's 50th NBA All-Star Game at MCI Center, doubling as tourists by telling their audiences on- and off-the-court tales of NBA stars and about life in Washington.

Their reports went out in 45 languages to upwards of 2.5 billion basketball fans in 210 countries, according to the NBA.

"I try to show some trash talk on the court and what it feels like to be in the league," Mr. Kliche said of the kind of report he likes to send back to the 3 million residents of Uruguay. "It's more important about how he, the player, is feeling."

Like American journalists on assignment in a foreign land, the international NBA press corps also tries to get the flavor of the place they are visiting.

Suffice it to say, international journalists covering Washington, the NBA and its players over the weekend had an easier time than an American journalist reporting on a world championship cricket game in England.

"We have to relate because the culture and language are different," said Krisdin Suwanbubpa, a sports reporter for the Itv television network in Thailand.

But relating the NBA and its stars to a level Mr. Suwanbubpa's audience can understand isn't that difficult.

"I would say that [Shaquille O'Neal] is like Arnold Schwarzenegger and people would say, 'Ah, this guy is that big and dominates the NBA like Arnold dominates Hollywood,' " Mr. Suwanbubpa said.

Part of the interest stems from the number of foreign players in the NBA there are 45 in the league now and the number of American athletes who go to other countries to play professional basketball.

Heidi Ueberroth, executive vice president of the NBA's international marketing division, said the large international presence is a result of the league's business strategy of making basketball a global sport.

"We have an incredible reach," Ms. Ueberroth said, while other professional sports like baseball and American football cost too much to play in many countries.

And, she added, "It's a game that's easy to understand."

Taking a stroll yesterday morning in front of the White House, Mr. Suwanbubpa and a reporter from the Macedonia television network MRT offered their perspectives on Washington.

"You can see the power and politics" of the city, said Ljubomir Nikolovski of Macedonia, noting that he and his film crew have done brief stories about "cozy" Georgetown and the tranquility of the Potomac River.

Mr. Nikolovski pities President Bush, though.

"So he's in prison working and living there," Mr. Nikolovski said, adding that while Washington is boring compared with New York City, he still feels "like I can go anywhere."

Bangkok, though, it's not, Mr. Suwanbubpa said, in terms of openness.

"I feel like everything is restricted," Mr. Suwanbubpa said, passing a line of jersey barriers and police officers meandering through the tourists walking along Pennsylvania Avenue in front of the White House.

Polish sports commentator and producer Wojciech Michatowicz said audiences watching basketball games on his Wizja Sport network want to hear and see more than just a play-by-play of the game.

"Polish people are very keen on politics, and they are interested very much in the situation in the States," Mr. Michatowicz said, adding that having the All-Star game in Washington means he can give his audience more of the political tidbits they thirst for.

"American people treat this sport very seriously and it's a part of their life, and we are going to [teach] the Polish people to treat the sport in the same way," Mr. Michatowicz said.

When it comes to covering the All-Star Game and weekend of events, the foreign journalists report on more than what happens on the court.

"People have enough action on the court, people like to see the players in more relaxation, like driving their cars," Mr. Suwanbubpa said. "We have them say hi to Thai people."

Most of the players among them former Georgetown star Dikembe Mutombo, a native of Congo who now plays for the Atlanta Hawks happily oblige, smiling and saying "hola" and "bonjour" to their global fans, especially during Friday's media day with the NBA's star players.

The affable Mr. Mutombo, who had a record 22 rebounds in the game, said a strong showing of international media at the All-Star Game and regular-season games is a positive sign that the game is truly going global.

"We have a lot of international players… . We have to sell the game, we have to find a way for the game to survive," Mr. Mutombo said.

The NBA has such respect for the ever-growing gathering of international journalists that last night they had their own press section, dubbed the "United Nations of Basketball."

Stretching the length of the court, 28 of the 45 international TV crews were beaming the game live back to their home countries.

Looking much like their American counterparts with large headphones and monitors in front of them, the Polish commentators had a great time covering the game.

"I've never seen this kind of balance between funny and serious play," said Mirostaw Noculak. "It's a great game."

Mr. Michatowicz said the exhibition was fun to talk about because he didn't have to analyze strategy or every player's move.

Mr. Nikolovski sounded almost poetic in his impression of the All-Star Game.

"It's a beautiful game," Mr. Nikolovski said. "It's a perfect, incredible show. They are playing with all their imagination and all their creativity."

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