It had been day 7 for me in the hospital in the toughest stretch during my battle against cancer as I was in the middle of my recovery. The pain at times had been unbearable and I was just trying to cope the best way as I could. The hospital experience was harder than the first two surgeries because my pain disallowed me to continue to do my basketball work. It was Saturday night and I was trying best to pass my time. I was either staring straight ahead at the blank white wall thinking about my son’s current new love for sliding down lamp poles on streets, thank you Fireman Sam, or wondering which professional basketball player I was going to interview next, or somehow scrambling out of my bed which can take minutes due to the pain in my stomach area due to the many cuts and just gaze out my window and look at the Mainz football stadium structure hiding through the trees which was only about one kilometer away or looking up to the Lerchesberg at the ZDF TV head quarters and wondering if I could ever be a spectator in their famous Saturday night Sport Studio show which I have never been at. Here and there, I would also be inspecting my cell phone and checking all the basketball sites and also wondering if Chris Paul could lead the Suns to an upset first round upset over the Los Angeles Lakers and if my Boston Celtics had any chance of upsetting The Brooklyn Nets with their trio of stars. On Social Media, I observed a post of Tibor Pleiss (221-C-89). He posted a pretty picture of his home town Cologne river with the head line ‘On more week’. He was referring to coming back home, because he and his Turkish team Efes was one of four teams that would battle in this weeks Euroleague Final 4. It was early evening and I had no idea that Tibor Pleiss would be accompanying me all through the night in thought.
I had adopted a very disciplined sleeping time of about 10,30 since being in the hospital, because usually I do go to sleep a few hours later due to my basketball work and interviews that at times happen with players. After I had received my sleeping pain shot and sleeping pill and had my eye patches over both eyes, I began my quest for getting a good night sleep. While trying to fall asleep, I thought about Tibor and his career. I thought why not trying to do an interview with him before the Euroleague Final 4. I also thought hmmm could be a bit difficult with the short time window to it beginning on Friday and my stay and recovery in the hospital. I fell asleep and then sometime around 4am I was up for a short bathroom break. I climbed back into bed like a 90 year old man as slowly as a snail crosses a street not to feel any pain. Before I knew it, I was in basketball heaven. I don’t often have basketball dreams, but suddenly I was in Cologne and in the Laxness arena and there beside me was the 221cm giant Tibor Pleiss. It was as usual a strange dream, because it showed me and Tibor as well as old flashbacks from the 2006 and 2007 BBL Allstar games that were played in the Laxness arena that I had visited and been able to do play by for radio. What I do remember about meeting Tibor again in 2021 in my dream was me trying to get a picture with him. For all who know me know that I love taking pictures with players more than Russell Westbrook does getting a triple double. We know that Russ is the all-time triple double record holder, but everyone who knows me knows that I will do anything for a photo with a player. As so often in my dreams, I always tend to have difficulty getting that much desired picture and it wasn’t any different with Tibor. I remember he being his friendly self, but I don’t remember getting my photo taken with him. I’m sure with my luck in dreams, I didn’t. I was planning to go to Cologne on Sunday and try to catch FC Barcelona leaving their hotel and get my photo with NBA legend Pau Gasol signed. I had met Gasol two years ago in Boston thanks to ex BBL player Charles Lee who I was interviewing in the Milwaukee Bucks hotel and the giant big man was also having lunch in the cafe so I couldn’t resist meeting him. Getting a Gasol autograph, why not get another picture with Tibor Pleiss. My last one dates back to 2007.
I covered Tibor Pleiss in his early days in Germany and also broadcasted many games of his and have very fond memories of him. I remember seeing him play for the first time in 2006-2007. I remember as if it was yesterday as Tibor made a fancy half court shot right before half-time. The game had been in played in Cologne in the tent as people called it and everyone of the 3000 spectators knew already at that time that he was going places. I remember seeing Michael Hakim Jordan in the stands as he was off from his Italian club Cantu and was visiting his old team who he had helped win the BBL title the season before. I wonder what Jordan would have said to the question in 2007 that Tibor Pleiss would be in the NBA in 2015? Pleiss had been touted early as a young teenager by his mentor and discoverer Stephen Baaeck who managed Rhein Energie Cologne. The 1993 Euro winner with Germany compared him to being the next Dirk Nowitzki. Ok that never happened, but it would be difficult to argue that he has been the best and most consistent German center in the last 10 years. My first and only interview came in the 2007-2008 season. It was a pre Christmas game in Frankfurt and Pleiss was out with an injury. In those days, I called games on radio and was always running around the arena like an injured road runner trying to secure a pre game interview and giving Frankfurt an early dose to what it would be like a few years later when the speedy road runner and MVP Dashaun Wood be having his own track meet during games. So I approached the 18 year old German big man on the bench and just asked him almost shyly knowing he would be a German legend one day and he replied generously with a yes. The interview was a normal pre game one concerning his injury and the state of the game. I had interviewed his teammate Immanuel Mcelroy with a Santa Claus hat, but had taken it off for the Pleiss interview. I looked absolutely ridiculous with my Santa hat on, but hey it was different times and I liked it. I’m sure Tibor will remember the interview if he saw the photo again. A few years later he signed it.
Pleiss would go on to have a very illustrious career since leaving Rhein Energie Cologne in 2009. He went on to play for Brose Bamberg from 2009-2012. Instrumental in his arrival in Bamberg was Bamberg legend and at then time manager Wolfgang Heyder. He did win his first title in Germany with Cologne, but would 5 more with Bamberg including 3 BBL titles in a row. In Bamberg he made massive steps as a player and developed greatly under head coach Chris Fleming who now is an assistant coach with the Brooklyn Nets. ‘It was great playing with Tibor in Bamberg. In 2010 he was still trying to come into his own. I know that this weekend means a lot to him playing in his own home town’, added Mr Euroleague Kyle Hines. He became the BBL’s best German center scoring and grabbing rebounds at ease and being one of the top shot blockers. It between he was also drafted by the New Jersey Nets (NBA,2rd (31). ‘He was very young when he came to Bamberg. He was already very focused and ambitious. He always worked hard and did everything to get better. Bamberg was a very important building block in his career. He had coaches like Arne Woltmann and Steffen Weissenbock who challenged him and he got crucial minutes especially in international games’, stressed ex Brose Bamberg manager Wolfgang Heyder. He never hurried with the NBA as it would still take some more grooming before he made it. After Bamberg, he made the next step playing in the best country league in Spain ACB club Caja Laboral Vitoria (Spain-Liga-ACB) and also played with FC Barcelona. In 2015 he then finally decided to make the big leap over the Atlantic to the NBA. Even though he put up solid 12/10 stats with the Idaho Stampede in the D-League, his NBA journey ended after 10 games. One had the feeling that he truly never really wanted to be there. Plus his game was better suited to the European game. His most memorable game was probably his 8 points in a loss against the San Antonio Spurs where he shared the floor with legends like Tim Duncan and Manu Ginoboli plus future legend Kawhi Leonard . Despite having a solid NBA Summer League with the Jazz in 2016, he ended his NBA experience heading back to Europe to become that solid Euroleague player where he played with Galatasaray Odeabank Istanbul (Turkey-BSL) and Valencia Basket (ACB) and currently is balling with Anadolu Efes Istanbul (Turkey-BSL). ‘He continued making step after step in the last years. Last season, he didn’t only get physically stronger, but was also a stable three point shooter. He also has played for impressive teams like now with Efes that is a top team’, added Wolfgang Heyder.Currently the 31 year old has 239 Euroleague games on his resume and will be wanting to add on to that with two more this weekend including his first Euroleague title. Since leaving Bamberg, he has only won two more titles with the 2017 Spanish Cup and 2019 Turkish league title. ‘He is a great player and one of the more reliable players for Efes in the last couple years and a big reason for their success and a reason for who they are’, warned Kyle Hines. I definitely won’t have it easy who to root for. I obviously want to support my guy Mr Euroleague Kyle Hines who is going for his fifth with Milan and with whom I have shared a special 22 interview relationship since 2011 as well as his ex team CSKA who I have grown to love, but I also will put some strength in crossing my fingers for Pleiss and his Turkish teammates. But back to my all through the night in thought experience with Tibor Pleiss. One thing is for sure if I ever here the classic 80’s song ‘All Through The Night’ by the iconic Cyndi Lauper, I know I will be instantly reminded by my night with Tibor Pleiss in thought. The only problem one seldom hears that beautiful ballad anymore. But I’m not afraid, because my Tibor night in thought will always have a special meaning, because it happened during my cancer struggle. Also with every player I have had dealings with or thought about in my life, I never have had a whole all through the night in thought experience. Believe me I have thought many hours of Larry Bird since childhood, but never had a dream with him. There you go Tibor. You have beaten my Goat at one thing.