Leigh Ellis quits his job to play pick-up hoops around the globe


For greater than a decade, Leigh Ellis went to extraordinary, and self-deprecating, lengths to share his ardour for basketball. The previous NBA TV character and fashionable podcaster consumed scorching peppers, donned a moist go well with and even shaved his chest in numerous on-air stunts as he sought to deliver a lighter tone to the discourse.

However the quirky 46-year-old Australian had severe chops, too, because of an encyclopedic data of gamers relationship again to the late Nineteen Eighties and an old-school philosophical method to the sport, formed throughout his travels to 40 nations. Ellis uncorked his signature catchphrase — “very stable play” — to reward bounce passes, backdoor cuts and below-the-rim finishes that may not make it onto “SportsCenter’s” High 10. A lifelong pickup participant, Ellis had rigorously thought-about nearly each facet of the game, and his ideas on how three-point contest members ought to arrange their ball racks as soon as led to a personal capturing session with Golden State Warriors star Stephen Curry.

Ellis surprised his colleagues and listeners in October, then, when he joined the Nice Resignation, abruptly asserting his departure from “No Dunks,” the Athletic’s flagship NBA podcast, with out lining up one other job in sports activities media. Whereas touring together with his spouse, Roxana, and his two younger sons in the course of the offseason, Ellis concluded that he had soured on many elements of the NBA grind. After taping greater than 2,500 exhibits over the previous 11 years, he felt that the common season was far too lengthy, load administration had run amok and a lot of superstars had misplaced contact with the common fan.

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“Anthony Davis can solely ever play for 2 weeks at a time,” Ellis stated by phone from Europe final week. James Harden needed respect for giving again $7 million in free company. Kevin Durant stated to fireplace everybody in Brooklyn. These kinds of men do not encourage me anymore. Possibly that is an age factor. While you’re a child, you look as much as these guys as heroes. Now you have a look at them and also you go, ‘What the f— is fallacious with this man?’ The NBA season does not have the identical spark.”

Although Ellis was burned out on the NBA, basketball remained a driving pressure in his life. He had arrange a pickup sport in Barcelona over the summer time and posted about it on social media, and invites to play poured into his direct messages from Portugal to Pakistan. As he ready to depart what had lengthy been his dream job, Ellis cultivated a brand new dream.

What if he might take up all of the Instagrammers on their provides? Why not journey the globe, set up runs, hang around with the locals, take in their basketball tales, eat their delicacies after which doc all of it on video and social media? Thus started Ellis’s self-funded “20 Cities, 20 International locations, 20 Video games” world basketball tour. In current weeks, he is bounced by means of Germany, Slovenia, Croatia, Serbia and Greece, eschewing fancy indoor gyms for out of doors courts at each cease.

“I do not know if I can flip this right into a profession, however I need to discover out,” he stated. “If I do not do that now, it isn’t going to occur. Nobody was going to return to me with this concept and ask me if I needed to do it. The one approach was to make a clear break and dive into headfirst. I felt like I needed to attempt it.”

When Ellis laid out his admittedly unfinished plans to his longtime podcast companions, they had been supportive however shocked and just a little skeptical about how he would financially maintain the mission. JE Skeets, the co-host of “No Dunks,” had lengthy referred to Ellis as “the Worldwide Man of Thriller” due to his circuitous life journey from Sunbury, a suburb of Melbourne, to London in his 20s, to Toronto in his 30s, after which to Atlanta, the place he presently resides. Provided that background, and Ellis’s tales of enjoying pickup in Brazil, Egypt, Mexico and Peru over time, Skeets understood why some followers envisioned him changing into basketball’s reply to Anthony Bourdain.

“Are you having a midlife disaster? As a substitute of shopping for a Corvette, you are touring the world to play basketball,” Skeets stated. “However after a minute of fascinated by it, I spotted that this was Leigh Ellis. He takes probabilities in life. I might like to journey the world and play pickup. That is why it resonates with folks. Not lots of us can do it. It is ballsy.”

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Ellis’s public announcement of his tour drew lots of of recent invitations from Nepal, Sierra Leone and in every single place in between, and he instantly started working on potential itineraries. How lengthy he can keep in movement stays to be seen.

Along with juggling his tasks as a husband and father, he’s appearing as his personal journey agent, location scout, reserving supervisor, occasion planner, public relations chief, content material creator, video editor and, after all, capturing guard. He is acquired assist from a photographer and has relied on connections and suggestions from his 29,000 Instagram followers, however he is principally a one-man band. Whereas Ellis hopes to draw sponsors or flip the journey right into a sequence for a streaming service or appeal to sponsors, his primary focus has been preempting a lifetime of regrets.

“I am not afraid of failing at this mission,” he stated. “I am extra afraid of sitting in the identical job in 10 years wishing that I had accomplished this. Journey is the most effective life expertise. You may’t train touring, you’ll be able to solely study. Each time you get up, you’ll be able to say that you simply did one thing for the primary time. ”

Already, there have been some notable successes. Ellis went to a raucous five-hour barbecue dinner with Sasha Doncic, father of Dallas Mavericks star Luka Doncic, and met Biserka Petrovic for a go to to the museum devoted to her son, former NBA star Dražen Petrovic, who died tragically in 1993. Damjan Rudez, a Croatian ahead who spent three seasons within the NBA from 2014 to 2017, supplied a tour of his childhood house, full with tea brewed with leaves grown on the household farm.

Ellis has compiled a cultural catalog alongside the best way. The shot-happy, full-court, five-on-five video games he was accustomed to at Atlanta’s Underwood Hills Park have given technique to a pass-and-move type within the Balkans, the place three-on-three video games are the norm. The 5-foot-11 Ellis has needed to adapt to the sooner sport, and a current opponent likened him to Warriors star Klay Thompson because of his dependable jumper. Throughout intense mixed-gender video games in Barcelona over the summer time, he famous that the ladies had been usually as bodily within the paint as the lads. In Germany, he marveled on the agency steel rims and chain hyperlink nets that had been constructed to final a long time, whatever the climate. In Belgrade, he took to a spongy court docket floor that was simpler on the knees than typical concrete.

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After months of working from an remoted house workplace in the course of the coronavirus pandemic, Ellis’s life has abruptly develop into a sequence of probability encounters with fellow pickup fanatics and meetups together with his loyal followers. Boshko Shukovic, a Serbian basketball coach, stated that he was “heartbroken” when Ellis left “No Dunks” and was so excited to fulfill his favourite podcaster in Belgrade that he had “jitters” for days prematurely. Shukovic launched Ellis to a court docket contained in the Kalemegdan fortress, and he broke out a brand new pair of sneakers for the run. That night time, the assembled hoopers traded tales about Serbia’s basketball historical past and Ellis’s NBA experiences.

“Leigh approached me and gave me such a heat, welcoming, heartfelt hug,” Shukovic stated in a sequence of textual content messages. “He all the time felt so real on the present, and I used to be ashamed for pondering he is perhaps totally different in actual life. Inside just a few possessions, he felt like he was one among us and we had been his mates. Leigh was only a righteous dude.”

Ellis is cautious to notice that he is not working away from his actual life in Atlanta, and that his spouse supplied her full blessing earlier than he received severe about his tour. He is given himself six to 12 months to show his touring act right into a viable enterprise earlier than he considers a extra typical job to pay the mortgage.

Both approach, he’s savoring his first prolonged break after almost 30 years of nonstop working. Another person can fear about whether or not LeBron James and the Los Angeles Lakers will make the playoffs, or whether or not the Brooklyn Nets ought to commerce Durant. Ellis, who retains his classic Allen Iverson sweatbands inside arm’s attain, has one other sport to get to and one other stamp so as to add to his passport.

“Nearly in every single place I am going, I do not converse the language of the folks on the court docket,” he stated. “However basketball brings us collectively. You may go from being a stranger to a teammate in two seconds. There is a sure understanding and chemistry that comes in a short time. In case you make the best play or the best move, or hit a sport winner, you bond and it simply leaves you with an ideal feeling. That is basketball at its purest.”

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