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NBA: Arch over the pond

Mark Woods

At the end of the bench, life usually passes without undue attention.

Few flash bulbs, no microphones, the clamour of celebrity reserved almost exclusively for those who spend their time gracing the court rather than the pine. 

The National Basketball Association, like any other sphere of life has its have's and have lesser's, a strict hierarchy in which the biggest is not necessarily the best.

So for Robert Archibald to step foot back on Scottish soil must be like jumping into one of those fantastical machines beloved of sci-fi in which the intrepid explorers are transported magically to a parallel universe in which turvy-topsy in the norm. 

In Memphis, the 6'10" Paisley-born forward who joined their Grizzlies last summer, is Mister Who? In his native land, he is Gulliver returned from his travels, the nation's biggest sporting export reaping the attention which his
achievements across the Atlantic have sewn.

Home this week for a whistle-stop promotional tour organised by Basketball Scotland, Archibald appears taller than when he departed six years ago. An Under 23 international then (and still eligible), every muscle and sinew of his sturdy frame has grown in tandem with the
stature of his talents. 

Last year, coming out of the University of Illinois, he was chosen by Memphis in the NBA Draft, his position the highest ever accorded to any Briton. Yet fame, in America at least, has remained elusive. Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant, Shaquille O'Neal, their words are in constant
demand. To the rest illumination comes by proxy and acclamation is earned by deeds and deeds alone. 

However for the rookies, wet behind the ears, the NBA provides its own rulebook, one which is handed down from class to class rather than by diktat. There are conventions in place to test the newcomers, a pyramid
of seniority straight out of Eton rather than Compton. 

Even now, as the Scot takes a breather before preparations begin for his second season in the world's best league, even the mention of the R-word brings instant and close attention.

"I look for bags to pick up and carry," he smiles, supping refreshments in the Caledonian Hotel in Edinburgh, his abode for the duration of his mini-tour. 

"It wasn't so terrible to have to do stuff like that because you knew when you were getting out of line because someone would just tell you off straight away. 

"They'll say: 'be quiet Rook and get me a towel, or a Gatorade.' And you have to go along with it. There were times when  I had to go and get the older guys donuts first thing in the morning. And they had to be Krispy Kremes, fresh from the Krispy Kreme store. Once I picked them up at the supermarket and they told me to go back and get the right ones. "

There was the odd prank too. Except in the playground of millionaires, the jokes are more elaborate. 

"They filled my car with Styrofoam once," Archibald recounts. "I have a big SUV which was filled right up to the top of the seats. I came out, saw someone else's and laughed. Then I saw mine, opened the door and it all poured out."

By the end of a season in which the Grizzlies extended their record as the only franchise never to reach the NBA's play-offs, the japes died out. 

"You know them all pretty well and you know they're just messing with you," he adds. On the court, he had more reason to smile by the spring time. 

After an early injury scuppered his chances of making an
immediate impact, he was gradually eased into service and given a chance to impress his coach Hubie Brown and the club's legendary manager Jerry West. 

His averages of 1.6 points and 1.4 rebounds per game were nothing to shout about. Yet he made enough noise, he hopes, for Memphis to pick up the option on a second year of his contract. 

"I had very positive feedback at the end of the season," Archibald states.  "The date is |June 30 for them to tell me either way but I do feel confident that I'll be there next year. I'm excited about what my role would be, that
I'd get a chance to contribute. 

"I was fortunate that at the end of the year, I had a chance to play some meaningful games, not just a few minutes at the end of a game that was already over. That bodes well. It was frustrating because I got injured early and it took me a long while to get back in the rotation.

"But for the guys who don't play major minutes, there is a situation to take advantage of, where you can work on your game, doing weights, doing drills, anything to make you better."

In the words of Aretha, the NBA is all about  R-E-S-P-E-C-T. 

Archibald's translation? It's about standing up to the pressure and proving that you will not wilt in the heat of battle. 

"They want to find out if they can take advantage of you. When you go in the first time, they isolate you in the low post because they want to test you and see what your game is like. You have to prove off the bat that you aren't going to back down to anyone older. Once you get past that, you just become a regular player."

Donut shopping aside, it has been an adventure, far removed from his days as a promising junior at Scottish League outfit Dunfermline Reign.

The camaraderie of the NBA was a surprising concept, airs and graces confined only to the occasional snooty superstar whose head has leapt into the clouds. 

"Everyone talks to everyone," he confirms. "One time, I was lifting weights before one of our games against the Lakers and Shaq came right up to me and said 'how you doin... what's going on?' He walked up and put out his fist for me to fist back. And his hand was so much bigger
than mine. He's so big you can't fathom it."

This season, however, Shaq is a bystander at the NBA Finals, the Lakers dethroned in favour of the victorious San Antonio Spurs. 

Who knows, one day Archibald might earn the opportunity to shine on the NBA's ultimate stage? Or even another of his countrymen, inspired by his example. 

"Kids now don't have to think that because they're in Scotland, they have no chance of making the NBA. That was just a misconception and it's been cleared up." 

Let's just call that a rookie mistake. 

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