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Mannion has seen it all overseas

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Pace Mannion has been spit on at games. He has been pelted with coins. Once, his team played in an empty 20,000-seat arena — which isn't to imply nobody was there. Fifteen thousand fans gathered outside and rocked the team bus as it arrived.

The building had been cleared because in a previous contest, players were showered with debris, including a set of brass knuckles with a 4-inch blade attached.

He has often sat in the locker room for 1 1/2 hours until the crowd dispersed; police escorts were standard procedure. One year, three busloads of fans traveled to another city to watch a game. Two of the buses were burned to the ground while the fans were inside the arena.

And you thought people take hoops seriously in America.

Welcome to Basketball Etiquette 101, European Style.

Side note: If you want ice in your drink, or a clothes dryer in your apartment, you'll need to make a special request. Neither is standard equipment in Europe.

Nevertheless, says Mannion, "It's been a great experience."

The former University of Utah basketball star has spent the past 11 years playing in Europe, virtually all of that in Italy. It does get a little surreal at times. But that's part of the charm. How can he complain about a place where interest is high enough to require riot police?

"It's been a lot of fun," says Mannion, who left the university in 1983.

Mannion has been a regular visitor this week at the Rocky Mountain Revue. Approaching his 41st birthday, he isn't looking to catch on with any NBA teams. Rather, he's just taking in the games, hobnobbing with old friends from both American and Italian basketball. Raised in Las Vegas, Mannion maintains a home in Salt Lake City. But since he has been playing overseas for more than a decade, he only lives here about three months of the year. He is now considering whether to return to Italy for another season.

If you want someone with an ample world view, Mannion is your guy. He spent five seasons in the NBA, playing for Golden State, Utah, New Jersey, Milwaukee, Detroit and Atlanta. He also spent a season in the now-defunct CBA. There was also a six-month stint playing in Japan.

In his travels, Mannion has visited most of Europe, playing games in Spain, Belgium, France, Greece, Turkey and other exotic sites. Talk about your International Man of Intrigue. He's visited more countries than Madeleine Albright. It was in Greece that his Italian team ran into much of its trouble — spitting, debris-throwing, rocking the team bus, etc. It was also there that the teams were ordered to play in an empty arena to reduce the risk of rioting.

As wild as it can get in Europe, Mannion doesn't complain. He has made a nice living and, meanwhile, had a true cultural experience. His children have attended school there. He speaks fluent Italian. He has learned to appreciate the pace of life in Italy, which can include two- or three-hour dinners.

"Over there, it's OK to get to things next week. Over here they want it yesterday," he says.

His years on the Continent taught him that Americans' long-held superiority complex doesn't always apply. Sure, Americans know how to build an army and make action films. But what about dinner? Romance? Art?

Who says a Pizza Hut on every corner is a sign of civilization?

With the Revue winding down, dozens of young players continue struggling to make their mark in the NBA. Yet Mannion, who was once the second-leading scorer in his European league, allows that in some cases foreign ball is the best option. Several years ago, he was offered a three-year NBA contract but declined. The money was better in Italy, and he didn't want to move again. Some top European players make $2 million per year. Why give that up to earn a league-minimum of $300,000 in the NBA?

From one who has played in the CBA, NBA and Europe, Mannion offers this advice: Expand your horizons.

"If I were in some of these guys' shoes . . . I would think, Why knock your head against the wall another year in the IBL (an American minor league) when Europe is such a good deal?

"My recommendation is if you get the chance to play in Europe, take it and enjoy it, because you can always come back to the summer leagues and [try out] again."

You might even find there is civilization out there.


E-MAIL: rock@desnews.com