EUROPE LIVE NOTEBOOK - Boston Celtics

ROME, Oct. 5, 2007 -- Sure, the Boston Celtics are in Italy with the primary purpose of playing basketball, but to spend a week in Rome and to not check out the piazzas, architecture, statues, fountains and historic sights would be like going to Disney World with the purpose of having your kid meet Mickey Mouse and neglecting to go on any of the rides.

Four Celtics – Esteban Batista, Scot Pollard, Leon Powe and Brian Scalabrine – took advantage of their surroundings on Thursday and went on a guided tour of one of the world’s most illustrious cities.

The tour began at the players’ hotel, which happened to used to be a public bath. Greg Stringer, the tour guide and brother of Peter Stringer of Celtics.com, explained that private residences in Rome didn’t used to have showers or even toilets, so public baths were very much a part of every day life.

Scalabrine was an eager student, staying right by Stringer’s side and asking a ton of questions. He majored in American history at USC, so he already had the knack for curiosity and respect for what happened in the past.

“I like the architecture,” Scalabrine told me as I tagged along with the group of players, alternately taking notes for this story and snapping digital pictures of the sights that Stringer was describing so I’d have a keepsake of the trip. “See that building? That’s a thousand years old, yet today they’re trying to construct brand new buildings to look just like it,” Scalabrine said after pointing to a large stone structure.

Batista and Pollard hung back about 10 feet telling jokes and perking up to snap pictures whenever Stringer was pointing something out.

Powe complained about having tired legs from a week of practice and having to walk around the city when he could be resting for about the first five minutes, but once he started to see everything the city had to offer, that all melted away.

However, the heat got to him a little bit. It was a beautiful sunny day and Powe wore Celtics sweatpants instead of shorts like the rest of his teammates.

“I’m sweating like a chicken frying in fish grease,” Powe said while smiling for a picture with his teammates in front of the presidential palace. We waited for the changing of the guard outside of the palace as Stringer informed us that the building used to belong to the Pope. Now the president lives there, but the president in Italy is more of a figurehead than a political activist. Italy has a prime minister to take care of all the important stuff.

We walked and we talked, not just about the latest statue of a general we would stumble upon or how the four fountains we were taking pictures of at one point represented the four corners of the earth, but about everyday stuff (Scalabrine telling Batista that he has a already has a daughter named Ellianna and a son on the way and how he wants to name his son Esteban because Ellianna and Esteban just sounds right) and about cultural differences between the U.S. and Italy (everybody was fascinated by the Smart cars and Pollard estimated that you fill them up with gas once and they run forever).

Our tour marched on as Stringer led us through the cross streets and winding alleyways to the Trevi Fountain. My brain was in information overload mode as we were peppered with historic facts about the “world’s most famous fountain.” One fact that sticked: There is a fine of 501 euros for jumping in the fountain, enforced years back after tourists started imitating a scene in the famous Italian movie, La Dolce Vita.

The Celtics players posed for pictures in front of the fountain and a crowd started to surround them. It became a spectacle when a couple men dressed as gladiators joined them and offered up their helmets for Pollard and Batista to wear.

A couple of young ladies waved at Powe and he flashed a wide smile and waved back saying, “Ciao bella!”

Only with his poor Italian accent it came out more like, “Chow bay-lah!”

At one point a fan, presumably Spanish, came up to the Celtics players and yelled, "Gasol is the best!"

He was referring to Pau Gasol of the Memphis Grizzlies, the NBA rookie of the year in 2002 who led Spain to the gold medal at the 2006 World Championship of Basketball.

When a Spanish fan chides an American player in Italy, you really know that basketball is a global game.

As the fountain photo session was winding down, Powe spotted somebody in the crowd headed towards us and a big ice cream cone.

It was Ray Allen.

“He’s like Where’s Waldo,” Powe quipped. Allen joined group for some pictures and then everybody was envious of his ice cream cone so it was off to the gelateria with Stringer again dropping knowledge as we walked by a souvenir shop selling a calendar featuring shots of the Coliseum.

“Parts of the Coliseum collapsed in the 1300s during an earthquake,” Stringer explained. “But it really wasn’t because of an earthquake. After it stopped being used when the Roman empire fell, Italians started stealing parts from it for new construction projects so when the earthquake hit, it was structurally unsound.”

Stringer also explained that many of the statues you see in Rome are segmented like a jigsaw puzzle because a lot of them have been dug up underground and restored with a mix of new and old pieces.

Then he pointed out that Bruce Lee and Chuck Norris once filmed a movie where they fought in the Coliseum. You have to give it to Stringer for knowing his audience and keeping their attention.

“It’s a really great city, I enjoy the training camp, but it’s the city too,” Batista said.

“You play basketball and have the opportunity to play around the world? That’s amazing,” the Uruguay native continued. “We go to London later, that will be my first time in London too. It’s an amazing experience for me.”

For Pollard, Europe Live is just capping the international autumn that he’s already had.

“I was in Serbia and Athens, Greece last week for Vlade Divac,” Pollard said. “He was raising money for refugees in Serbia and Africa as well as his children’s fund, so he had a huge event over there. They opened up a museum for him.

“It was non-stop. This is actually more relaxed than that was,” Pollard said as he sat on the stairs outside of another Italian church along the tour.

“As more European players get into the league, speaking of Vlade Divac who really broke the ice in that department and really opened up the floodgates, it makes sense to come and play over here,” Pollard said.

“It’s fun for us, we get to see other places. Training camp sucks. You might as well enjoy it in Rome, Italy instead of Boston or Cleveland or Sacramento or other places out there.”