Suns News

Barbosa Will Watch as His Friend Stars in the World Cup

LB goes by Leandrinho in Brazil. His World Cup friend goes by one name too- Ronaldinho.
(NBAE Photos/Getty Images)
By Andrew Nicholson
Suns.com
June 13, 2006

In his native Brazil, Leandro Barbosa is simply known as Leandrinho. That’s because in his native country, famous athletes are known by one name.

The men who have challenged Michael Jordan and Tiger Woods for most far-reaching worldwide recognition have been Brazilian soccer players Pele, Ronaldo and Ronaldinho, a two-time FIFA Player of the Year and a friend of the Suns’ young point guard.

“He is a really good player,” Barbosa said. “Steve Nash and I love to watch him play.”

Both Brazilian athletes share No. 10 for their respective jerseys. Although Barbosa didn’t admit his jersey selection was in honor of his friend, it could be said the duo are honoring the man many consider to be the greatest soccer player ever – Pele.

Since his youth, Barbosa has grown up admiring Ronaldinho’s skills on the soccer field and the two have become friends.

“I know him, and he knows me,” Barbosa smiled. “He really likes basketball. Right now it is really difficult for me to talk to him. Sometimes I talk to him on the computer on MSN Messenger. Right now I don’t want to bother him and he doesn’t want to bother me, because he is in a good situation to win the World Cup.”

Growing up in Sao Paulo, Barbosa played soccer, but didn’t get to play alongside Ronaldinho because he was from Porto Alegre, a city a few hours north of where Leandro was raised.

“I was really young when I played and he is from a different city than I am,” Brabosa added, “so I never got to meet him when I was young, but I knew his name.”

When Leandro was 11 and Ronaldinho was 13, Ronaldinho scored 23 goals in one game, catapulting him into the Brazilian national interest.

Since then the two have gone on to star in two different sports. Ronaldinho is the most marketable soccer player in the world and makes nearly $60 million dollars a year. Barbosa, meanwhile, has made a name for himself with his spirited play off the Suns’ bench en route to this season’s NBA Playoffs.

Now with the world’s interest taken by the World Cup, Barbosa’s National Team is the favorite to win the Jules Rimet Cup for a record sixth time.

“We already have five championships,” Brabosa said, “so they know what they are supposed to do. I have a lot of confidence in my team right now.”

Winning the World Cup is the only acceptable outcome for the people of Brazil- second, third, or 32nd are all failures in their eyes.

With the Suns’ season over, Barbosa is able to follow the World Cup and ideally would like to go to the games in Germany – if his schedule allows it.

“I wish I could go, but I have to play in Japan with my national team, so I don’t know,” Barbosa said. “I am going to try to do what I can to get out to Germany and watch a little bit, but I don’t think I am going to be able to go.”

Although his closest friend on the team is Ronaldinho, he has a few other friends on this year’s team, as well that he would like to see firsthand.

“I know Roberto Carlos, Robinho, Cafu and a couple guys over there,” Barbosa said.

While Barbosa boasts friends on the Brazilian team, he isn’t close to any of the players on the American team, but has confidence in the countries team where he resides much of the year.

“USA has a really good team,” Barbosa said “but it is going to be very tough.”

Although Barbosa admits some confidence in Team USA, he is quick to point out that nobody compares to his country’s team.

“I think the USA is going to be good,” Leandro began, “France is going to be good, Argentina is always good, but for Brazil, there is no match.”

No match he says, similar to the way defenders feel when he has the ball in his hand while deciding whether to blur past them or pull up and drop the three-bomb.