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Wednesday, October 8, 2003 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Steve Kelley / Times staff columnist

Nightmares price to pay on way to NBA dream

The bombs were dropping on Baghdad, which was uncomfortably close to Istanbul, which was where Richie Frahm had gone to play basketball. A war was intruding on his dream, making him a stranger in this strange land.

Bombs were dropping on Baghdad, and Turkish basketball fans, angry with the United States, found a basketball player against whom to vent their anger.

Bombs were dropping on Baghdad, and Frahm's family was pleading with him to come home. But his owner, unhappy with his team's record, was late with Frahm's paychecks, and his union, FIBA, was telling him he had to stay, saying Turkey was a safe place to play.

Bombs were dropping on Baghdad and, finally, Frahm paid for his own ticket home, not knowing where his next chance to play would come.

"I just felt like enough was enough," he said. "I felt like I was leaving prison when I was flying out of there. Funny thing is, once I knew I had my flight booked I played better than I had all year."

But the jump shots didn't silence the anger he felt from the stands. In the arenas and on the streets people yelled at him, and Frahm's teammates would translate the epithets tossed at him.

"It was an eye-opener to see the anti-American sentiments over there," said Frahm, 26. "I mean some of our games were in eastern Turkey, only 300 miles from Baghdad. I'd hear somebody yell my name and then yell a bunch of stuff in Turkish.

"My teammates would tell me, 'They're not happy that you're here.' And I would hear from management that I was the reason we were losing. And when you lose games, your checks don't come. They think we're all Michael Jordan, and when we're not, it gets ugly. Management will turn on you. Coaches will point fingers at you. It can be vicious."

It wasn't just the politics and the tardy paychecks. Even training was strange in Turkey. Frahm's team practiced twice a day, and sometimes the practices consisted of long runs through the woods.

On one of those runs, he encountered a man who was standing next to a rifle that was leaning against the tree. For a few Turkish lira, the man said he would allow Frahm to shoot at targets.

"I'm running in a public park and here's this guy in the woods, shooting at targets," he said. "You wonder if you're the next target."

This is what you do if you don't get drafted into the NBA and you believe that one day you can play in the league. You go around the globe looking for a game.

You chase your vision from a minor league in Phoenix, to a chance in the Philippines and Italy. You try to keep your focus through the tensions in the Middle East and finally to the Sonics' fall camp in Seattle.

Frahm won't give up. He has come back from complications after breaking his left foot. He has played in summer leagues. He has gone to camp with Utah and Portland. Last year, he was the Trail Blazers' final cut.

"When I first got to the Philippines (in 2001), there had been a kidnapping and my wife and I had to basically stay secluded in our hotel (in Manila)," Frahm said. "It was a tight security hotel. We had a driver. They wouldn't let us drive anywhere.

"Every time I went to practice, we had to drive a different route so would-be kidnappers wouldn't pick up on our habits. We were Americans and they knew we were getting paid a certain salary and there was some resentment. That made us a target over there, especially in these times."

Frahm, who was a part of those 1999 and 2000 Gonzaga teams that first rocked the NCAA's world, has NBA skills. This summer he impressed the Sonics with his shooting range and tenacity.

Already in this camp, he is getting the same sort of looks from teammates that Reggie Evans got last year because of the hell-bent-for-the-ball way he plays the game.

"Richie's a very, very aggressive, competitive person," said Sonics assistant coach Dean Demopoulos, who was head coach of the Sonics' summer-league team that went 6-1. "I hope and pray that, regardless of what happens this year, this youngster doesn't give up on his dream."

Frahm, a 6-foot-5 two-guard, is a zone-busting shooter. And, although he lacks some quickness, he is a dogged defender. He is a longshot, however, to make the Sonics, where he will fight with Ansu Sesay, Ronald Murray and others for one of the precious few spots available at the bottom of the roster.

Frahm isn't quitting.

"That drive and that dream has always been in me," he said. "This is what I've wanted to do. It's like you feel you can't do anything else. You don't want to do anything else. I feel I've got another six years in me. But in the NBA it's all about timing. You get frustrated when you don't make a team, but at the same time, you just keep pushing along."

Around the globe, through the danger in the Philippines and the anger in Turkey, Frahm keeps playing the game because he believes in it and his ability to play it.

Steve Kelley: 206-464-2176 or skelley@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2003 The Seattle Times Company

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