It was billed as a trip for friendship and goodwill. A quarter-century later, a trip from hell would be a better description.
The Atlanta Hawks, including Lawrence-born play-by-play announcer Steve Holman, were “commissioned” to spend 15 days in the old Soviet Union to play three exhibition games versus the Soviet National team.
The Hawks won two of three (”I think we lost that game so coach Alexander Gomelsky could save face,” said Holman), but a semi-embarrassing loss was far from the worst part of the trip.
The Hawks were sent to the Soviet Union as a prelude to the Goodwill Games, which were televised by TBS, which was owned by Ted Turner ... the same Ted Turner who owned the Hawks.
The trip took place two months after the famous Larry Bird-Dominique Wilkins matchup in the NBA East Conference Finals, which the Celtics won in seven games.
Holman and his fellow Hawks employees expected close to first class accommodations from travel, dining and lodging. Apparently, the Hawks were 0-for-3.
”We were told it would be a great vacation,” said the 59-year-old Holman, who was 34 at the time of the excursion. “It was not.”
As for the travel, the Hawks were told they’d be taking charter flights to their destinations, which meant the players would be able to sit in the front of the plane.
Well, at least they got to sit in the front of the plane.
“The toilets on the Aeroflat planes didn’t flush,” recalled Holman. “It was awful. Our players passed the time seeing who cold swat the most flies.”
The hotels apparently weren’t anything to write home about either. The cockroaches kept some people up all night because they kept the lights on.
And the food was also a big thumbs down.