"It has been a metamorphosis," Pau coach Michel Gómez says. "All these dollars, dollars, dollars. If you could have seen him, the first time he came here...."
"Have you seen him driving the gold Mercedes we have loaned him?" Seillant asks. "He could not even drive when he came here the first time. The clothes? Have you seen all the clothes? When he came here, I think he had one pair of athletic shoes...."
The shy misfit who first came from Romania in the summer of 1992, nicknamed Ghita (pronounced GEET-za, for "little Gheorghe," in his native language), a refugee from communism blinking at the opulence and bright lights of the Western world, now is a 24-year-old married man, owner of a house in the Washington suburbs, with a Great Dane named Lucky in the living room and a Chevy Blazer in the garage. The unconditioned athletic neophyte with a wide potbelly who couldn't do one push-up—not one—now has lost 30 pounds and works out two and three times per day and has played head-to-head against Shaquille O'Neal and Hakeem Olajuwon. The owner of one pair of shoes now wears the longest, baggiest hip-hop jeans available, with matching denim jackets and different shoes for every occasion.
"I remember walking with him down a street in Stockholm," says his European-based agent, Kenny Grant of ProServ. "This was at the beginning. He had nothing. Absolutely nothing. We were passing all these fancy shops, and I asked him what he would want if he could have anything in the world. He replied, right away, 'Gloves.' I had never thought about that. Gloves? Of course. His hands were freezing. We went to a number of stores, and finally we found some of those gloves.... Do you know those gloves that go over another pair of gloves? He was just able to get the largest pair of those on his hands, like O.J. in the courtroom. They really didn't fit, but he was the happiest man in the world. He had gloves."
"The first time he came here, psychologically he was just a kid, a child," Gómez says. "Physically, he did not accept his size. The first thing I did—before any basketball—I taught him how to walk. He walked like an old man, all hunched over. I taught him to stand straight, to be proud of his height. First, he had to walk before he could run."
The timing was perfect to bring Muresan back for this moment. The NBA lockout shut down summer leagues and off-season conditioning programs in the U.S. The big man, still learning his craft, needed a place to work out and to play against good competition. The old friends from Pau needed some immediate help, faced as they were with a one-month playoff format to qualify for the European Cup.
"I said, 'Let me make some calls,' " Seillant says. "It was all surprisingly easy. We have always loved him. He has loved us. It has never been about just basketball with Ghita."
The big man walks where he learned to walk, drives where he learned to drive, has money where he had no money. He is being paid $100,000, plus the use of an apartment and a car, for a month's work. It is not an unpleasant experience.
"I had three accidents when I was here, learning to drive," he says. "The first, the car was finished. The second, the car was in the garage, but not finished. The third, not so bad. Did not even have to go to the garage." He laughs.
He speaks in basic, serviceable English. He has had an English-speaking interpreter for two years with the Bullets, but will travel this season on his own.