Heidi g�re, heidi g�re," Phoenix coach John MacLeod mumbled to himself after the Suns lost 103-93 to the Knicks in New York last week. Sorry, Coach, never heard of her. "It means 'come up' in Bulgarian," MacLeod explained. "Georgi was right in front of me, but I just drew a blank."
Late in the fourth quarter, MacLeod had tried to yell for Georgi Glouchkov, the first player from an Eastern bloc nation ever to compete in the NBA, to "move up" on his man. But since the Bulgarian speaks almost no English and is used to playing zone defenses, the next sound heard was a whistle signifying a technical foul for illegal defense.
It's one of those things the Balkan Banger—a handle that appears to have won out over Air Georgi, Georgi Boy and Glue—will laugh about later in the season when he probably will speak English as well as the next wild and crazy guy. Right now, most of the Suns seem to be having as many problems following English instructions (the team is 1-10 in its worst start ever) as Glouchkov does. The point is, no matter what his immediate difficulties—a new language, a new position (he was a center in Europe but is now a forward), the fast pace, different rules, a propensity for fouling—Georgi Glouchkov (pronounced GYOR-gey GLOOSH-koff) belongs in the NBA.
Glouchkov is a broad-faced, broad-shouldered 25-year-old who lives in Varna, a city on the west coast of the Black Sea. He smiles easily, though he is said to be shy even around countrymen. Next to 7'2" Arvidas Sabonis of the Soviet Union, Glouchkov had been considered the best big man in Europe for the last two years. Last season he averaged 23 points and 19 rebounds a game in international amateur play. At 6'8", 235 pounds, Glouchkov cuts the figure of the prototypical NBA rebounding forward, reminiscent of Dave DeBusschere or Rudy LaRusso. "Georgi is very resolute, very keen on excelling," says Bozhidar Takev, the avuncular 65-year-old Mr. Basketball of Bulgaria, who has been made an assistant trainer with the Suns to help Glouchkov in his first month in the league. "In this way, he fits in your country, where there is so much competition."
Glouchkov and Takev, who had only minimal contact in Bulgaria, have grown close since coming to America. "I consider him my second son," says Takev. Glouchkov, when he was asked if he was homesick, caused his translator to smile warmly at his answer. "He says he is not homesick now, but he will be when Mr. Takev leaves."
For now, Glouchkov seems to be having too much fun. He has even done a TV commercial for the Suns. In it, he and the team's general manager, Jerry Colangelo, are shown in a locker room.
Colangelo: "Hi. I'm here with Georgi Glouchkov discussing the big game with the Trail Blazers tomorrow."
Glouchkov then rattles off something in Bulgarian, but the subtitles that appear on the screen say: "I don't understand a word you're saying, but I really like Mexican food."
Colangelo, slapping Glouchkov on the knee: "Isn't his knowledge of the NBA incredible?"
The other Suns look at the novelty of Glouchkov's situation as a welcome distraction from losing. Alvan Adams, the veteran center-forward, has spent the most time with Glouchkov. "It's fun to go out to eat with Georgi," says Adams. "When the bill comes and he asks what his share is, I say, 'Let's see Georgi, it's $93. I'll pay $7 and you pay $86.' "