Sometimes dreams cause blindness. Dreams, if they are full of fantasy, rarely cut through the clouds. The dreamer is locked into a trance in which he cannot see, does not want to see. Josh Akognon could be but is not one of those dreamers. And how tempting it would be for Akognon to ignore reality, for he is as close as he's ever been to his NBA dream.
Both the Los Angeles Lakers and the New Orleans Hornets worked out Akognon in the past couple weeks, both telling him they really liked his game, both giving the former Casa Grande star the distinct impression they would invite him to their training camp. If they had one. The NBA lockout prevents that. So, Akognon could wait around for a season that may or may not come.
Or Akognon could continue being a rock star in China.
In April, Akognon finished a 39-game schedule with the DongGuan Leopards of the Chinese Basketball Association. He averaged 29.2 points a game, made 55.6 percent of his field goals and had four games over 40 points, one of them 54 points. All those numbers created the following Mick Jagger experience.
"We were at the Chinese New Year parade," said Akognon of himself, his wife Ariana, and his son, Josiah, now 10 months, "and someone recognized me and wanted to take my picture."
Within 10 minutes, 50-100 people surrounded the Akognons, he estimated. Within 20-30 minutes, upwards of 400 people were using their camcorders. Very few Chinese, Akognon has found, ask for autographs. Eventually the Akognons were walking away, wanting to leave, but the crowd began following them. They wanted to see where Akognon was living. The Akognons needed a police escort to their apartment area.
The police restrained the fans from getting too close, so Akognon was able to enter the apartment complex without being tailed.
"The Chinese love basketball so much, earmuffs are sold at games to protect people's ears from the screaming," Akognon said. "I had to buy one for Josiah."
All that attention and all that scoring was topped off nicely and neatly by his salary.
For the five months in China, Akognon estimated he made around $250,000, including performance incentives. That money is tax-free. The cost of Akognon's rental car and leased apartment were paid by the team. In other words, there are worse jobs.
According to his Los Angeles-based agent Scott Nichols, the monthly salary range in the CBA is between $50,000-$100,000. So if Akognon were to return to the CBA after the season he had, quite likely his salary would nudge the high end. And if Akognon were to return to China, he would not return as another nameless, faceless American.
That changed forever the day Akognon faced ex-NBA star Stephon Marbury in a practice game. Marbury is the former two-time NBA All-Star guard who always has played with attitude, you might say.
"Before the game we were warming up," Akognon said, "Marbury kept looking at me and mumbling. It was really weird. When the game started, he was pushing, shoving and throwing elbows. So I did the same thing. At one point we actually squared up to fight each other. At halftime we faced each other between the locker rooms and he shook my hand. He said I was nasty. It was his way of testing me. After that we became the best of friends."