War is not something you should laugh at, but Maurice Creek can’t help but laugh when he’s told he’ll be the life of every party he attends from now on.
After spending a harrowing handful of days watching an invasion, he was told he wouldn’t be able to burst in front of him, as he wandered between an apartment and a bomb shelter, wondering if he would one day return home and why he was stuck. , Creek knows he is incredibly lucky. He just can’t believe he has all these stories, because he honestly didn’t think he would live to tell them.
“I’m playing Call of Duty many. For me, playing this game and watching war movies sometimes, and now I’m really into it, I thought I was gonna fucking die,” Creek says.
The 31-year-old professional basketball player – who is 6’5″ and played his college ball at Indiana and George Washington before taking his talents overseas – was not supposed to be in Ukraine when Russia suddenly invaded the country in an unprovoked attack, kicking off Europe’s most aggressive military campaign since World War 2. Six days later, after enduring a slew of sleepless nights and a sense of creeping terror, Creek was safe and sound, humbled and grateful to be out.
But getting to the point where the worst-case scenarios stopped playing out in his head was agony he never imagined he would experience. About 24 hours before he was scheduled to reunite with his family in Maryland, Creek told Complex Sports, via Zoom, that he was relieved to be in Romania, recounting how frightening it was to see a war ignite.
You may have seen headlines about an American-born basketball player stranded in southern Ukraine or social media posts highlighting Creek’s ordeal. If you missed it, Creek’s fate was first covered shortly after the invasion by WJLA in Washington, DC. The TV channel tuned into Creek, which was stuck in Mykolaiv, a population of 476,000. The southern Ukrainian town on the Black Sea was bombarded by Russian shells, and an exasperated Creek was desperately trying to extricate himself from a situation he didn’t want to be a part of and had been told repeatedly that she wouldn’t even arrive.
“I was really scared for my life,” Creek said. “There is no other way to say it. I was talking to people every day like, ‘How can I get out? How can I get out? How can I get out?
If all had gone as planned, Creek would not have been in Ukraine when the bombs started falling. Reading the writing on the wall as the rumblings of war grew each day in February, Creek says he was looking to terminate his contract with MBC Mykolaiv in the Ukrainian SuperLeague. Essentially, he wanted to negotiate a buyout. But Creek says the team—reflecting the experience other foreign players across Ukraine – didn’t want to let him go. One of the worst teams in Ukraine, the front office believed Creek could help the team qualify for the playoffs after Creek contributed to a few wins in Mykolaiv when he arrived in December. They never thought a war would break out.
Despite an increasingly tense situation and international warnings that an invasion was imminent, Creek says the team assured its players, including five foreigners, that they would be safe and games would continue. Vladimir Putin, the Russian president responsible for the invasion, was just bluffing, players said.
“My teammates and I had several meetings about this type of situation, and they were really downplaying the situation as if something was not going to happen,” Creek says. “And the worst situation happened.”
While Creek says Mykolaiv’s other foreigners, including four Americans, managed to leave Ukraine without too much drama – several had contracts with other European teams – the team retained him. In the days leading up to the start of the war, Mykolaiv refused to issue Creek with a clearance letter so he could pursue other basketball opportunities in a safer location and continue earning money. money for his daughter in the United States. The team, according to Creek, also refused to pay him all of the money he had earned through February 21.
In the days before the bombings began, Creek tried to stay calm and rely on his Ukrainian agent to work out the details of his exit, but he says the team dragged their feet. They didn’t want to lose him. They also did not seriously believe – unfortunately, like many Ukrainians – that war was about to break out. Even if the worst-case scenario happened, Creek says he was told the team could move to a safer part of the country.
“It delayed the process of getting out, because I didn’t have the resources to get out,” Creek said. “They were looking at the business side of things instead of putting my life on the line. That’s how I took it. You’re keeping me here to play basketball because you all think nothing’s gonna happen. And instead of being more safe than sorry, you all want to be more sorry than safe. I didn’t like that.
When the war came on February 24, shortly after Putin gave a rambling and illogical speech justifying it, fear set in. t leave the country. Her family launched a GoFundMe campaign last weekend to raise money, while others made phone calls. Creek has special praise for Charlie Parker, coach of Sideline Cancer, a team Creek played for in 2020 in The Basketball Tournament. Creek met Erik Nordberg, a retired US Army Lt. Col., at a basketball clinic hosted by Sideline Cancer a few years ago and the two have stayed in touch. With 23 years of service and experience evacuating Americans after leaving the service, Nordberg was the right person to know. When Nordberg heard that Creek was stuck, he investigated exit options. Creek thought he was about to leave the country last weekend before a plan fell apart, tweeting his bitter disappointment.
Finally, one of Mykolaiv’s assistant coaches told Creek to join his wife and sister in a taxi that would take them out of town and to the Moldovan border on Monday. During the more than two-hour journey that spanned the southern part of Ukraine along the Black Sea and included several checkpoints, Creek continued to hope for the best while preparing for the worst. On the weirdest, most surreal car ride he’d ever been on, he felt like he was in a maze, searching for an elusive exit.
Fortunately, he found it. Arriving at the border, Creek received an alert on her phone. The port city of Odessa, which the taxi had passed through just over an hour before, was bombarded.
It took another eight hours for Creek, waiting outside in the freezing cold with hundreds of other poor souls, to cross into Moldova. The next stop was Romania, and after an excruciating wait to cross that border, Creek was happy to announce that he would land in the United States on Thursday after a long day of international travel – from Romania to Amsterdam to New York to Dulles International in Northern Virginia. A memorable meeting waited with his family.
“I know they won’t let me out of sight anymore,” Creek says.
With the wildest ordeal of his life behind him, the conversation inevitably turns to the future. In his early 30s, Creek is not young and he has been playing overseas since 2014, including Denmark, Germany, the Netherlands, Finland, Romania and Israel. His first season in the Ukrainian SuperLeague came in 2019, when he played for Kyiv, the nation’s now war-torn capital, Creek may never return.
An experience like that will make you reassess things, and Creek is going to have to make a tough decision. A nomad who loves basketball and has carved out a career for himself, even though players don’t usually break the bank in some of Europe’s lower tier leagues, Creek is asked if he’s done playing far from home.
“That’s the golden question. I don’t really know,” he said. “I hope it’s not my last season, but it’s really difficult to experience something like this and want to play in another country.”