I’ve been promising to do this for a while, and with an off-day yesterday and a game against the Grizzlies looming later tonight, now seems like the perfect time. Zaza Pachulia is off to a nice little start as the center of his new team, averaging a double-double over the first 14 games of the season, and what a relief that is considering how bleak things looked this offseason after the DeAndre Jordan fiasco took place. In honor of this fast start, I’ve decided it’s time to take a look at Zaza’s unique background and his hometown country of Georgia, a place most people never think about.
Geography has never been my strong suit, so the first time I learned where Pachulia was from, I had absolutely no idea where the country was. It’s entirely possible I might have pointed to somewhere near Russia as a guess, but that’s only because Russia is enormous and takes up most of the Eastern Hemisphere. As it turns out, there actually is a little debate about the country’s location. Sitting on the border of the Black Sea and the Caucasus Mountains, the physical destination is technically inside Asia, although the natives refute this fact. Indeed, there is nothing Asian about the Georgian culture, so it’s understandable they fight such a claim. Georgians fit in much more closely with the European lifestyle.
Pachulia himself actually grew up in the country’s capital, Tblisi, a beautiful city that resembles Paris and Rome far more than outsiders realize considering the country’s proximity to Russia and Turkey. The city has a charming, old-world appearance, filled with cobblestone streets and a variety of architectural styles. As a country that adopted Orthodox Christianity way back in the fourth century, Georgia’s capital is filled with enormous Eastern Orthodox churches and similarly historic buildings.
Even more fascinating is the fact that the language both spoken and written in the region is unlike anything else in the world. A quick Google translation tells me that Zaza’s full name in Georgian comes out as the following: ზაზა ფაჩულია. Foreign language experts marvel at the fact that the Georgian language is so unique that anyone who desires to become fluent can throw out just about every other lesson learned from other dialects, even those in close proximity to the country. To even begin to unravel this mysterious, aesthetically pleasing language, you have to start by mastering the alphabet, Mkhedruli, which is used almost exclusively in Georgia. Before I move on, it’s important that I note Georgia natives call the country Sakartvelo. In fact, the only reason it’s even known as Georgia seems to stem from the fact that crusaders of the Middle Ages referred to the St. George devotees of the land as “Gurj” people.
As for famous Georgians, well, there’s obviously Pachulia, who actually moved to Turkey at the age of 14 to pursue his basketball dreams, but four other natives have reached the NBA as well: Tornike Shengelia, Vladimir Stepania, Jake Tsakalidis, and Nikoloz Tskitishvili, none of whom saw Pachulia’s level of success or longevity. It isn’t just famous athletes born in Georgia, however. The infamous Joseph Stalin, who would of course later become the leader of the Soviet Union among other things, was born in Gori, Georgia. Despite his controversial status in history, many Georgians are proud that someone so well-known hailed from their country. Georgia didn’t actually gain independence from the Soviet Union until 1991, when Zaza had just turned 7.
When it comes to food, Georgia has numerous staple dishes. I’ve been promising to cook khachapuri for Zaza all season, but the delicious cheese-filled bread is far from the only thing his people are known to eat. There’s also khinkali, which is a Georgian soup dumpling eaten as finger food, ajapsandali, a super spicy and garlic-flavored vegetarian dish, and lobiani, bean-filled flatbread with a buttery, flaky texture likened to a croissant. Georgians love pairing their cuisine with beer and wine, and are in fact well-known for being one of the oldest wine regions in the world. These friendly folks will insist on filling your glass time and time again if you plan on paying them a visit.
The next time you see Zaza Pachulia slam down a rebound and let out a bellow in what you now know is probably very nearly an alien language, think of the mountains that make up his hometown. Think of all that khachapuri he’s devoured over the years. Think of the long, winding road he took to get to the NBA, a road as long and winding as the mazes that make up the streets in Tblisi. Know that he holds the place he grew up in high regard even today and makes a point to visit every offseason. Most of all, be grateful that such a solid player with such an interesting background was available to bail the Mavericks out when they found themselves with nowhere to sit in the game of musical chairs that was their summer search for a center.