Bosh's trip to South Africa a life-changing experience

STEVE BUFFERY, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 8:52 AM ET

Between sirens blaring in the background and his constant yawning over the phone, Chris Bosh doesn't really know whether he's coming or going.

"Sorry, man," Bosh says, laughing, while sitting on a bus on the way to the U.S. Embassy in Johannesburg, South Africa. "I'm just incredibly tired."

The fatigue is understandable. Since arriving in South Africa last Tuesday as part of the NBA's Basketball Without Borders program, Bosh hardly has had time to stretch his legs. It has been a whirlwind, with daily basketball clinics for local hoops stars and visits to such landmarks as the Apartheid Museum. Yesterday, Bosh and company helped out with a Habitat for Humanity project and visited an orphanage for children with AIDS -- two experiences he never will forget. In fact, the Raptors star believes that yesterday was a day that will change his life.

"I'll never look at things the same way," he said. "You think of poverty in Toronto and some of the rough areas there. There's no comparison. People here live in shacks -- houses with four corners and a metal sheet for a roof. We worked on this house for this family and it was a huge upgrade for them. But if you and I were asked to live in something like that, well, we wouldn't like it at all. But these people were actually happy."

Today, Bosh will visit Soweto, the infamous Johannesburg township described as one of the worst slums on the continent, the site of the 1976 uprising in which 566 people killed during an anti-government protest.

"Apparently there's even more poverty there than what we've seen so far, which I can't even imagine," said Bosh. "But I have to see it."

Bosh, in fact, is anxious for as many people as possible to see what he has seen so far. To that end has downloaded some pics on to his Twitter account (http://twitter.com/ChrisBOSH).

An even more profound shock to his system than the poverty in Johannesburg was the visit to the orphanage, and for once, Bosh was at a loss for words.

"It's very hard for me to describe the feeling of visiting there," he said. "These were very small kids, maybe kindergarten kids. Maybe not even that old -- 2-5 years. Kids living with AIDS.

"But the crazy thing was, they were smiling, and laughing and having a good time. It puts a lot of things into perspective."

It certainly has for Bosh, who will return to Toronto in a week or so to prepare for the upcoming NBA season -- a season many have described as a make-or-break campaign for the big Texan in terms of whether he stays with the Raptors after next season.

Between trips to South Africa and teammate Jose Calderon's camp in Spain, Bosh said that he has worked harder than ever in the off-season. As for the much-discussed possibility of a contract extension, Bosh, who is heading into the final year of his current deal, reiterated his feelings that he is open to talk with the Raptors, but said the bottom line is, he wants to know that, in the future, he is playing for a contender.

This off-season, general manager Bryan Colangelo has made a number of moves in a bid to improve last year's squad, bringing in such notables as Hedo Turkoglu, first-round draft pick DeMar DeRozan and Jarrett Jack.

"A chance to win, that's all it comes down to," Bosh said. "That's all I ask for -- to have a chance to win a championship."

As usual, Bosh said a key to any success will come down to how much centre Andrea Bargnani continues to improve. The big Italian averaged career highs of 15.4 points, 5.3 rebounds, 1.24 blocked shots and 31.4 minutes last season and signed a five-year, $50-million US extension this summer.

"He's pretty much raised the bar for himself with his good play at the end of last year," Bosh said. "I think he can be a tremendous help to us if he continues to play like that."

STEVE.BUFFERY@SUNMEDIA.CA


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