Hoop it up in Bohemia's basketball capital

A seemingly humdrum administrative burg of 14,600 residents, Nymburk doesn't register as a stop on anyone's tourist track.

But if you're a basketball fan, this small town straddling the river Labe 50 kilometers from Prague is the Czech Republic's unlikely Mecca. The smallest of 10 cities represented in the first division of the Mattoni National Basketball League, it is home to the league's powerhouse, two-time defending champion ČEZ Basketball Nymburk.

Watching Nymburk play in the 1,500-capacity arena of the communist-era Sportovní centrum won't make anyone forget Shaq or LeBron. But with two Americans in the starting lineup - newly naturalized Czech citizen Maurice Whitfield, a member of the national team, and Adam Hess, who last year set the league's single-game scoring mark - and a swarming defensive style, Nymburk plays an uptempo, inside-outside game that dominates foes and will enjoyably sate your basketball jones, especially if the team fan club is in full chanting, drum-beating fervor.

Even at 700-plus years old, the town itself is relatively run-of-the-mill in a country full of well-preserved medieval burgs. There are a few architectural highlights (a striking Cubist crematorium; the Gothic Church of St. Giles, still bearing scars from the Thirty Years War), but the center is rather drab and much of the city industrially nondescript. Basketball seems to bring out Nymburk's best face, though, from the way the locals have fallen head-over-heels for their hoop heroes to the charming stroll from the main square, náměstí Přemyslovců, to the sports hall, which takes in the turreted, Romantically reconstructed town fortification, crosses the Labe at the impressive Art Nouveau waterworks and reaches the arena via a serene, woodsy riverside path.

Give yourself time before tip-off to pay homage to Nymburk's favorite adopted son (possibly excepting Whitfield), writer Bohumil Hrabal, whose family moved here from Brno in 1919, when he was five. Hrabal spent most of the next quarter-century in Nymburk, immortalizing his youthful experiences in The Little Town Where Time Stood Still. The small Ethnographic Museum on Tyršova devotes an exhibition to the peerless palaverer.

For true Hrabalites, the holiest site is Pivovar Nymburk on Pražská street, maker of the fine Postřižinské pivo. Hrabal wrote extensively about the childhood hours he spent in the small brewery, which employed his adoptive father, František, and his beloved Uncle Pepin, an inveterate storyteller and formative influence on the future writer. The brewery holds tours by appointment and hosts a beer-soaked Open Day party the third Saturday in June, giving the locals something to look forward to after basketball season ends.


Arriving: Nymburk is located off the E11 highway about 50 kilometers east of Prague. Several trains a day run direct from Prague's main and Masaryk stations; the trip takes about 50 minutes.

Exploring: The basketball season runs from October to May. Tickets for home games are 60 CZK. Check www.basket-nymburk.cz for game schedules. Sportovní centrum (Sportovní 1802) is a pleasant 15-minute stroll from the square or a half-hour walk from the train station (follow the signs). The Ethnographic Museum (Tyršova 174) is open 9 a.m.-4 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday; entrance costs 10 CZK. The town website, www.meu-nbk.cz, has historical and visitor information in Czech, English and German.

Eating and drinking: Cafe Castello (nám. Přemyslovců 40/6) serves up first-rate pizzas. The hours are dicey and the frills nonexistent, but when it's open Dělnický dům (Palackého 555) pours a fine Postřižinské.

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