Cousin Tracy and the Double Star: McGrady in China

T-Mac flies high in the Rocket days.

The I Love Tracy Show just came into my Saturday morning life, not-quite-live from Qingdao, China (that’s a city in Shandong province, just north of Shanghai). With an NBA game coming on at a routine-for-China 10:30 a.m., there was time for CCTV 5, my inscrutable Asian ESPN, to show a mercifully edited version of last night’s CBA game. The Qingdao Double Star Eagles were trying to keep their perfect record with the great T-Mac on board, and they did it! After losing to the Shandong Flaming Bulls — though apparently no animals were harmed in the naming of this team — they are now 0-9, and it wasn’t even that close a match. “Led” by the lethargic former NBA star – still an icon in China, having played much of his fluid prime in Houston alongside Yao Ming – the Eagles don’t guard much. Down 18 with under 5 minutes to play, they were in a flaccid zone, having been unable to contain a quick little American point guard named Pooh Jeter, and Jordanian forward Zaid Abbas (who pretty much had his way with Mr. McGrady). It was another day in the life of Americans trying to find a basketball refuge (and make a few million yuan, in this case) in the Middling Kingdom of pro basketball. 

T-Mac managed 12 rebounds, all but one defensive where his length and general lassitude about defending puts him in a good position (let’s just say that he’s not exactly flying around the court, challenging three-point shooters). I drew my wife’s attention from Facebook to a CBA replay. (Such is the power I wield!)

“So that dunk was McGrady? That wasn’t so great.”

“No, McGrady’s in white.”

“You mean the guy who just stood there and let him score?”

Once a peer of Kobe. Now…

“That’s the guy.”

In the fourth quarter, he went so far as to make a flat-footed reach to send Abbas to the line, instead of the easy jam. Look, the Double Star Eagles didn’t sign him as a defensive stopper, but he only scored twelve, in a league where the two foreign imports are expected to fill it up. (Context: on the same night, Stephon Marbury and Randolph Morris combined for 64 of Beijing’s 94 points, while someone called Garret Siler had 31, Marcus Williams 33 and Marcus Haislip 40 for their respective clubs. Eddy Curry, you will want to know, made his Chinese debut and notched 22 and 12 rebounds.) T-Mac only took seven shots, and played but 30 minutes, whether from poor conditioning or a desperate coach trying to grow a spine. In fact, a new Qingdao signee, an American named Chris Daniels (nope, never heard of him either), who’s played in the Korean league for several years, was the dominant import scorer, with McGrady seemingly content down the stretch to make the entry pass from the wing and watch this undersized, three-big-steps-from-the-NBA post player try to bring his new team its first win. 102-91 was the result, and only a small Qingdao surge, on which T-Mac was mainly a passenger, made the final even seemingly respectable.

It has to have Qingdao and Chinese Basketball Association officials in significant face-losing mode, as McGrady’s signing was huge news here, another pregnant We’re good! We’re really really good! moment for the CBA in its frantic scrambling to appear major league. Along with Marbury, finally a champion last spring with the Ducks, he is the face of the league and its television advertising. His every move, even in defeat number nine, still draws excited noise, and many lined the exit tunnel for the chance to maybe touch his massive palms as he passed. But one coach was fired after the first two losses, and the other is said to be on the way out. Surely this is not what T-Mac imagined. Active NBA players – Artest, Battier, and now actual stars like Dwyane Wade and Kevin Love – have shoe contracts here, and though he still looks much the same as he did in the twisting, slashing, flying days, he gets the odd shot blocked and seems content to act mainly as a facilitator on a team with little firepower.  Yeesh. This couldn’t have been the plan.

There was buzz. I didn’t buy the shirt.

So, the prelim over in an efficient hour (counting a halftime ad blitz, with the same moronic commercials back to back to back), I settled in for some Nuggets/Grizzlies, but NOOOOOO! I’d been done in by CCTV 5, or perhaps by my imperfect grasp of the time difference during Daylight Savings Time back home. Instead, another edited CBA replay between the Foshan Long Lions and the perennial CBA powerhouse  Guangdong Southern Tigers. I didn’t really watch much, but did notice that Yi Jianlian was out of action for the Tigers, having returned to the mother ship that made his disappointing NBA career possible. Hey, wait a minute – isn’t 42 Shavlik Randolph, the old Duke star? He still doesn’t have enough muscle, but he’s a smart passer in the posts and an effective presence for the Long Lions. (Sorry, I can’t explain what makes these Lions long, unless it’s the obvious.) It turns out that the Blue Devils and their bitter cross-state rivals, the University of North Carolina, have reconciled in eastern China: Randolph’s import teammate in Foshan, likely the only guy he can speak with very much, is former Tarheel Rashad McCants. The brotherhood of basketball gypsies.

Sure enough, the big boys eventually came on. The court looks so much smaller with NBA wingspans filling it. I got my first look in a couple of years at a more mature Conley running the point for Memphis, and a mile-high Iguodala for Denver. There were points of particular interest for me: Andre Miller is still a clever, effective player; Rudy Gay still doesn’t play like or get the calls of a star; and, especially, I got another look at the remarkable JaVale McGee, all that bounding energy in a seven-foot frame, and learned a little more about why people find him so compelling, even when he’s doing inexplicable things. He hardly scored, but he helped put the clamps on the powerhouse Grizzly frontline, including a breathtaking block of a Randolph bunny that was really a soaring catch of the shot. It was my second ‘WOW’ of the day, and the only wonder-full one.

The first wow was a bit sadder, a wistful how the mighty have fallen, how the famous crave fame, how the game can pass you by but you can’t leave the game. Vince Carter is a long way past his NBA All-Star days, but he is still making useful contributions to a slowly decomposing (but still competent) Dallas Mavericks club. I’d love to know more of how his cousin Tracy ever came to Qingdao, ever came to this?

Is he happy going through these motions and emotions?

Comment (1)

  1. […] steadily surprising adventures as a basketball nomad in Qingdao, a coastal city in China. When last I wrote of the former NBA scoring champion, his Double Star Eagles were on an epic losing streak to the […]

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