NBA Finals: It’s Morning in China

To paraphrase the late great media blowhard Howard Cosell – and listen, though he blew hard, he often blew well, but who calls anybody a “blowwell”? – I reject the notion that the NBA is a sacred cow which emits only the purest of good, wholesome milk. (Even when The Finals begin in Oklahoma.) I’m a basketball lover, a long-time coach, someone who still pumpfakes and dropsteps and stumbles around outdoor courts with college students. In China. (And no, I don’t often post guys up. 5’10 ¾” is bigger here than back home in Ontario, but I’m not usually the big man on campus courts and I don’t jump anymore.) I’ve loved (and often hated) the Association since well before Miami or Oklahoma City dreamed of having teams, when Dave Cowens was a floorburned 6’9” centre and Bob McAdoo, an early Kevin Durant prototype, floated jumpers for the Buffalo Braves. (Yeah, I bin around.)

Now, for three years, I’ve watched my NBA games in the mornings when I’m free. I don’t watch the regular season much, and haven’t for years, though I read about it more often than is recommended by shot doctors. I’ve watched several playoff games, though, especially once the Thunder/Spurs series was on, and I’m all in for the Finals, at least when I’m not teaching English to Finance majors. Watching hoops here is an exercise in detachment, amusement, frustration and whimsy. CCTV 5, the national sports channel among more than a dozen state television offerings, picks up feeds from the American broadcaster. Two guys sit at desks in Beijing, their logo-bedecked laptops in front of them, and do the “game call/colour guy” dance from long distance. When the Americans go to commercial, CCTV does the same, or they might go to the studio for echoing conversations on the game, limited by the remoteness of the commentators but mainly by my still-limited grasp of Chinese.

It’s weird, distancing, bemusing, but I still get to watch the game. I was locked in for the broadcast of Game 1 between the Miami Heat (LeBron James’s “Decision” choice, along with sidekicks Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh) and the home-town Oklahoma City Once-Were-Sonics, known collectively now as the Thunder (with their younger, home-grown trio of Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and James Harden, no relation.) Is this the first time for the Finals to be contested by two teams with singular team names? Ah, yet another sign that the sporting apocalypse is upon us!

8:55 a.m. If I was home, I’d be complaining about nine o’clock starts, not just ‘cause I’m turning into a pumpkin earlier and earlier, but because it’s awkward for a whole generation of kids to stay up that late on school nights. (MLB, curse you, too! ) But I’ve been up for a couple of hours, gotten some work done, and I’m ready. Excitement! I’d forgotten that, for the Finals, CCTV flies their di yi dui (Number One Team dudes) to the States for on-site commentary. They’re pumped! The colour guy, a one-time player, is apparently the Tommy Heinsohn of Chinese basketball: an unapologetic homer, and an animated, sometimes semi-articulate holler guy. (I don’t get much of what he says, but I like his shouts and growls.) His partner has the close-cropped skull and gold-armed style glasses of young, urban hipsters in China. Here, they’re loving (and no doubt emulating) the Clark Kent glasses (sometimes without any lenses) that the Miami Heat’s Glitter Twins (James/Wade) and the so-nerdy-he’s-cute Kevin Durant have adopted. Next up, if the Chinese have their way, will be rhinestones and golden-armed and rose-covered glasses. It’s coming, North America!

9:05 a.m. The opening tip. With the Chinese pair in Oklahoma City, plus the No. 2 team still sitting in studio, I miss most of the pre-game hype on ABC, which is fine with me. I have been actively nauseated by the vulgarity of the NBA Finals broadcast opening – the turning point might have been the year when the Shaq/Wade Heat beat the Mavericks, where the bouncy babes and fire-blasting player intros went right off the tackiness charts for me. Can we just play the friggin’ game, please? The Curmudgeon lives. (I felt the same way at my last Raptors game, and God knows that was only a regular season distraction-fest for the ADD generation. (Muttering.)) Ibaka wins the tip! Perkins catches it! And when did the reliably dour Perkins get a personality? From his hand-clapping invitation to Spurs’ guards to try and take him off the dribble, to this well-rehearsed Finals innovation: the shotgun snap back to “quarterback” Russell Westbrook, who has claimed to be the Initiator of the Geek Glasses for Young Black Millionaires trend. Here we go.

9:07 The QB calls his own number the first two possessions. Pop(corn) Westbrook is 0/2.

9:08 The logos taped on the back of the studio guys’ laptop screens are for PEAK basketball shoes (pi ke, which sounds like “pee kuh”) this game. (Sometimes it’s a company called 361°.) PEAK has second-tier NBA-ers as their pitchmen, guys like Ron (Metta World Peace) Artest and Shane Battier. The common factors are two: they’re usually nearly washed up, and they’re almost always former teammates of Yao Ming. (Jason Kidd is the exception to the YaoBuddy rule.) For years, the Houston Rockets were shown on Chinese TV, as a result of which Tracy McGrady remains perhaps the most popular player here in China, though Kobe and more recently LeBron are making headway. (Oh, yes, and that Linsanity thing? That hit pretty big here, too. I play my pickup games on an outdoor court with his face adorning the chain-link fence.) Anyway, it’s a great start for PEAK – more money to be made from the Battier VI model, as the mighty Shane opens the scoring for Miami with a bomb. (Foreign names are routinely given a Chinese meaning and/or sound equivalent; my country is jia na da, Canada. Players, too. Kobe is easy for Chinese speakers, another reason for his one-name status here, but LeBron is tough to say, so they call him jia me si, with the last two syllables pronounced ‘muh suh’. Durant is du lan, and Battier is ba di er, which surprises me a little because that final ‘r’ sound is tough for some Chinese.) But Ba di er it is!

9:09 After those two energetic clangs by Westbrook, Durant scores on his first shot, a microcosm of the odd dynamic of this team, in which the greatest scorer in the world has trouble getting the ball from his own teammate at times. The college-style crowd in Oklahoma City, gotta love it, can sit down after their rhythmic we’ll stand and clap ‘til our boys make a bucket. 

9:11 Ba di er. Piao liang! (Beautiful!) The go-to phrase for any play finer than a routine hao qiu (good play, literally “good ball”). Another san fen qiu (three point ball) from Battier.

9:12 Westbrook, desperate to score, has a leaping leaner miss. I love the Thunder, especially Durant, and I have a curious TV-screen “relationship” with young Russell. His fire and physical gifts knock me out, but so do his decisions. I pulled for one last title for my favoured Spurs, and I had some talks with Westbrook. “Come on, Russell, keep firing, that’s it! You’re our only hope now,” I’d say as the incredible ease of Durant’s scoring (and James Harden’s sometimes clumsy-looking effectiveness) and the overall speed and quickness of OKC took its toll on San Antonio. And then I’d say, “Oh, Russell, I didn’t mean for you to do that!” as he’d make some dazzling sprint to score at the rim.

9:13 Perkins gets an easy feed down low. Zou bu. Another travel, a “walk badly”. Clumsitron, but a tough one.

Pretty feed by Dwyane Wade, one of Miami’s “Big Three” to an utterly ignored Haslam for the jam. 10-2 Heat, and an early timeout. A weird (and entirely familiar) little commercial, video of various NBA mascot follies with an inscrutable Chinese company attaching its logo to the footage. Buy these things! They are fun!

9:14 Durant for three. Give him the ball, people! Is it only because of race that people don’t seem to make the Durant/Bird comparison? Nobody passes like Bird, and he was a better rebounder, but Durant’s scoring is so effortless and various, and he’s a clever passer, too. Wonderful.

9:16 a.m. OKC timeout or the first TV timeout? Can’t tell from here. Let’s see: China Southern airlines. A company with a truly weird anglicized name, Eichitoo, with its dancing boys and girls and their cool clothing. (And it won’t be the last time: even without a heavy TV diet, I’ve seen this bit a hundred times, and I even have my favourite cuties with their peace signs and charmingly modest dancing. However, this ad is at least three years old, and Chinese media are steadily getting more “mature” and slightly steamy — of course, with Chinese characteristics. Why, I saw a signboard the other day with lovers whose lips were dangerously close to touching. It’s only a matter of time. The production values get higher as the morals descend. Don’t get me started on Chinese pro basketball’s version of NBA “Dancepaks”. Yeesh.) Incredibly awkward dunk-acting by the new Chinese basketball icon, Yi Jianlian, in a Tsingtao beer commercial, which mainly has black guys making all the moves; they’re still not too sure about Yi here, and while they love Yao, the lads want to wear Kobe and James and McGrady jerseys.

9:19 Darn you, CCTV! While Yi was faux-jamming, I missed what might have been a slick play by the Thunder that looked like it ended with a genuine slam by Ibaka. 14-10 Heat. Ba di er! San fen qiu! Another trey for Battier, great sign for the Heat early. How much does the old Dukester have left? Haven’t seen him play except in PEAK commercials for quite a while.

9:20 Okay, maybe Westbrook can relax. Paydirt. He’s so quick!

9:22 Here’s a pattern, maybe one of Kevin’s ways of playing nice with Russell: when Durant gets the defensive board, he brings the ball up, plays point, and looks for his own shot. Just did, but got cut off. Found Westbrook on the perimeter. My turn, now! WB gets off a bad shot. Surprise!

9:24 Burning question: did OKC’s Collison’s nose always look like that? Is he cultivating nose hair to match James Harden’s opulent beard? Or did he have a really bad cold? I’ve liked Collison since he was at Kansas, but I don’t remember his schnozz looking like that. Help, please. Bosh off the bench for a jumper. 24-13 Heat, serial wildness by both sides, then Harden finds Durant on the cut. Beautiful basketball intrudes, momentarily, on the one-on-one fest. Noticed also, in an earlier possession, James declining a chance to take on the smaller Westbrook to allow Wade to take his man. Your turn, sir! This is a basketball mode that James seems to have put an end to in closing out the Celtics. Hmm.

9:25  Yao Ming has made a comeback. They’ve started showing (again) an old environmental awareness piece, where Uncle Yao (Yao shushu) advises his viewers to turn off the lights (he snaps his fingers, and the stadium lights dim), turn off the tap, and to put their plastic bottles in the appropriate receptacle. (Meanwhile, recycling is almost non-existent here in any way we’d recognize, until you notice the underground economy of poor folk rummaging through garbage to collect plastic or paper they can sell for nearly nothing.) He still wears a Rockets jersey in a blue-sky, animated-greenery ending to the spot, so this thing is years old. And then some more NBA teamwork footage, this time for Mengniu, a milk company (niu means cow or cattle) that is an official NBA sponsor (and one of the companies nailed for adding toxic filler to some of its infant formula). And then the ever-present on-line opportunities to Buy NBA Gear! 90% of the stuff we see here is illegal knockoffs, often comically bad: Go Laekrs! Hard to say where these bobble-heads and generic-looking shoes fit on the legitimacy scale.

9:28 Does an NBA guy ever get off the deck by himself, at least when the whistle has blown? Shouldn’t complain, I guess, after having spent years trying to cultivate such team recognition and support among my high school players. Guys just sit there and wait for hands to help them up, even from officials, and I reflexively suspect that it’s a play for face-time on TV. Just wondering, no biggie! Nice ball movement gets another of the Heat’s minimum-wage support players, Mario Chalmers, his 2nd three. So open!

9:29 Collison cleans up a Harden miss. Fails to scream or beat his chest. Wimp.

9:30 Piao liang! The Thunder’s Fisher has the ugliest jumpshot going, but it goes. Chalmers (haven’t figured out his Chinese name yet, sorry) answers, two Heat spear-carriers each 3 for 3 from 3!

9:33 Clumsy-looking “worst shot in basketball” (a long, challenged two-pointer) for Harden, but it goes to end the first quarter. Lots of one on one so far. Goodbye, Celtics. Goodbye, Spurs. By the way, China loves this. One of my blown preconceptions on arriving here was that Chinese basketball would be incredibly team-oriented, unselfish, humble sharing of the ball. HA! It’s serial murder of the beauty of the game, normally. The standard 4 on 4 games are often just repeated chances to go 1 on 4, where a pass is what you do if you get stopped. Fortunately, there isn’t much defence. It ticked me off for awhile, until I realized that nobody has ever been on a team. I play with university guys who have picked up the game late, mainly from NBA highlight packages and streetball video jams. They’re the most individualistic players you can imagine, and every one of my pavement hoops forays is not only a doomed attempt to get a few more highlights out of these uncooperative hands and slowing feet, but also a quixotic attempt to change the way the game is played, by passing and defending. (I do manage to enjoy myself, and I’ve only blown my ankle once.)

Between Quarters: Some “How They Got Here” action recapping the Heat’s defeat of the Knicks, Pacers and Celtics. The Beijing studio guys get their turn, talking over the English soundtrack, which luckily I can hear some of in the background. Yi and Tsingtao beer again. Did I mention the dancing girls? Buy more NBA gear online! Ah, Coach Spoelstra talking to, wait, it’s not Craig Sager. This must be ABC. Is that Hannah Storm with the sideline microphone? (And wasn’t she a member of the Fantastic Four?) Just in case somebody watching can understand the interview, and maybe because they don’t, the Chinese commentators remain silent. (Thanks.)

9:38 a.m. Good start to quarter two for the Thunder. Collison scores. 31-22 down, though. Next two possessions, each team: a clinic by the Heat, with LBJ initiating sweet ball movement; OKC continuing to go solo (including a 32-footer by Fisher where I think there was some shot-clock left; can’t tell from downtown Dalian, though).

9:41 Daequan Cook for the Thunder. Surprise. Get everybody’s feet wet in the Finals, in case you need ‘em later, I guess. (Rather brief appearance, but I remember one critical sequence against the Spurs where he hit big shots in a brief window. Nothing today.)

9:42 Interesting star sequence: LBJ schools Durant, steals his pass and dunks, but Durant comes right back, not with an I’ll show you shot but with a superb pass to Ibaka for an easy deuce. Another awkward moment in Chinese TV history. ABC runs its “how the Thunder got here” montage, and the studio guys weren’t ready for it at all. It’s all good for me, though, since I get to hear some English. Be nice if it was something I didn’t already know, but that’s my fault for reading too much online. Guys who follow the NFL all year must be driven nuts by the Super Bowl coverage, geared to the late arrivers to the athletic party.

9:46 Oh-oh. The ABC feed is going nuts. I feel a seizure coming on. Okay, we’re back. Durant is OKC’s best point guard. Incredible for a 6’10” assortment of elongated limbs, but I’m not sure this is a good thing for the Thunder.

9:48 Fisher just TAKES Wade 1 on 1 in the open court. Why didn’t Wade defend harder? Or are even past-their-freshness-date old warriors like Fisher that unstoppable on a fast break? Or was Wade just counting on the old dude to fall down or miss the freebie?

Now Fisher is on fire. Gimme the ball! I’m the man! Did he go to Germany for mysterious medical procedures? Did he sell his soul to Kobe Bryant? Is he going to Disneyland AGAIN?

Coach Spo calls for time. So: Adizero shoe ads come up, ready with Chinese voiceover and print cues. Adidas is trying to dominate the market here, much more aggressive than Nike is. Lots of local competition, too. Dollar signs are dancing in every sporting company’s eyes when they think of a developing population colossus like China. K-Boxing is a menswear manufacturer. Lots of English in their ads visually, voiceover all in Chinese. This is a good capsule of what young Chinese men are thought to believe is cool: lots of Western faces, including a Phil Jackson-lookalike as the Zen tyrant of a tailor. Buy these! Then the bane of my 12-year-old’s existence, possibly the worst bottled-water commercial ever: poor effects, bizarre makeup, and the worst lip-synching since the little Chinese cutie putting her face to the homelier child’s singing voice during the opening ceremonies of the 2008 Olympics. And the Battier VI, again!

9:53 Heat 39-30. Haslam draws a charge. Flop city? Westbrook makes it easy by being OC (outa control) still. I loved their following possessions, when their set has him off the ball, with Fisher at the point.

9:58 OKC guru Brooks WIRED! for sound by ABC during a timeout. Pretty pedestrian comments, more so than usual. Play hard. Et cetera. I think he almost said you can do it! Is his team that young?

10:00 Chinese TV was NOT ready for that timeout by Brooks. Brooks might not have wanted that one himself, but Chalmers just took advantage of another Wild West(brook) miss and took him off the dribble. So: The milk commercial again. Yao the Environment Man again. (I respect him in this; he’s taken a strong and not-necessarily popular stand against the wealthy Chinese people’s habit of eating sharkfin soup to show their status and high testosterone levels.) Ah, first time for Jay Chou and the Lakers’ Kobe Bryant. (You may know Mr. Chou as Kato in the Green Hornet movie, but likely you don’t. He is everywhere here, including the hearts of about a billion young women.) Chou is best known here as a musician, so he’s playing with his band in what appears to be an ancient  high school gym or a grungy club, which is fairly unlikely. He calls Kobe to come and join the band. (Kobe Bryant is in a grungy Chinese club?) Kobe demurs modestly, but when the crowd starts to chant his name, he takes a long swig of Shui Bi (Sprite) and suddenly has the jones to play funky rhythm guitar with the band, to the slack-jawed wonder of all. (The Chinese, from this ad, don’t seem to be fully ready for the true power of Shui Bi.) Tsingtao Beer again. It must be sports; always there is beer. The world is one country!

10:03 Good job, Coach Brooks! A play for Durant coming out of the timeout. Dunk! Easy! Not so easy is this question: what are worse, Perkins’ hands or his feet? Wow. Some of his missed catches are amazing. Reminds me of guys I play with. Bankshot 3 by LeBron? Really? He keeps a blank expression. Focussed, or in stressed-out denial of his lucky break? Ibaka the scoring star? Really? Again?

10:07 a.m. Westbrook is angry when he scores. (Again? Still?) Down to 7. Coach Spo grabs a 20. (I managed to hear the PA announcer; I don’t know how to say or hear “Twenty second timeout” in Chinese. It would be something like er shi miao something something.) The two Chinese guys, however, do agree with each other on many things. Dui! they repeatedly say. (This dui is a different dui than the dui that means “team”, or several other dui’s that have different meanings because of differing tones and contexts that I can’t hear or decipher.)

54-47 at half. It’s been a scrambly, nervy, wildly played half. Not a bad start, though I miss the Spurs. I’d have loved to see them defeat the Heat, the InstaTeam. Hannah Storm grabs Shane Battier as he leaves the court, smilingly accusing him of “sandbagging his entire career”. He chuckles. I want him to say, Well, Hannah, I was National Player of the Year at Duke, and I’ve been a pretty useful pro for a lotta years. I do know how to score the ball, actually. I’m sure he didn’t, but I’ll never know. China cuts – even though it’s Ba Di Er! – to the first of 1.5 billion commercials, a coupla new ones for cars and Rolex, and for VOIT (Voh-tuh) which is a recent entrant to the exploding sports/footwear/equipment market here. Another car. Another shoe, by ANTA this time. Another car. Beer, shoes, cars. (And here’s another one). Feels just like home, unfortunately. Jay Chou again. This guy advertises everything. Sportswear, this time, not Sprite or potato chips or mobile phones or (gasp!) even his own music. Another car. More running by the Chinese middle-class under blue skies and on tree-lined streets. (I guess they must exist somewhere, but not in my neighbourhood.) Advertisers here are trying awfully hard to get people to believe in exercise, ‘cause that’ll sell unbelievable numbers of shoes. Then a “The Finals are here!” montage, which plays through. More NBA gear! Wow! I’m exhausted. Back to the studio guys, and soon the in-arena guys will have their breathless say.

10:25 a.m. I need a second breakfast. Okay! Here we go, second half. The Thunderous fans are up and clapping again. Go, college! Thabo Sefolosha is back for his token start for OKC, wishing he had had a start like Ba di er. Ibaka finds Durant for three, lovely little set! These guys are learning so fast. Watching almost every minute of the Western finals, I felt I could see OKC learning how to play championship ball from the Spurs, not that they weren’t already darned good going in.

10:27 Sefolosha steals, but blows the open layup because he wanted to dunk. Fan gui! He’s lucky to get that foul call, apparently obligatory because he was going for the dunk and missed. He missed, though, because Chalmers challenged him, avoided contact, and forced him to adjust his shot. (Curmudgeon coach says, Just put the ball in the basket! This isn’t a dunk contest!) He misses first free throw ‘cause he knew he missed the layup – badly – without any help. Hoops Psychology 101.

Wade really doesn’t really handle well. That’s why he was under-recruited out of high school and played all four years at Marquette. Messed up play, but LBJ hits a three to redeem it. Wow. Westbrook is a blur to the rim. Again.

10:29 Never thought I’d say this, but I miss Udonis Haslam’s cornrows. Russell, Russell, Russell. That clanked trey, following great plays by Sefolosha and by you, was such an “I need to be the Dagger Man!” shot.

10:33 Another great defensive play by Sefolosha, another desperate-to-dunk attempt, another miss but bailed by a phantom foul. This time he makes ‘em both. The guy looks like a million bucks at times, but he’s no finisher. OKC down one, the Heat need a timeout, and so do I.

These commercials will not be steadfastly reported, but it’s more of the same. I need a pee and a bowl of corn flakes. Damn! Forgot. Out of milk. Hard to come by in quantity here. Bad management in a household with two milk-drinking men, one big and one small. Emergency PB&J prep; luckily, there’s bread, which can also be a bit hard to find, edible stuff, anyway. And there’s Skippy.

10:40 a.m. Gorgeous penetration dish by Point Guard Durant. Two straight buckets on slithery/powerful drives by LBJ. Go to the hoop, man! (Even if he can’t do much of anything off two feet – post moves, drives that can finish with shot-fakes or step-throughs or just the correct-even-though-it-won’t-make-SportsCenter pass – which is incredible to me. LeBron, you need Coach Howden! I digress.) The Thunder are wild, but they seem to be able to win that way. Westbrook is always on the edge, though. I’m starting to think of Brooks as the kindest of father figures. Or a psychological enabler of a young man with a thinking problem.

10:46 Another trey for Battier. (Pi ke! Pi ke!) Back to 5. Ibaka cleans up another messy force by Westbrook.

10:48  Timeout Miami. Yao again. Hey, a new one, for Oppo, a mobile brand. Hey, the Eichitoo girls are back! So is the VOIT animated robot. So is Sprite-fuelled Kobe and his sidekick, Jay Chou, the most famous face in China. He’s Taiwanese. I first met him on the plane to Beijing, our first year in China. He starred in the China Air in-flight feature showing of Kung Fu Dunk, the story of a disgraced Shaolin monk whose incredible physical skills are spotted by a basketball coach who turns him into a superstar of Chinese basketball who brings down the forces of sporting evil. The fight scenes were hilarious, the basketball ones even better.

10:52 Just when I want to give up on surly, snarling Russell, he drives like THAT! Electric. Apparently unstoppable. (He IS, when he picks his spots correctly. He’s only 23. Wow.) Get under CONTROL, Russell! Relentless, though, but still. Learn from Reverend Collison.

10:56 Maurice Cheeks, old Sixers point guard, now an assistant to Brooks. ABC gave him some camera time there, which must mean something. I always liked that guy, and I hope he gets another shot at a head job. Apparently, by coaching in the Finals he’s missing the chance to interview with the comically bad Charlotte Bobcats, and maybe that’s why the camera loved him up for a few seconds there. (Hey, how important is it to be the head man again? Better to be part of a great organization than to be the most obvious fall-guy in a poor one?) Westbrook must drive these guys nuts. Brooks and Cheeks were both NBA point guards, but neither had the booster rockets that Westbrook runs on. And Fisher, too! But in this game, it looks like Russell is influencing the wiley “coach on the floor” veteran Fish, and not vice versa.

10:58 Yeah, booster rockets like THAT. What a drive, what a brilliant twisting finish. Perfect timing. And one. First lead for OKC! The body language of the Heat players is not good, lots of pointing at each other and moaning to the officials. (I can hear the defeated Celtics’ Rajon Rondo nodding his head.)

The handsome K-Boxing models are back. Oh-oh! CCTV 5 experiencing technical difficulties. Here’s Liu Xiang, their great hurdler, selling some kind of nutritional supplement that there’s no way in hell he’d actually use, given China’s abysmal food quality situation. Ba di er sells more shoes. No doubt he has had personal input into the design of all six of those Battier shoes. (Ha.)

11:03 a.m. “When we defend, we’re very good,” says Sage Brooks to Hannah Storm. Good to know! (But sheesh, what am I expecting a coach to say when a woman with a microphone interrupts his work to ask for digestible wisdom cum entertainment for the glassy-eyed millions?) Sefolosha is getting lots more minutes, which backs Coach B’s assertions about defence. Durant, as Hannah has gleaned from a timeout microphone, “needs more force,” and Brooks sort of agrees with himself. What he really needs, say I, is more Touches. He can’t get every defensive rebound.

11:06 Sweet pass by Fisher after some patient offence, for a change, and another offensive rebound from Collison. Only 13 shots for Durant so far (ABC graphic, not linguistic perceptiveness). He’s claimed the fourth quarter as his own, so we’ll see. OKC fans look so nice. It’s not just their overwhelming whiteness, of course, although likely only Salt Lake City could match them for racial homogeneity. These are people who aren’t used to being on TV, and dress like they’re going to church, if church offered blue T-shirts on every pew. Might not like their politics, though: read recently that Oklahoma is the Reddest of the Red States. Not that that’s all bad.

11:10 A brilliant defensive possession, and offensive Heat uncertainty, and Bosh in particular, let off the hook by a phantom foul on Collison. No Ibaka, no Perkins, small OKC lineup that is getting after it defensively. Hey, Collison gets off the deck by himself after a dive for a loose ball! He’s my man. That’s a pretty great forward to bring off the bench; wouldn’t he look great in a Heat uniform, but no such luck when the entire salary cap goes to the Three Amigos.

11:13 Collison’s not the ref’s man, though! Clear charge, but Collison gets called for the the block. Gotta be the nostrils. (Or the lack of whining.) WILD shot by Durant (uncharacteristic), and Westbrook runs the worst 2 on 1 since my last practice coaching at Merivale High.

11:16 Russell fires a prayer, and though it was answered, I have to say: he had Durant with an obvious mismatch and didn’t know how to (or want to) get him the ball. Give it to him! (This old point guard is also being driven nuts, but only because there’s so much to love, perhaps; reminds me of life with my 12-year-old.) Wow. Phantom foul on Sefolosha, the El Predicto school of refereeing: yep, LeBron to the hoop, this one looks like it’s going to be a foul, and I’ve worked on this call in many a mirror… Score the bucket, and-one (missed) for LBJ.

11:17 Another force by Westbrook, Collison bags another offensive board, Durant takes a better forced shot for 3. Big shot by Bosh to keep the Heat in it. 5:30 left in the fourth quarter. It’s takeover time for Durant, but will they give ‘im the ball? ABC just showed the slo-mo replay of an elegant left to right drive and lay-down by Durant, pausing at the height of his leap, waiting for Ba di er to descend from his airspace, and then feathering it in. My goodness, the hands! Still Brooks has the small lineup, lots of unaccustomed late time for Collison and Sefolosha, none so far in the fourth (I think) for Harden, bigs conspicuously absent. I like Sefolosha on James, since LBJ is not that willing or able to abuse that long but skinny guard in the post. Durant already has 30, and I’m still screaming that he doesn’t get the ball enough. The Thunder is a weird sort of team, but I enjoy them.

11: 23 Under five to play, and Durant comes off a screen for another bucket. Once again, they came out of a timeout with a clear design. Coach Brooks for 2! Bad-looking “answer” 3-pointer from LBJ. Mei you! (No good, literally “doesn’t have”). A rushed attempt to thrust The Dagger into the Heat (Durant), followed by a successful shot by Westbrook – but he still should’ve been patient, should’ve found a shot for the Scoring Machine he plays with.

11:24 BIG 3 for Wade, three minutes to go. Keeps the Heat down 7. Timeout. While more beer and cars flash across my 24” curved-screen, low-def television, allow me to say that it’s a sunny morning here in Dalian, but the smog is pretty heavy. Our atmospheric indicator is a small rock island in the sea that we can normally see from our ninth-floor window. My little island, though, is a carbon-beclogged rumour, at the moment. Ah, it’s Yao again, but not the years-old voice of environmental reason. It’s a more recent spot, and I can see how he’s packing on the pounds in retirement. He appears to be trying, in this Olympic promo, to convince the Chinese public to put some trust in Yi Jianlian and his merry men. He’s an object of scorn in the U.S., often, and some Chinese men feel the same way. But watch Yi when he’s the MAN. He’s better than you might think, though he didn’t get much hardwood time for the Mavs. Ah, this announcement must be setting up their Olympic preview coverage following the game. Chinese sports TV is gearing up for London 2012 in a big way.

11:30 LBJ hits two free throws to bring the Heat within 6, 2:37 to go. Kevin gets the ball. Fouled. Harden’s back, finally, pretty late for him. Gosh, Durant just looks automatic at the line. What a lovely and awesomely repeatable shooting stroke.

11:32 a.m. Wade hits another biggie. I holler at Westbrook’s pixels, “Give it to ‘im”, but the Image of Russell scores an off-balance J instead of looking for KD. LeBron answers, pretty drive and the foul. Hits the “and-one”. Game still on. 1:34 left, and Durant makes a piao liang feed to Collison for the dunk, OKC up 7. Interesting that Battier has been guarding Durant down the stretch, without much luck.

45 seconds left, and that naughty boy Russell chooses to launch a jumper earlier in the shot-clock than needed (as far as I can tell from 10,892 kilometres and one language away). Sefolosha bails him out and gets fouled on the offensive rebound, and hits two. It’s 9 points again, and the Spurs are sitting at home thinking, They’re so out of control and impatient, and they’re not closing this out like they ought to be, but they’re beating these guys the same way they tattooed us. 34 and 8 for Durant, and how many assists? The obligatory graphic: LBJ “this quarter” (2/7, if you missed it). The scrutiny that James endures! Unimaginable. Another obligatory ABC program director’s choice, given what they’ve pre-determined the “stories” of this series to be: the home crowd chants “MVP! MVP!” (and isn’t this getting a little old? Say what you want about Duke – I’m a respecter – but their fans in Cameron Indoor Stadium would never settle for such a tired cliché!) because Durant is at the line late. And where does the camera go? To a tight shot of Westbrook’s face, looking for, um, what? Resentment. Distaste. Controversy. Division. Gawd, we love to tear things and people down. (Here in China, they mainly tear buildings down, often less than 20 years old, so they can build new ones. The whole country has an Under Construction sign on it. Incredible to see. I again digress, but it’s kinda hard to tell at times, isn’t it?)

11:41 a.m. Well, folks, I may have to start my normal day soon, and leave the shelter of my televised hit of North American hoops frenzy. I’d been reading so many Internet mentions of Craig Sager’s suits as a bigger-than-the-game sideline reporter, but it appears I have the wrong network. Who gets the post-game camera? It’s Durant and the very serious Ms. Storm. (But I’m still sure she has superpowers behind those glasses and the hair colouring.) Our guys now try to do some instant translation of whatever the hell Durant was saying. (I’ll bet it had to do with “working hard” and “sticking together”.) To us, it’s easy, routine, pretty boring, really, these elementary comments in English. Yet I remember my young neighbour Lu Mohan, basketball lover, high school academic star and better-than-average English student, watching a game in our apartment two years ago. Kobe was interviewed post-game, and the English came through clearly. Kobe said some banalities about “playin’ hard”, “playin’ off my teammates”, “gettin’ some stops” – wait, that was the same script that Kevin read! Now there’s an NBA conspiracy!! – and my young friend lowered his head in shame and disappointment. “Do they always talk that fast?” he moaned. He was a poster-boy for the Chinese primary and secondary educational systems, their frenzied and absurd (at times) and ever-more-successful drive to educate the educable masses in English, and the poor kid hadn’t understood one word. He’d thought he was a lot closer to the top of his linguistic Everest, but he was only at base camp.

The Beijing studio guys are back, and I won’t undertand much more than young Mr. Lu did. I did understand the discomfort on the face of the broadcaster, obviously being asked to “stretch” or “fill”, talking and talking, knowing that he can’t leave too much time for the colour guy, a former player and coach, glancing upward periodically (looking for a clock? A signal? Help from on high?). And finally, he gets the word, and can go into his landing routine, finishing of course with the obligatory word of farewell, “zaijian”. “Again see.”

Thanks for reading. Zaijian.  (And thanks, CCTV, for letting me again see this game that I don’t stop loving, even under these conditions.)

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