CBA Stars versus The League

The opening of the Chinese Basketball Association All-Star game saw Yi Jianlian fed the ball deep in the left block on the South squad’s opening possession. He operated crisply: baseline shake, one-bounce and a drop-step to the middle, and a sweet little leaner off the board. He was a man with a plan – one that included courtesy to his North opponents when they went inside, by the way – as the Guangdong Southern Tigers star notched 34 points and 8 boards on his way to a South division victory, 120-117, and MVP honours for himself. All this, of course, in front of his hometown fans in Guangzhou, where the prodigal son had come home.

Huge man, big cheque. (About $1600 bucks. I hope there was a charity.) Yi takes the prize.

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Better Read Than Never: Yardley’s BRAVE DRAGONS

Reviewed: Brave Dragons: A Chinese Basketball Team, an American Coach, and Two Cultures Clashing by Jim Yardley (Alfred A. Knopf, 2012, 304 pages)

[A slightly different version of this review also appears at, the best English-language look at all things basketball in China. It was published Feb. 22, just after T-Mac’s apparent farewell to China. Grown men cried in the airport as he left.]

I still remember that raised eyebrow, when I said, “It’s not really about basketball!” I was trying to convince my mother-in-law – potter, BBC-watcher, library ghost, someone for whom the Canadian Broadcasting Corp’s Radio 2 has gotten too damned poppy – to watch the superb documentary Hoop Dreams, a window into poverty, race, sport and education in America. This was a few years ago, and I was a new-enough son-in-law that she was still willing to give me the grudging benefit of her considerable doubt. She did finally watch it, and the review was fairly brief: “My dear, that most certainly was about basketball! But there were some interesting parts.”

So let me be clear. Brave Dragons by the American journalist Jim Yardley,

Jim Yardley, second-generation Pulitzer winner, hoops fan.

really is about the Shanxi (Taiyuan) Brave Dragons, their unpredictable owner (Boss) Wang Xingjiang, their 2008-09 season in the Chinese Basketball Association, and about Bob Weiss, the first former NBA bench boss to work in China, and the very mixed bag of players he had to work with. (I remember the chronically slump-shouldered Weiss, with a pained expression on his face, imploring referees or his Seattle Supersonics players to listen. Were I older, I’d remember him as a resilient, nothing-keeps-me-out-of-the-game player for the Chicago Bulls. Both of these qualities made him the perfect person to try to

Weiss, who came back for ANOTHER year (though not in Taiyuan).

coach in Taiyuan under Boss Wang.) It spotlights the babes-in-the-Chinese-woods that wide-eyed young Americans, imported for their superior skill, are in adjusting to hoops with Chinese characteristics. If you like basketball and find the idea (or the reality) of living in China fascinating, you’ll love Brave Dragons, but neither condition is necessary.

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Back To You, Mai Di: T-Mac II (Updated)

T-Mac, all smiles with Wang Hai, Eagles owner.

It’s time for an update on Tracy McGrady’s sometimes bizarre, 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 start the season, which eventually reached 12 painful games. Things are looking better recently, though most of my main questions remain the same. I’m not one to sneer at an athlete on the way down, but his career in China so far makes an interesting story, and perhaps a sad one.

The Eagles look to extend a recent winning streak to six when they visit the second-place Shandong Flaming Bulls tonight, who are led by Pooh Jeter, Jackson Vroman and the Jordanian forward Zaid Abbas. (Any bells ringing? Jeter played at Portland — and his sister is the gold medal sprinter — and Vroman at Iowa State.) The game may even make CCTV 5. When I last reported back in December, McGrady (Mai Di, as he is called in this country) was about to break loose for 41 points, albeit in the last game of the big losing streak. Here’s how it has looked since then.

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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. 

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