FD Guest Lecture: Let Nothing Deter Thee
Sometime commentator T. lives in Shanghai, People's Republic of China. He has at various times in his life worked at marketing the game of basketball in Hong Kong, the Philippines, Taiwan, Japan, Houston and Berkeley, California for leagues, teams and shoe companies.
Shoals had asked me to write about following the NBA from China—and one would think Shanghai is the ideal place to be a Rockets fan (for anyone outside of Houston) and normally it is - and for general NBA fans, if you're not in North America, China is probably the best place in the world.
Let me set the table for everyone—where I live in Shanghai, there's an NBA game on 6 days a week. Either on Shanghai Televison or CCTV 5 (which is the national sports channel—China's ESPN, but without Stu Scott). Games usually air starting between 8.30am and 9.30am - so unless its a weekend, I'm usually at the office. Obviously the game mix is really heavy on Rockets and Bucks, but we get quite a bit of the league's other premier teams - so a lot of Lakers, Celtics, Spurs, Nuggets (kids LOVE Iver Anderson here) get on the air here.
As I mentioned, the games air right around the time I'm getting into the office, so I open up a bunch of windows—box score, if someone is running a live blog or chat thread (like over at clutchfans.org or Ball Don't Lie during the playoffs) I might pop that open to follow a particularly interesting game. I follow NBA folks on Twitter (but it's mainly Odenized who makes the most NBA comments), and will have some of my US friends on instant messenger.
During all this time, I'm also supposed to be doing work, so I do a lot of switching back and forth between powerpoint slides and box score watching. If there's something really interesting (Josh Smith has 8 blocks in the first half!) it would quickly spread amongst my instant messenger crowd—but the actual losing actual television viewing is not much fun for a basketball junkie.
So should a game appear on a weekend I'll get to watch on CCTV or STV. For those of you who complain about poor announcers, you've never had to live through the play by play on Chinese television. I only speak Mandarin at about a 70% fluency level and I could do a better job. Well, maybe that's unfair, but its like watching a game with an uncle who knows all the names of all the players who feels it is necessary to tell you who everybody is . . .but he doesn't know a single insightful thing about the actual game of basketball.
The announcers here really are only able to tell you that is was a "beautiful ____" (shot, move, foul, dunk, drink of Gatorade), or if the play is a little bit "luan" - which means a little bit chaotic. There's a special kind of madness that watching games in Mandarin sort of entails, but you realize just how useful former coaches and players are in announcing games - I really miss the Inside the NBA crew and Jeff Van Gundy. Take today's game for example - the Chinese announcers can tell me that Billups is 1-6, but they can't tell me why. I'd really like that little extra insight.
There is one bonus point and one negative about watching games in China. During commercial breaks you often get top ten highlights - from a particular player (Top Ten Josh Smith Blocks this season!) one of the teams in the game, or yesterday's NBA action . . . and on the extreme negative, this Shane Battier commercial seems to air once every commercial break. I Can Play!
Obviously, with the recent Sichuan earthquake people's minds here have been on other things besides basketball. Last Monday, the entire country was given a 3 days of mourning period - wherein all entertainment venues (movie theaters, karaoke lounges, etc.), non news television programs and online entertainment (in a blow for most Chinese kids, World of Warcraft was shut down) were unavailable. In the macro-sense I totally understand the need for the country to mourn and heal after a major major tragedy. The asshole in me was slightly annoyed by missing game 7 of the Spurs/Hornets and game 1 of the Celtics/Pistons. I know, I know, get some perspective. But I was at work anyways.
Whatever complaints I have, I have to remember where this was 11 years ago, the first time I lived in China. We got one game a week, and instead of 15 basketball magazines, 2 basketball newspapers and internet coverage that I can find today in China, I had to rely on the China Daily to read AP's wire report on the games from the day before, so I'm at least thankful that I can have real time commentary and box scores and insight from the wide variety of mainstream, bloggers, and friends all watching the game.
One last drawback, which I was reminded of, is that here in China we have to deal with what is known as the "Great Firewall." Due to politcally sensitive topics (T!bet, Taiwan, Fa!un Gong, the Torch Relay, etc. etc.) the internet is under a lot of control. Which means, depending on how sensitive the cadres in Beijing are feeling, stuff like blogspot, wordpress, for some reason, AOL, are often blocked. While this is more a hassle than a true hinderance (there's a million proxies to get around it) it does slow down the interactive experience. And sometimes doesn't permit me to read and/or comment on FreeDarko as much as I'd like.