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.

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At 5/26/2008 3:27 AM, Blogger T. said...

oops, with the recent Sichuan earthquake, people's minds have been on other things than BASKETBALL

At 5/26/2008 5:09 AM, Blogger The Other Van Gundy said...

Yeah, I was wondering about that sentence.

Anyway, cool perspective - didn't know FDers were abroad. I actually was hoping to get a lot more from this piece. What kind of work do you do? Do you play basketball in China? What sort of style do the chinese prefer, who are their favorite players?

I gathered from: "if the play is a little bit "luan" - which means a little bit chaotic," that perhaps they appreciate a more structured style of play? Don't tell me they like the Spurs.

At 5/26/2008 6:47 AM, Blogger Sean said...

Apropos of nothing, near Longshan Temple in Taipei City, Taiwan, there's a game shop with a large poster of Denver Nuggets-era Nick Van Exel. I may just forego the temple and start directly praying to this. Perhaps Van Exel's continued presence is a reflection of a general love in Asia of the high scoring little man (e.g. Iverson).

At 5/26/2008 7:30 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"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."

Having to suffer through some horrid Belgian broadcasting, I can confirm that Awful Announcing is indeed a global issue.

At 5/26/2008 12:59 PM, Blogger jawaan oldham said...

Insight into basketball is a rare thing. Even players and coaches believe some things about the sport that are kind of shocking.

It's interesting about AI being such a big thing over there. Everything I've ever heard about international fans takes at most a paragraph or two before it's mentioned that he's the most popular American player. Cross-reference under "as yet unexplained" and "cool."

At 5/26/2008 1:03 PM, Blogger jwm290 said...

I am currently studying abroad in Kunming, China. I saw this post linked to on truehoop and i had to check it out. It was basically every single complaint I have about being in China and not being able to watch NBA basketball. During the week I have class, so i only get to watch on the weekends. I agree the announcing is terrible. I recently remarked to my roommate, that I think the only requirement for becoming a Chinese announcer is knowing how to say haoqiu(meaning good shot or nice play)Also, you forgot to mention the commercial with Luis Scola and Jose Calderon. I play pickup ball here a decent amount, and the skill level here is generally not too great. There are never full court games(too many people want to play), and the Chinese seem to prefer one on one play to passing. Plus, there is little defense played and a lot of traveling. I am coming to shanghai in about a week, so if you know of any places that have good pickup games let me know. Really enjoyed the post.

At 5/26/2008 2:10 PM, Blogger danielisnotreal said...

Is that T. or Panda Bear in that first picture?

At 5/26/2008 2:18 PM, Blogger Michael said...

I've been back in the US for about a year after being in China for a while. This article brought back both blissful and baleful memories of loving basketball and living in the Middle Kingdom. Thanks!

At 5/26/2008 2:43 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

That sweater doesn't look real Nautica. I'm gonna guess it's not PB.

At 5/26/2008 2:47 PM, Blogger PhDribble said...

great stuff T.

At 5/26/2008 8:17 PM, Blogger FunWithLogic said...


This is a little late in the season, but I have been enduring long nights in the library and no TV set this year by using the "Audio League Pass" option at NBA.com, which was free. It provides radio feeds for every basketball game, with options to listen to either team's announcers.

As a side note, when the Rockets were peaking on their streak, the Houston announcers sounded on the verge of tears every game, and the crowd was insane. It was pretty beautiful to get that perspective. How was that streak taken in China, given Yao's only-partial participation? Was there spin or did the country just enjoy it like everyone else?

At 5/26/2008 8:20 PM, Blogger FunWithLogic said...

One last note: the Audio Pass also gives access to an archive of the games from the past week, so you do not have to listen to them real time.

At 5/26/2008 10:33 PM, Blogger Sideburn said...

Yo T!
I live in Shanghai too. I love watching the CCTV games on Sat/Sunday mornings. Also possibly catching one on ESPN Asia Philippines if you have a dish. The commentary is hilarious for 2 reasons. 1) They rarely speak, so you can actually hear the players like they are mic'd up, swearing after missed shots. 2) When they (the play-by-play guys) do speak, they YELL OOOOOHHH, Hao Qiu! Piaoliang! at like 100 decibels higher than the normal game sound.
Also, the halftime show consists of said two guys staring into their Lenovo laptops, and not saying anything. One guy has the straightest flat-top...ever! You could seriously eat dinner off that guy's dome.

At 5/26/2008 10:38 PM, Blogger Sideburn said...

Check out ASAS, they run very good pick-up games during the week and run a league on the weekends. It's 80% ex-pats so you have a great mix of Euro styles, American styles and Chinese style of play. But in Shanghai they have some "ballers", although most of the big-men like to play like guards. But hey, what big man doesn't?

At 5/26/2008 11:04 PM, Blogger stopmikelupica said...

"I can play!". That Shane Battier commercial has been a running joke at SML for over a year. Shane Battier, making mad dollars off Yao....

Allen Iverson seems like a good person for your average foreign fan to look up to... speedy, quick, short guy going against giants... it translates well almost anywhere. Far more likely to translate to any culture than say, Steve Nash's precision and court vision.

At 5/27/2008 12:39 AM, Blogger Captain said...

Good article though why all the torture? Doesn't seem like anyone has Slingbox? All the games, North American commentary, live, etc.. What more could you want??

At 5/27/2008 12:41 AM, Blogger goathair said...

My mom will be happy to know that Iver Anderson has gone global. Great stuff.

At 5/27/2008 12:55 AM, Blogger MC Welk said...

How do they find the Jazz?

At 5/27/2008 3:44 AM, Blogger T. said...

huh, I thought I left a long comment last night. Must have been zapped by the cadres at the internet division.

@the other van gundy - I've worked in events, corporate sponsorship, public relations and in about 2 weeks will work in footwear & apparel licensing and retail. It's all been with sports leagues, one team and all the big shoe brands.

I do play basketball here in China - my game is a 1/3 mix of locals, Taiwanese and expat/hyphenated Chinese. Having played basketball all over Asia, I can tell you that Asian cities have styles just as much as Philly, New York or Detroit. Beijing ballers are big and physical, Shanghai players are finesse (kind of like Yao) and skilled, Guangzhou players are all ball handlers. In Manila, basketball is the 2nd most important thing behind Catholicism - and everyone plays like and and1 mixtape crossed with Curly Neal highlight videos. Beijing (and Northern Chinese) usually win the national tournaments - but I think the best basketball tends to played in Taiwan, if size were "normalized." (The farther north in China you are, the taller the people are). One consistent thing I've found is that players tend to overpass here.

I'm not sure they like structured play per se - life in China itself is a bit chaotic. They have a word (renao) for a good time - it literally means "Heat and noise" - I think most renao places and events that are enjoyed here are much too much for Westerners.

Sean - I used to play in a Lakers Van Exel jersey in Hong Kong from 1997 through about 2002.

@jwm290 - I think that's basically the requirement for being a Chinese broadcaster. Actually, that's a bit unfair - I do know a lot of the Chinese broadcasters through work and they're all really good guys and all really know the game of basketball really well - but that doesn't mean they can explain it on air. The guy with the flat top is Xu Jicheng - "Big Xu" - he's the Marv Albert of China and has been calling games since like 1994. The best games tend to be out at the universities - Jiaotong and Fudan. Otherwise there's a court at Xujiahui that has okay games. My knees preclude me from playing outside anymore.

@danielisnotreal - wrong ethincity for T.

@funwithlogic - I believe one can't subscribe to League pass from overseas. If one can, then I probably travel too much to really make good use of it.

@Captain - I actually have access to a Slingbox, but I'd rather watch basketball on my 37" LCD flatscreen instead of my Macbook.

@MC Welk - surprisingly popular from their run of success in the 90s (the NBA became popular with the Jordan/Hakeem era - so Michael Jordan is and always will be the most popular player of all time for eternity in CHina). But even having eliminated China's favorite team in back to back years - there's still some fans of the Malone/Stockton era Jazz.

At 5/27/2008 9:16 AM, Blogger Kaifa said...

I'd greatly appreciate some suggestions where I could find a decent pick-up game in Beijing during my stay in August. Is playing outdoors even an option? I heard it gets really hot and humid during summer.

At 5/27/2008 11:10 AM, Blogger T. said...

kaifa - just going outside in Beijing in August is enough to kill people. Although I think the leadership is trying to make it rain (not in the Pac-Man Jones sense) for the first two weeks of August.

If you still want to play some hoops - the best runs will be in the University District. The best place to play inside in the 2nd ring road is Dongdan Park right on Jianguomen, near Wangfujing and the Grand Hyatt (right across the street from Oriental Plaza)

At 5/27/2008 11:19 AM, Blogger T. said...

@sideburn - do you play with ASAS? I know some guys - they say there's a lot of ringers out there, and huge guys crashing the C Level games. The guys I know who play in that league, I don't really like to play with, so I don't participate.

At 5/27/2008 5:15 PM, Blogger Kaifa said...

Thanks T., much appreciated.

At 5/27/2008 7:09 PM, Blogger T. said...

and then sometimes, shit like this happens (this article is speculation only - and as you can read, riddled with errors. the main point still might be correct. or not - who knows with CCTV.)


At 5/28/2008 12:16 AM, Blogger Luke said...

I live in Beijing and this is a perfect retelling of my own experience watching hoops here, except I don't work until the afternoon so I get to see a game every morning. That is, until the earthquake -- the no-NBA rule has extended well past the three days of mourning. CCTV announced the other day that they've canceled all NBA broadcasts indefinitely because its "out of step" with relief efforts. So instead they show gymnastics, weightlifting, table tennis, volleyball, and anything else besides NBA. Weird.

And I can't understand Mandarin, but I do know what the announcers are saying half the time because yes, it's mostly "piaoliang!" or "haoqui!" I feel like a native speaker.

At 5/28/2008 3:52 AM, Blogger Sideburn said...

@ T

Yeah, I ran in ASAS for all of 2007. We hopped from C to B and back over the year. The league is a strange mix, the 1st season in C my team had all guys who never player organized ball and 2 of us that had. We went 1-8. B league has ballers, a mix of High school varsity players, D2 guys and lower end D1 equivalent players. I've never played in the A league.

You've got 100,000 expats, with basically 1 basketball league to play in for those that want to run. I'd say there's more talent than your average Wednesday night rec league for the working man in the states. But no more ringers (at least last year) than any other league.
The hardest part about ASAS is just getting people to show up each week. Most everyone here is either here for work, and thus traveling a ton (or coming off an 80 work week). Or teaching English, which are often too hungover to show up to an 8:00 am Saturday morning game. Especially if most of them party till 6:00 am.
The Tuesday night pick-up games at JiaoTong (run by ASAS) get a good mix of guys. Although sometimes you sit more than you play.

At 5/28/2008 8:11 AM, Blogger T. said...

@funwithlogic - yeah, the excitement - even at the end of the Rockets streak (without Yao) was pretty strong. But then my friends tend to be pretty sophisticated hoops fans.

@sideburn - I play once a week in a private game on Tuesday nights in Luwan Stadium (not the same one the Shanghai Sharks play in) Not the level of the expat game I played in in HK (which I personally believed is the best in Asia - like 6-7 former D-I guys, some guys who play in the local pro leagues - and I was the worst player usually - and I had played 4 years of high school) - but now that I'm older, I'm okay with a decreased competition level.

At 4/13/2009 2:49 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...




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