Sunday, January 8, 2012

A non-basketball observation amid the Ducks' current slump

After its 109-105 loss tonight to Fujian (12-9), Beijing's basketball team has now lost seven of its last eight, including four in a row at home.

It's gotten to the point where the losses are no longer surprising. But with each one, we're forced to ask a bit more incredulously: how the fuck did this team start 13-0?

They started 13-0.

And now they're 14-7, three games behind first-place Guangdong.

The Ducks played lousy basketball tonight. I can't say it any nicer than that. They trailed for basically all but 30 seconds. They couldn't rebound on the defensive end and they couldn't make shots -- we're talking layups and uncontested three-pointers -- when it mattered. The final score would have been a lot more lopsided had it not been for some garbage-time three-pointers.


This might not have been the story of the game (the story of the game is how much Beijing's "big men" absolutely, positively suck), and it might not even be indicative of anything significant, but the image I take away from tonight came in the middle of the third quarter. With a bit over nine minutes left, the Ducks called a timeout after going down by 11. On the bench, Stephen Marbury and Randolph Morris, Beijing's two foreign players, sat while everyone else stood around head coach Min Lulei, who took a knee on the court. He said things like, "Where is ___? Is he here?" He scrawled something on a mini-white board. "Look, if you don't get it the first time, you can try again. Okay? Add fuel, add fuel." Then all the Chinese players, standing around the coach, put their hands into the middle for a team cheer.

Marbury and Morris sat and did nothing. Nothing at all. Not comprehending a thing, nor wanting to. Just passing time.

Again, the scene may not be indicative of anything other than how spoiled the CBA's foreign players are (believe me when I tell you: no one expects foreigners to put their hands in for a group cheer among their lesser Chinese teammates, who not only play lousy basketball but are paid less and berated more by coaches and referees [yes, refs give foreigners preferential treatment], and are expected to actually follow coaches' orders). And in the interest of fairness, I should point out that Marbury has been having a really good season. Morris sometimes makes himself useful, too.

Still. Way to act like schmucks, guys.

Gary Locke said at a recent event for American study-abroad students -- as part of Obama's 10,000 Strong Initiative, I believe -- that while he might be the ambassador to China, it's "you" who are the everyday ambassadors for America. I wish more expats here would take that sentiment to heart. Because willy-nilly, foreigners here do represent something greater. While the Chinese have come a long way in their attitudes toward laowai (literally, "old outside") or yangren ("ocean people" -- basically another way of saying folk who don't belong), to differing extents, foreign cultures are still generally perceived through prejudiced lenses. Chalk it to culture or whatever, but the result is that every small action really can go a long way toward dispelling or reinforcing stereotypes. Doing shit like hectoring a streetside vendor matters. Waiting patiently in line matters, even if you don't know it (I've overheard parents say to their children, "Look at so-and-so, that's how you should behave"). Helping an old lady cross the road: yeah, you bet that makes an impression. Young people here think of just that type of act -- a small bit of goodness when no one expects it and when no reward is expected -- as the perfect example of something called "everyday heroism," this in a society that rather lacks heroes and role models.

I've gotten off on a tangent. I'm just trying to say: it's quite unfortunate that America's basketball ambassadors to Beijing can't act the part.* I wonder if Marbury's still tweeting about "love."

*Look, I understand why they may be miserable. They're in a strange land trying to do just one thing and they can't do it well because they're surrounded by incompetence, from facility managers to referees to teammates to coaches. I can't help thinking though: if you don't like it so much, get the fuck out. God forbid you feel entitled doing one simple thing like playing basketball.

POSTSCRIPT: I think one of the Beijing TV commentators -- actually commentating courtside, which is rare because most of the time they work in studios while watching the games from their corporate-sponsored laptops -- called Morris's girlfriend "hot." My sincerest apologies if I misheard the Chinese word "re" or am mistranslating it, but he definitely commented on the girlfriend, who was briefly shown on camera. Here she is, for whatever it's worth:

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