Thursday, August 14, 2008

Yao Huge vs. Angola

It wasn't quite as easy as the score made it look, especially with the recent collapse vs. Spain stinging the mind, but Yao was dominant against the much smaller Team Angola. The ever resilient Angolans, down 35-21 in the 2nd quarter made an impressive run to get within the half. Yao, however, was just too much (30 pts, 10-11 FGs, 7 rebs, 4 blks) and he finally looked to be getting into game shape, which couldn't have come any later than this if China is going to make the medal round.

Yao Ming Mania has some nice action pics, none more indicative of Yao's complete size advantage than this one.

Yi Jianlian was somewhat more effective as well facing smaller opponents, finishing with 10 pts and 11 rebs but according to Team China coach, Jonas Kazlauskas, Yi is still struggling to find chemistry with Yao. Which again, I find a little disconcerting, considering it isn't as if they've never played together before. It appears that Yi would be more effective if were simply more active; not waiting for offense to come to him but attacking it by making sharp cuts to the basket off the ball and getting after the offensive boards.

Overall, an encouraging game for Team China, Yao and Rockets fans, too. Chinese Nats have a legitimate chance of pulling into the 3rd position with Greece also standing at 1-2. But that's really thinking too far ahead, every game at this point is a must-win until situations prove otherwise. Next up is Germany, a win there will all but guarantee their advancement to the medal round. A loss is pretty much an elimination.

Originally posted at Yao Central on August 14 10:45 AM.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Team China Might Have Missed Their Only Chance

Nobody expected China to compete with Spain; not even the Spaniards. Which is why Yao and Team China carried a 14-pt, 61-47 lead, into the 4th quarter. Spain, however, locked it down in the 4th, scored virtually at will and forced the game into OT. After Yao fouled out in the extra period, China couldn't recover and Spain, walked away smiling, shaking their heads and looking very relieved.

For what it's worth, for three quarters, China looked like a real contender and its a shame Yao is nowhere near 100%, which would have made a significant difference. Especially facing Pau Gasol, who was completely dominant--and China again, got very little from NBA forward Yi Jianlian, who again, seems to only garner more critics with his play on the world stage. I can understand Yi struggling to find a niche on the team as one of the younger players but it would have been nice if Yi could have picked up Gasol to preserve Yao for the latter stages of the game. They could have used him in a less fatigued state of mind to reign in his floundering teammates.

Veteran Chinese guard, Wang Shipeng, even admitted that they were "too nervous by the end of the game." Which may be true but is not what you really want to hear if you're a team trying make a run to the medal round. The actual Olympics isn't the best place to build that confidence. This team has been together long enough to have the team comfortability (not sure if that makes sense) but the comfort and confidence in your teammates to know you can pull out games you should win. And that wasn't there. China gave away what might have been their only opportunity to secure the 4th spot to advance.

Now Angola and Germany are must wins and if they can't upset Greece, they'll have to hope both the aforementioned teams perform miserably. And you can't help thinking they missed out on another golden opportunity, a little on-court rebuttal to this controversial pic (that I haven't personally found terribly offensive but rather have relegated to Spain's "way" which may be construed in itself as being somewhat offensive) that's been circulating on the internet.

Pics courtesy of The Guardian

Originally posted at Yao Central on August 12 09:27 AM.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Yao vs. Team USA at the Nike "Commitment" Gallery

I had the pleasure of watching what may go down in history as the most-watched game in basketball history at the Nike Team USA "Commitment" Gallery in Harlem, NY. 94x50 project manager, Matt Donahue, invited me to the screening and asked me to organize local Chinese American youth groups and basketball teams (mostly from NY/NJ based AAU program the USAB Warriors) to complement his own group of predominantly African American youth. It was a trip. And fantastically catered.

Most of the kids, Chinese or African American were cheering Team USA from the beginning much to the confusion of some of the latter; but a strong contingent of Chinese youth, myself and most of the parents were pretty raucously cheering on both teams. I just love an underdog. It was a friendly but very loud rivalry even just inside the gallery. Pics are courtesy of Jenny Chan of the NY Sabres women's basketball club--why I didn't bring my camera, I can't figure.

Come late 2nd quarter, however, Team USA exerted their will, put on a suffocating trapping press and China, who had to play almost perfectly before that just to keep pace, fell to a 12-pt deficit going into halftime. By the 2nd half, everyone was cheering for Team USA. Or rather cheering the slam dunk contest that replaced the 2nd half. China continued with dignity, however, on their home court, playing hard and honoring their fans. They, or at least Yao, never once gave up. Team USA just showed how explosive they can be if they can get out in transition. They are as Lebron said, very fast. Good thing the court is only 94'. So, rest of the Olympic field, you have your game-plan: don't crash the boards, don't turnover the ball and don't miss.

Originally posted at Yao Central on August 11 10:42 AM.

Saturday, August 09, 2008

A Counter-Analogy for Yao Ming

Watching Yao lead China's greatest athletes around the "Bird's Nest" Olympic stadium last night just gave me this deep sense of pride--as much as seeing the U.S.--as a man of Chinese descent, as a Rockets fan and as someone who can appreciate damn good pageantry.

And it suddenly reminded me of a post I read earlier today on ESPN's True Hoop titled, "
Yao Ming is No Kobe Bryant." It was submitted by a reader, Mac Lotze, an American living in Shanghai. I had decided earlier to let it slide until just then. Here's the general idea of Lotze's post:
Style and scoring ability.

This is why Kobe Bryant is the greatest sports icon in China; not Yao Ming, not Yi Jianlian, not even groundbreaking hurdle-champion Liu Xiang.

This was the prevailing sentiment amongst those polled in the sold-out Qizhong Arena in Shanghai that was painted with 24s and 8s.

I came to Shanghai with the erroneous perception that basketball has become popular in China because of Yao Ming, but it appears that he is a small piece of the puzzle. The main reasons I see that Yao Ming is not as much of a national hero as he used to be and that common sense would dictate are:
  • He has yet to win a playoff series.
  • His size makes him very hard to relate to for 99% of the population. Chinese fans want to idolize a player that they can imitate or relate to from a size standpoint. This is one of the main reasons hurdler Liu Xiang is much hotter and more popular than Yao Ming these days. The Chinese respect and admire people that were not given as many god-given talents, but work their tails off to become great. They can relate to that, even dream about that. That's tougher in the case of Yao Ming.
  • Yao Ming is boring compared to a lot of players. I have played quite a few pickup games in China and from the 5'4 point guards to the 7-footers are all they are all showcasing their And One skills. (Yes, there are quite a few tall Chinese players all around Shanghai. With the economic prosperity that China is enjoying currently, they are privy to the type of diet that was impossible before. Not to mention the one child policy allows parents to feed their children with food that was previously divided between many kids.) They are all about the flash, excitement, dribbling through the legs, behind the back passes. Yao Ming, while being one of the best centers in the NBA, just doesn't have that. That's why even if Houston were to win a title (and I think they can now with Artest) I suspect that in the U.S. and China alike you will find it boosting T-Mac's popularity more than Yao's.
There is no doubt in my mind that the Chinese crowd will be divided on Sunday, the question is simply by how much. It is clear that if China had a better chance (maybe if Yao Ming was 100%) that the vast majority would be cheering unequivocally for China.
While none of this is wholly untrue--except for the part about Kobe surpassing Yao and Liu Xiang as the greatest sports icon in China which is utterly ridiculous--seeing Yao in the opening ceremony and the huge reception he and his fellow Chinese athletes received, it seems to me that Lotze (and Abbott, if he happens to agree) is missing the point. The assessment fairly superficial. For China, Kobe is just a fad. Another day, another hero, they'll come and go. Yao is a national icon. He'll be on money someday, bet. He's the most famous Chinese athlete in the world.

is popular in China because of Yao Ming. Kobe is popular because of Yao Ming. Iverson, T-Mac, Lebron, all because of Yao Ming. He opened the door. Without Yao's entry into the NBA, and with such fanfare, how many more years do you think it would have taken for Nike to come knocking? Or China to answer?

To use an analogy as Lotze aptly did, Yao is to China what dad is to you and me. There are other dads who might seem nicer, smarter or funnier. Kobe is cool dad. He drives the fancy cars, gets the hot girlfriends and buys us all kinds of stuff when we all go to Six Flags. Every kid looks at cool dad and wants to be son for a day. But we don't have to live with him.

We don't know the realness of cool dad and we don't want to know. Yao is just dad and he's a good dad. He's not flashy, he's not hip, but he's been there for you. Damn it, he's loyal and never taken you for granted. That's what Yao is to the Chinese, dad. There might be hundreds of other athletes that get their jerseys bought in China in the near future but Yao is still home. You don't need to buy dad's jersey, you don't even need to say you love him. He knows. It's understood.

Originally posted at Yao Central on August 9 01:02 AM.

The Master of all Ceremonies

This might be the only time I ever quote Bob Costas, "as far as Olympic opening ceremonies go, you can retire the trophy." I've never watched the Olympics opening ceremony from beginning to end. I'm 30 so I've had only 6 real chances but that streak ended last night. That was one of the most mesmerizing, elaborate and masterfully executed events I've ever seen. And I used to be a big Air Show fan.

Big ups to Zhang Yimou (the internationally acclaimed Chinese director of the movie Hero and many other canonized Chinese films) that was brought in to "direct" the ceremony. His name may not immediately resonate to most non-Chinese viewers but having experienced Yimou's previous forays into live performances I knew to expect something remarkable. It was damn near magical.

When they finally cut to Yao standing just outside the tunnel, holding the Chinese flag, towering above everyone around him and everyone in the stadium, I have to admit, I got choked up. I'm of Chinese descent but I'm no Chinese patriot, I actually identify as Taiwanese American, but the power and dignity of the image shook right through me. And the story of the young boy walking beside Yao who survived the Sichuan earthquake by digging himself out of rubble and then going back to rescue two more of his fellow students; it was almost too much to take. Even Yao admitted to nearly crying in the midst of it all.

Originally posted at Yao Central on August 8 11:09 PM.

Friday, August 01, 2008

How to Watch Yao in Beijing

It's been no small quandary trying figuring out just how I'm going to watch Team China's basketball games during the Beijing Olympics. Given the Chinese Nats' draw in Group B--one that includes perhaps the world's top 3 teams in Greece, Spain and our very own U.S. of A. and rounded out with Germany and Angola--those like me who want to see Yao play on the Olympic stage should probably maximize our viewing. And hope for a miracle. That means catching ALL the preliminary round games. How do we do this?

There are some options but as of now, they are somewhat limited. According to a press release on CCTV's website, "the International Olympic Committee's strict restrictions on the telecast of Olympic events, China Central Television's telecast rights are only allowed on the Chinese Mainland." That means that even if you have any of CCTV's international stations (CCTV-4, CCTV-9, CCTV-F, CCTV-E) on your cable box or via Internet; they will not broadcast any Olympic events.

CCTV-5, however, announced as CCTV's official Olympic channel in 2007 will be broadcasting in Mandarin, if you can get access. Streaming video options are available online at a variety of hosting sites (a Google search of "CCTV-5" will give you plenty of options), including Freetube (which worked for me). I'm not sure on the legality of these sites so be forewarned and results will vary based on internet connection.

Then there's NBC, bravely going where no network has gone before, slating 3600 hours of Olympic coverage, "the most ambitious single media project in history," according to their website. A giant leap considering their TripleCast pay-per-view debacle back in '92. Part of this 3600 hours, however, is a brilliant idea, a 24-hr Olympic basketball channel that will televise every basketball match-up at the Games. You can view the schedule on

Only one hitch, as of now, only Cox and Comcast cable providers have agreed to terms. According to MultiChannel News, "representatives from Time Warner Cable, Cablevision and the NCTC could not be reached for comment" as of July 3rd. Which means Cablevision subscribers like me will have to stay tuned.

If anyone has any other leads, by all means spill your beans.

Originally posted at Yao Central on August 1 09:36 AM.