Today I met up with three coworkers (including one new arrival from Singapore - he studied in Boston and is completely fluent in English, so it's nice to be able to chat) for lunch at the dumpling restaurant, then took a cab to a gymnasium in central Beijing to see our office team play a basketball game against a team from a competing agency.
The managing director had been subtly and not-so-subtly encouraging everyone in the office to show up and cheer. Even the leader of the Greater China region was going to be in town from Shanghai and attending the game. I wasn't sure I wanted to go, but let's face it, it's not like I have much else to do!
I could tell I might have made a mistake as soon as I got there. When you're tall and American, people assume you can play basketball. Worse, the opposing team had three large Americans on THEIR team, so I think she was having a little laowai envy.
As a result, I had some variation of this same conversation with at least a dozen people, including high-ranking officials:
THEM: You should be out there!
ME: No, I'm big, but I'm slow and uncoordinated. I really don't play very well.
THEM: Doesn't matter! Just go out and stand there!
The managing director even pointed out that there were some spare uniforms in the corner. (I had actually been invited to join the team weeks ago, but had declined, as the team's practices and first game fell during my wife and family's visit.)
In reality, I haven't played a minute of basketball in probably three or four years. These guys are all five to ten years younger than me, and they obviously enjoy playing. They're clearly better off without me.
Well, let's watch the game...
35 seconds into the game, and the other team (in white) has scored first, leading 2-0. Well, someone has to score first. Not a big de--
Huh. OK, 2:46 into the game, the other team leads by a score of 8-2. They're out of the gate fast, but let's just regroup, slow down the game a little, and get back in--
Halftime. 54-8. I'm sensing that our team's strength isn't a 'shut-em down' type of defense. Nor is our strength on offense. Nor passing, ball-handling, blocking - actually, let's just say that the fundamentals appear to be an area of significant growth opportunity.
The other team, meanwhile, runs a solid perimeter game, with sharp no-look passes, pick-and-rolls, steals that turn into court-length breakaways, three-pointers and high speed give-and-gos straight to the basket.
Start of the fourth quarter and the other members of my party need to leave, so I don't know how this game ended. I'll be on pins and needles until Monday morning to find out if we pulled it out, though!
One bright spot, though, was the women's team. Both agencies fielded a women's team that played a 10 minute exhibition during halftime, and I'm proud to say our team won, 10-5.
It was more exciting than the score might suggest, because what the women lacked in basketball skills - they actually seemed to play more as a team and ran some plays, but there was still lots of two-handed dribbling, air balls, balls dribbled off the feet and ill-advised and oft-intercepted passes across the court - they made up for by playing VICIOUS.
You remember the scene in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom where the evil high priest of the bad guys reaches into his prisoner's chest, rips out his heart and shows it to the terrified man, still beating, before lowering him screaming into the lava pit? In this game, that was a basic pick.
Seriously, the whole crowd was into it, because every rebound turned into a mass of thrown elbows, kicking, reaching in and an assortment of hard fouls. Our team gave better than they got, spelling the difference between defeat and a bloody victory.
IN OTHER NEWS:
One of the Americans on the other team turned out to be one of the guys I climbed to the wild section of the Great Wall with back in June, and his girlfriend, who was also on the trip, was there as a spectator. The women's game was on when we said hello, and she gave me a new stereotype about the Chinese to file away: "Chinese girls LOVE to fight," she said, as we watched a player from my team practically throw her opponent to the floor trying to rip the ball away.
I'm just fascinated by these. Does anyone know why this would be an advantageous design? Seems like a rollover waiting to happen to me.