Out of My League
All of that changed
when I entered the newly built gymnasium on the campus of Beijing
Normal University and came face to waist with the members of the USA
Men’s basketball team.
I have been a
basketball fan since Larry Bird was still soaring around the Boston
Garden and have watched thousands of games on TV. But television does
not do justice to the actual size and intimidation of these NBA
superstars. As I walked star struck across the hardwood floor I knew
I was living the dream of many Chinese students who have English
names like Kobe and Kidd in honor of these gifted basketball players.
Every member of the
“Redeem Team” (nicknamed because their goal is to restore
American basketball dominance and win an Olympic gold) is a
superstar. But there are superstars and then there are global
superstars. That is why all the reporters rushed to interview Kobe
Bryant, LeBron James and Dwayne Wade. Their faces adorn billboards
around China. Kids imitate their moves, not Yao Ming’s, on the
playground. So this frenzy left Carlos Boozer, Dwight Howard and
Chris Bosh sitting on a bench completely unmolested. Shocked that
these stars amongst stars were not being interviewed I decided to
approach Chris Bosh.
Bosh, who plays for the
Toronto Raptors of the NBA, is 2.25 meters tall, earned more than US
$14 million last season alone, is younger than me and has a dreadlock
hair cut that makes it look like a tarantula is sitting on his head.
Needless to say he is intimidating.
With shaking hands, I
clutched my reporter’s notebook and asked him stupidly if this
was his first time in China. He shook his head dismissively and,
addressing me as dude, said he had been here plenty of times. Like a
broken record stuck on an outdated and forgotten song I asked him
what he thought about the Middle Kingdom. He said he loved the
culture and the people and other such things I never heard because I
kept thinking: I am talking to Chris Bosh. I am talking to Chris
Bosh. When he finished speaking I had nothing else, so I extended my
hand and said thanks. He looked at me with weary eyes and thankfully
another reporter, seeing my ship sinking, swooped in and asked an
actual meaningful question.
dangerously low, I moved over to the 2.25 meter, 120 kg, 22-year-old
Dwight Howard who has shoulders so wide you could park a
sixteen-wheeler between them. As I found out, Howard has been to
China seven times through various roles with the NBA. He said, “the
Chinese are some of my favorite people in the world. I love watching
them do their thing. It’s beautiful.” I was going to ask
what exactly “their thing” was but I felt that might come
off as sarcastic and I feared Howard would crush me like a walnut
between his biceps. Instead I said good luck and affectionately pat
him on the shoulder, which actually hurt my hand.
As I contemplated a new
career, I listened in on Dwayne Wade’s interview. I heard him
say that he was excited to play against China on August 10 and that
he felt the “Chinese would love it because they could watch
both of their teams.”
Wade was right. More
than one billion people watched the United States beat China 101-70,
making it the most watched game in basketball history.
I too felt like I had
participated in history even though my own performance in front of
these superstars would have left me cut from any reporter’s
dream team. But I had seen up close and with my own eyes the best
basketball players in the world do their thing. And Dwight Howard was
right it. It was beautiful.