This was actually game two for the day, but it’s hard to work a half-day in Suzhou, jump on a two hour train and get to the Nanjing Olympic Stadium (no Olympic events have been or ever will be staged here, by the way) in time for a 2 pm game. Plus, Chico and I had bought tons of beers and the security guards made us finish them outside, so that took a little while.
Upon entering the arena I was surprised at how modern it was and how it reminded of a 1980’s NBA stadium all at the same time. This place had the look and feel of the old Oakland Coliseum if there were thousands of middle aged fat guys in dress pants, white socks and playboy belts lighting up cigarettes all over the place like cancer didn’t exist. At the same time, it was a 15,000 seat stadium that walked all over the 5,000 seat Carrefour parking lot stadium in Suzhou to which I have grown accustomed.
“This is a pretty solid place,” said Chico. “Obviously the best part is that it doesn’t have smoke alarms.”
After fighting through a cloud of smoke and sea of fat guys in the lobby, Chico and I faced our next test: the overwhelming presence of thousands of security guards.
I would estimate that the Nanjing Olympic Stadium beat was being patrolled by 2,000 – 2,500 security guards (“security” shirts), police officers (blue shirts), army dudes (green shirts) and real bad asses (tight fitting black shirts with earpiece). Every row of every section had at least one of the aforementioned enforcers, and a few sections were taken up entirely of the hired guns. Luckily, only the guys in the black shirts meant business while the rest of the crew slept, smoked or asked Chico and I if we knew how to use chopsticks.
We finally made our way to our seats just as the Iranian team was being introduced. Chico brought up a good point.
“Wait a second. They play basketball in Iran?”
Apparently not too well as the home team jumped out to an early lead with Yao Ming (Houston Rockets), Wang ZhiZhi (former LA Clippers), and Yi Jianlian (New Jersey Nets) all in the starting lineup.
Yao’s play early was pretty sluggish and they used him sparingly throughout the game. This wasn’t too big of a shock as he never plays heavy minutes in the NBA, and this was his second game back from a five month layoff.
Yi could be called the Chinese Tim Thomas. Physically he is tall, strong and quick. In warm-ups he can shoot from anywhere, drive on anyone and seems to jump really well. The problem arises when the whistle blows and he actually has to start playing a real game. Against one of the worst teams in the tournament without much talent to speak of, Yi was content to sit at the three point line and hoist up a jumper if the ball happened to come to him. He rarely put the ball on the floor to make a move towards the basket and defensively never made a key stop or rebounded outside of his immediate area. Overall he seemed like he would much rather be someplace else and was content to sit back and let the rest of the team do the heavy lifting.
The standout player of the afternoon was everyone’s favorite former defector Wang Zhi Zhi. Wang has retired from his job as an NBA benchwarmer, made amends with the Chinese government after his refusal to return for the Asian Games in 2002, and seems ready to lead the team. Above everyone, Wang seems to be playing with the most to prove as he is the elder statesmen on the team at age 31 and also the only one out of the aforementioned three to try his hand at the NBA and fail.
Wang emerged as the clear leader early in the game while hustling for rebounds, asserting himself offensively through a combination of outside shooting and penetration, and vocally shouting out orders on the court. Overall, China cruised to a 75-46 win over the hopelessly overmatched Iranian team in a game that was never in question.
Keep reading for part II: No Shrimp, No Barbie, No Victory for the Australians