Wednesday, May 11, 2016

There is no time like the present.

2016 May 10

     My last entry cover the events leading to the flight to Shang Hai. I did not spend much time with May 9, 2016. In fact, I basically lost it. By the time we landed, it was May 10.  I am sure May 9th was a fine day, it just didn’t get much love from the travel schedule.

     When you land in China, everyone has to complete departure card. It asks simple questions like where are you staying, why are you here, when will you be leaving?  Nothing too tricky if I was on vacation, but I don’t know all the places we will see and don’t really know if I am here for business, visit, or other. I had told the team I was on a trip like this a few years ago, so I was supposed to be the voice of experience. It is very hard to be tour advisor when you are not tour coordinator. Apparently, I guessed correctly as all the guys moved through customs fine. Only Aly Ahmed, an Egyptian National was slow to move through. He was pulled aside and asked a couple extra questions, but when they opened his well-traveled passport and saw the variety of European countries and the US visa, he was welcomed in.

     We were not walking as a group, shocker, and I was trailing back making sure everyone was ok. By the time I made it to the gate for our connecting site, I was only American at gate 251. I don’t blame the guys wanting to hit the head or get some food, I supposed they would be back shortly. That would be an incorrect guess. With about an hour before the flight, my phone starts to blow up. Coach Young back in the USA was concerned about our progress and wanted to make sure we had met with our contact, Robert. Robert said he was looking for me at the gate (I can assure you I was quite easy to pick out at the gate). I went to the ticket desk just to confirm I was in the right and had been in the right spot for close to two hours by myself. I text back and forth with Coach Young, Robert turned the corner, and Joan texts me to see if I can chit chat at that moment.

     I am relieved that Robert is now in charge of herding the cats, and I feel like the Calvary has arrived. The guys trickle in and our group is starting to garner attention. The gawking kicked into high gear when the NY Knicks Cheer Squad arrived. Seemed to me they were marching in step and giggling at the same time. They completely embodied the difference between men’s and women’s activities. They picked a spot, sat in a circle and broke out a deck of Uno cards. That just about sums it up.

     After and extra hours delay, it was time to board. There had been many people asking for pictures with the guys. They were very patient and kind with everyone. I was glad to be moving. Except, there were now only 8 guys. All the other passengers file through the gate and still no players. Robert looks at me and says, “Come with me.” He takes me to the ticket, tells the airline people that I was going to make an announcement for the tardy players…and they say yes. I am about to be the voice of Shang Hai Pudong Airport. Without hesitation, I take the mic and say, “Attention: will player 1 and player 2 please report to gate 251 immediately. Will player 1 and player 2 report to gate 251 immediately.” So, there’s that new little wrinkle in the resume: International Pager. When I was done Robert said, “You speak perfect English.” I thought duh, yeah, I am kinda from there. He further said he was impressed with my pace and tone and voice quality. My guess is those are the graded elements of Chinese English classes. Within seconds the two appeared and away we went, with player 1 commenting that the voice was so clear he got scared when he heard his name, and then looked shocked when I told him it was me on the mic. Maybe I should be calling PHL for some side work.

     The plane ride to Changsha City was uneventful, other than a chatty Chinese businessman who was excited to see American basketball players. His English was quite good also. He was patient while I tried to slip in the few items of Chinese I know and he said he could tell I had practiced and the items I knew sounded quite good.

     A couple hours later, we were on the ground, claimed the luggage and out to bus for quick 3 hour ride to Hunan City. I am pretty sure I stayed in this hotel the last time also. There is a bustling downtown a block from the front door. We had some dinner and went to the arena for a shoot around. When were pulled into the parking lot there were at least 50 people waiting there. Seriously? To watch us walk from the bus and through a gate? Crazy. We took the floor slowly: shooting, stretching, and getting oriented to the setting. When everyone was set, we started. The middle school passing drill, combined with a half court shooting drill we practiced Sunday, become the beginning of a well-choreographed pregame warm up.  They players had no idea they had be learning the system from the moment they met me. Add a stretching segment and a lay-up line and we will be ready to play. A quick review of offenses, inbounds, press break, followed by lots of free throws and we were done. An hour. Like clockwork. All the while, the Cheer Squad is doing their thing. It builds to blaring arena speakers of danceable music while I handed out uniforms on the sideline.

     Tomorrow will be our debut. It should be quite a show. I wish all of you could tune in. Maybe someday, I will be involved with a team you can watch.

     Tonight the players have free time. A decidedly dangerous thing. As we pulled into the hotel parking lot I told them, “Free time is valuable, misspent free time can be costly. Make professional decisions about how you spend your time.”

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