2016 May 13
This hotel is luxurious. At breakfast, some of the players ask if we can stay put and fly in the other teams for the rest of trip. It’s tempting to stay put, to keep everything the same, but time marches forward and what’s ahead may be even better than this.
The first item on the agenda today is a trip to a sponsor. JELPC makes steel cylinders for manufacturing and construction applications. Think shiny metal tubes that manipulate hydraulic arms on construction equipment. When we arrive, there is a welcoming committee of executives. On the balconies of the all five floors employees are watching us walk in. There is a flag raising ceremony at the entrance to the plant and I was asked to flip the switch to start the automated process. There were five flags at equal height, a minute later all the flags were higher, and the Chinese and United States flags were the highest. We were escorted inside by the JELPC president. There were at least a dozen photographers catching all the action. Once inside, the Cheer Squad coordinator and I were asked to autograph a large commemorative plaque (think tennis tournament championship check) documenting and celebrating our visit. The president then signed it and there were more pictures of the three of us holding it up.
The plant tour was great. We walked upstairs to the manufacturing floor, then to the employee gymnasium. The guys were in there less than a minute and they were playing ping pong and badminton like it was frat party. We were soon joined by the company’s employee basketball team. Which truly looked like a mix of accountants and machinists in uniforms. They had a red team and a white team complete with corporate logos and headbands. A friendly scrimmage had been prearranged, so I had 7 volunteer players do battle with Team JELPC. The first possession Tyler Strange, Gardner Webb Univ., steals the ball and floats it out to Kyle who dunks it with authority. I am pretty sure he didn’t just dislodge the rim, I am pretty sure he broke it, but we carried on. A two minute game with the white team, followed by a two minute game with the red team. Like t-ball baseball, there was no score kept, but anytime an employee did something decent the USA guys really harassed each other for allowing it to happen. A good time was had by all, and there were lots of pictures taken on the court. We were escorted to the rooftop deck for refreshing hot tea and chit chat with the highest level executives. This deck was a garden oasis with a hardwood gazebo, meditation gardens with water features and a great view of a mountain off in the distance. It was certainly an inviting place to work.
After the plant, sightseeing was next up. I had no idea where we were going. We drove a short distance and stopped for a red light. Diagonally across the street was a KFC. BJ Young rushed to the front of the bus and begged the promoter to stop and get food. The bus moved about 2 feet, pulled over and the door opened. I thought to myself, this can’t be happening.
Turns out, it was our stop. We did not go to KFC, we just unloaded and started walking down a River-walk with shops and lots of people and scooters, the ever present scooters. At one point, Tyler rides past me on the back of scooter with a Chinese guy driving. We drew an incredible amount of interest as the giants walked down the avenue. Lots more pics. When we reach the end, we are hustled into a building that looks pretty old. I had recently read an article (Dec. 2015, Travel + Leisure Magazine) regarding Chinese architecture and how during the 1970’s the new buildings were designed to look like old buildings. It was called “fanngu.” So I thought, maybe this was that. It was not.
Walking in the palace of Chiang Kai-Shek was amazing. A faraway place with a strange sounding name. The kind of thing the 7th grader in me would be looking out the window and thinking about. Now, I was standing in the center of the home of one China’s most famous political and military leaders. It was the same tourist friendly layout as most exhibits: personal belongings, plaques explaining, life expanding.
There is nothing on our schedule after lunch. Everyone goes their own way until pregame meal.
Tonight’s opponent is a better team than out first game. We mix and mingle with them at the pregame meal and they are tall. At least 3 guys are over 6’10”. They are the tall skinny type, but still makes me think rebounding is going to be harder than game one.
We get to the arena, it is buzzing. A good sized crowd tonight and the smoke is not as bad. I don’t think less people are smoking, I think this arena has better ventilation. The pregame features a terrific, double dancing dragons performance. The Cheer Squad does their thing and the players are introduced. It’s time for the anthems. It feels great to be standing there, looking up at the flag, hearing the music, and knowing that we have a chance to represent the USA. By the end I am singing aloud… “and the home of the brave.”
The tip looks ceremonial. A fellow wearing slacks and loafers brings the ball to center court. Just like many picture ops before, but Robert stands up and yells at me to let the guys know this ball is in play. Jordan Railey, Washington St. Univ., looks disinterested until he hears me tell him the ball is live. The tosser of the ball actually does it pretty well, and scampers quickly off the court as the game begins. Jordan wins the tap, we run down and score and we are off.
We open up 6-0, then they get back, then we get back up, and keep ourselves ahead until halftime. Our biggest problem in the first half is hurt feelings. I changed the starting lineup, changed the substitution pattern and there grumbling behind me for 20 minutes. When the break arrives we are up 8, and down emotionally. Yes, really.
The halftime dunk contest takes forever, and two of our second half starters are gassed before we even get under way. Sloppy play, quick fouls, early substitutions to combat the tiredness, and trying to find a balance of playing time which is both effective and player friendly. I admit, one of my shortcomings in life is being very competitive. If I am playing, I am playing to win. I want to find the right combination that will rip the competitive spirit out of an opponent’s heart.
Our defense was pretty good, shooting went from acceptable to making lots of layups as the Chinese team ran out of gas. We are up 18 with 5 minutes to play. We coast to the finish line and win 100-81. It wasn’t the prettiest win, but I never met a win I didn’t like. Two games, two wins. We play tomorrow night and have to take a 4 hour bus ride to get there. Let’s see how the team responds to back to back, with travel, and chip about playing time.
After the game there is always a crowd of people on the court trying to get close to the players and the Cheer Squad. The sponsors, JELPC, stay long time. They were sitting courtside and now have plenty of reasons to be happy. When the crowd thins, I ask Robert to come with me to thank the president again for hosting us. The president tells me he is quite happy. The game has been all over the television news, everyone from his city was there, the company got great exposure and in his words, “the team played perfectly.” Cha and Ching. Those are the kinds of comments I like to hear. Happy sponsors tend to invite people back.