Coach Curt Pickering – 10/23/2008
Twelve days prior to departing for China, Mr. Han, our Basketball sponsor, had emailed me and asked if we wanted to spend 3 days in Beijing and see all the landmark sights. I emailed and called the players and they immediately said yes. So, our next trip from Fuxin was the beautiful city of Beijing, where the 2008 Olympics had just been completed. The country was very proud of hosting such an honorable event and here in late September, was continuing to show highlights of the Games and Pageantry that was carried out for 3 weeks.
Over the next 3 days, we spent a half day at the Great Wall of China, walking up the vast steps for a good 2 hours and then returning down to the parking lot in cable cars. Later that afternoon, we visited the Summer Palace along with a boat ride on a large lake that adjoined the great museum.
The following day, it was raining so we declared this “Black Market Day”. There was every item imaginable at rock bottom prices at the downtown shopping center. But, like a Tijuana swap meet, you had to negotiate and in most cases the clerks would triple-team you, trying to persuade you to pay a much higher price than you intended to. Players made off like bandits, purchasing DVD’s, IPods, cameras, video cams, Tommy Bahama clothes, purses, watches, luggage. This is why I had explicitly told them to travel light on the flight to China. There were so many great items to select for not only themselves but for their friends and families back home.
There were several American restaurants to choose from in the area. Several players went to Outback, Hooters, Chili’s, McDonald’s, Subway and yes, KFC. Another option was players ordering room service and watching HBO or going on their laptops to communicate back home.
On Day Three, we visited Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City. The players thought they had the day off from basketball conditioning. Wrong they were. We spent from noon until 5pm, walking through these two majestic land treasures. We were all unanimously fatigued as we reached the bus to go to dinner. Of course, the street vendors took one more shot at each of us, trying to sell us various items. Of course, with our great display of discipline and will power, we succumbed to buying more purses, watches, jewelry and handmade stone pieces. Was that the end of the day? No. After dining at an authentic Chinese restaurant, which again offered some very peculiar meat dishes and then taking turns calling home on the restaurant phone the players all voted to give the “Black Market Extravaganza” one more shot. God only knows how much more the players spent and if they would actually be able to squeeze all these items into their two allotted luggage bags on the return flight home to Los Angeles. But hey, that was still another two weeks away.
Thursday, September 25: After a delicious breakfast, which offered a personal chef dishing up omelets and loaded scrambled eggs, we boarded the bus for our next “Rock Star” tour of duty. The bus dropped us off at the Beijing train station where we began the rigorous task of dragging our luggage both up and down long flights of stairs to the train. Sparks were flying and a few wheels literally fell off the luggage containers as we made our way to the “High-speed Train”, as our translator, Mr. Lee called it. A four hour journey in the full-capacity capsule led us to Chaoyang, another 4 million plus populated city. It is here, at the Yuhan International Hotel that we could settle in for 4 nights stay, a record at this point, for longest duration of time in one city. No complaints, just keeping score.
At Friday mornings breakfast, I reminded the players that, “Oh, by the way, we’re playing basketball for the next 3 days”. They were eager to get back on the floor and display their skills. So, we conducted a 1 and a half hour practice, which provided great conditioning, sharpening the shooting touch and a refresher course on our offense and defensive plays.
The practice was held at a school gymnasium and the question was brought up, “How long do you think it has been since the janitor got fired or quit?” There was quite a stench coming from several doors leading to the court but we didn’t ask any questions.
When we drove up to the Arena to play our game at 7:30pm, we were exceptionally impressed. Coined, “The Spaceship or The UFO” by the local media, we were met by a mob of 800-900 fans in the parking lot, which forced the bus driver to pull up close to the front doors.
When we walked inside the Arena, we were even more impressed. It had the makings of an NBA Arena and once again, this city too had requested that we, the Santa Barbara Breakers play the first game ever in its new beautiful facility. We were honored and overwhelmed by the respect acknowledging us. Little did we know that the Chaoyang Pep Band had also been savoring up a special tune or two. Fortunately or unfortunately, they did not play any Christmas ballads but they did strike a chord over and over again, and I repeat over and over again with the theme song to “The Bonanza”. I felt like Ben, Hoss, Adam and Little Joe were right there with us as they played that song 8-10 times before the initial jump ball went up.
Maybe we were missing an inspirational Christmas tune. The Jilin Tigers jumped out to a quick 13-3 lead and was flushing jumpshots from three point land. We eventually cut the lead to 37-29 at halftime and then the trio of Jabbar, Johnson and Dawson turned the game around at both ends of the floor and the Breakers squeaked out a 91-89 victory. We were now 2-0 in christening new Arenas in China. We were getting to like these First-time parties.
Saturday, September 27: It was the usual breakfast, relax, lunch, massage, relax and ride the bus to the “Spaceship/UFO” routine. Only this time, we were facing the Liaoning Dragons who were considered one of the top two professional teams in the CBA-China Basketball Association.
I knew I forgot something before I left Santa Barbara on September 16th. Oh yeah, 3 honest, capable, competent referees. We sure could have used them on this night. From the beginning, it was clear that the “Three Blind Mice” wearing the zebra shirts were not doing us any favors on this evening. At the end of the first quarter, we were whistled for 10 fouls. How many did the Dragons commit? One. So said Moe, Curly and Larry. It didn’t get any better as we trailed by 18 point in the second quarter but you know that old saying, (which can be paraphrased in several various ways) “What the Heck”? Well, we just kind of took it personal and started getting very physical. If we were going to foul out with 5 personal fouls, we might as well earn them. But more importantly, as a team we just sucked it up and gained greater focus on the task and with 4:30 left in the game, we had ourselves a 63-60 lead. Just when we dug ourselves out of a deep hole, the sand caved in; the Dragons finished the game on a 13-3 run and we lost another heartbreaker, 73-67. We all learned a lot that night. Never give up and it takes 40 minutes of play in FIBA basketball to win a game, not 30 or 35 minutes of quality play.
Sunday, September 28: In our final game at the Spaceship/UFO, the Korean SkyHawks jumped out on us early, similar to the previous evening. Down by 20 points, the Breakers made another courageous comeback and closed the gap to 92-91 with 51 seconds to play. Korean teams, internationally known for being small, quick and phenomenal three point shooters, did not disappoint their traditional reputation. They buried two more treys in the final seconds to secure a 99-95 win.