this book of yours, whats the point?" Ive
been asked that question, or a variation on it, scores of times.
The quick-and-easy answer is its an exploration of what basketball
can tell us about the world, and what the world can tell us about
basketball. And nowhere did basketball shed more light on a patch
of the globe than it did on China.
As much as hoops is a team endeavor, weve come to accept the
transcendent star player as a natural product of the modern game.
Michael Jordan is the apotheosis of that evolution. Yet in China
under Mao, coaches would convene emergency team meetings if one
player dared stand out from the group by scoring too many points.
Well into the 1990s Chinas national league didnt even
keep individual statistics. The Chinese people nonetheless embraced
Jordanthey call him Qiao Danas no other people anywhere
have venerated an American sports figure. That they did so precisely
when their country was adopting the free market and turning to the
West was, I came to see, no coincidence.
Here is Yao Ming, the 75" center I saw in Shanghai. Hes
likely to be the first player chosen in the 2002 NBA draft.