- Language Tips
It's cold, but nobody seems to notice.
Jay-Z is cursing loudly in the background. Middle-aged guys in leather coats sneak cigarettes while they watch half-naked 20-year-old girls dance.
Welcome to the Chinese Basketball Association.
After a lifetime of watching the NBA, I attended my first games at Beijing's Shougang Gymnasium last season.
Initial impressions: Same game, different everything else.
So, if it's your turn to check out a game for the first time, here's how a CBA sophomore grades the league.
On the court - Grade: C
Most nights, the talent gap is immediately apparent. It's not uncommon to see NBA-caliber players playing against guys who are still figuring out how to set a proper screen. Game play ranges from scrappy and exciting to unbearably sloppy. Complicating matters are referees who run the gamut from apparently incompetent to apparently corrupt. What emerges is often a mess. Sometimes though, it's downright poetic, especially if you enjoy those flashes when a raw talent has a moment of inspiration, or when a great player whose prime is behind him looks transcendent again.
The arena experience - Grade: B
In some ways, this one's impossible to grade because the league's stadiums vary so wildly. Beijing's MasterCard Center, for instance, is bright and warm and brings to mind a mid-level NBA venue. Shougang, on the other hand, is dark and cold and brings to mind one of those martial-arts movies where Jean-Claude Van Damme glues broken glass to his hands and fights until the death. No matter where you're at, prepare to be jolted the first time you see little kids jamming along with the uncensored hip-hop blaring in the background. Brace yourself, too, for smoke in a professional sports stadium - if not in the arena itself, then in the bathrooms and concourses at halftime. It's best to embrace the weirdness.
The fans - Grade: A
Perhaps the league's strong suit, the fans are passionate and loud, if sometimes misguided. They come prepared, often with ThunderStix (you'll know everybody's collectively decided the game is over when you start hearing bursts of mini-explosions - the sound of hundreds of people popping their ThunderStix on the way to the exit). In some of the league's far-flung outposts like, Shanxi, they're prone to violence at times, and if there's a giveaway, there's a good chance that giveaway is probably going to end up being thrown onto the court en masse. But by and large, the CBA's fans are intelligent and fun to share an arena with. (Except when they do The Wave.)
The front office - Grade: D
A more slapdash group, it's hard to imagine. Decisions are made poorly and in haste at the last possible second. The league schedule, for instance, was released just this week. Major rule changes are constantly bandied about, with decisions on them often being made in the weeks leading up to the season. Some years, foreign players seem welcome; other years, rules are introduced to minimize their impact. The league is constantly thrashing around in an attempt to keep the Bayi Rockets - the military's team, which by definition can't sign foreign imports - competitive through what at times are ludicrous means. The season is quite short, and the training season unreasonably long. I could go on, but let's just end by saying if you don't enjoy your CBA experience, there's a good chance somebody in the front office is to blame.
Dusty Lane is sports copy editor who will be working himself into a tryptophan-and-gravy coma when you read this. Send him your post-Thanksgiving weight-loss tips at email@example.com.
(China Daily 11/22/2012 page23)