As odd as it may seem, Lionel Hollins, the new head coach of the Brooklyn Nets, has a love affair with China.
With less than two months before the tip-off of two NBA Global Games, featuring the Brooklyn Nets and Sacramento Kings in Shanghai and Beijing, Hollins talked to Chinese press by phone from New York last week about coaching, the upcoming season, and his long-running relationship with China.
Unlike other NBA coaches, such as his quote-friendly predecessor Jason Kidd, Hollins has been tagged as a no-nonsense, straightforward dude.
The Brooklyn Nets, introduce their new head coach Lionel Hollins, at a press conference, at the Barclays center, Brooklyn, New York, July 8, 2014. [IC]
Still, that doesn't mean that the 60-year-old who just took the helm of the team last month can't be a delight. As the Chinese press corps found out, it just takes some time.
After politely answering some random questions, ranging from his ideal dinner companion to his favorite movie, Hollins talked at length about his first trip to China more than three decades ago. He was still an NBA point guard at the time and was in China with some other NBA stars for exhibition games.
"In the two-plus weeks we played a lot of different games throughout China. I was in Beijing, Shenyang, Hangzhou and also Shanghai. We played a series of exhibition games with NBA players and the players association under the direction of Lawrence [Larry] Fleischer, who was director of the [NBA] Players Association at the time, and it was an eye-opening experience."
There were two main takeaways from the first trip: people and bikes, and lots of both.
"I remember people everywhere. There were few cars back then. Most people walked or biked. It was literally an explosion of bikes."
Hollins reminisced that he and other NBA players travelled to tourist attractions, such as the Great Wall, and dined with China's dignitaries at the Great Hall of the People.
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"I also remember rice and soy sauce three times a day. Rice and chicken, rice and fish. I missed having a steak for those two weeks I was here, but since I've been back it's a lot more versatile in terms of restaurants."
About two decades later, Hollins returned to China several times with an international grassroots basketball program launched by Adidas. This is when he said he finally got a chance to explore China's delicacies and culture. It was a front-row ticket to watch China's transformation into a modern economy.
"The modernization of China is simply amazing," Hollins told China Daily.
"The opportunity to come back again is special. It's about learning and understanding and appreciating different cultures and finding out [about people] through basketball... If you get down to it, we're all looking for the same thing. "
Hollins was also in China in the fall of 2008 as assistant coach of the Milwaukee Bucks. The team played the Golden Warriors in two NBA Global Games in October.
Three months later, he was named the head coach of the Memphis Grizzlies, where he molded the perennial disappointment into a defense-minded squad that catapulted into the Western Conference finals in less then four seasons. To the surprise of many, the Grizzlies didn't extend Hollins' contract in the summer of 2013, citing philosophical differences between he and ownership.
The rise of the Grizzlies is largely credited to Hollins, who made a name for being tough and able to get the most of his players. This reputation was exactly why the Nets made a quick move, inking a four-year deal on July 2, just days after the team parted ways with Kidd.
"If you look at all his Memphis teams, they got better every year," said Nets General Manager Billy King. "They played hard. When Rudy Gay got hurt, they continued to win. So it didn't matter if the players were in or out, they just played consistently, and I think that's a testament to his system and how he coaches."
As for Hollins, he is nothing but grateful for the Nets for giving him an opportunity to show the world what he is capable of . He knows well that in order to achieve success, everyone in the organization must get locked in, unselfish and willing to give it their all every single night.
"Any team that wants to have success must have a foundation of toughness, aggressiveness, physicality. If you play together on the offense end and take good shots, you play with each other, you don't care who makes the bucket as long as the person has a Brooklyn Nets name on his jersey."
Hollins revealed he has reached out to almost all the players on the team except for veterans Kevin Garnett and Joe Johnson. He also intends to spend extra time communicating with young players who haven't found their role.
"I just let them know my expectations of them, and let them know who I am. Because as an established veteran it really doesn't matter who you are as much as who is coaching you. You will be able adapt to any coach and basically fit in with most systems as well."
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