Post by Jon Pastuszek
March 10, 2012
Basketball with Chinese characteristics is the motto of this website, and quite possibly there is no better example of someone who upholds those four words better than “Boss Wang,” the owner of the Shanxi Zhongyu Brave Dragons.
Luckily for you, Jim Yardley’s new book, Brave Dragons: A Chinese Basketball Team, an American Coach, and Two Cultures Clashing, covers Boss Wang and his basketball team in the fullest (and most entertaining) manner possible, so if you haven’t already go out and cop that. The gist is this: Super rich and super in love with basketball, Boss Wang wants nothing more than to put an NBA-modeled winning team out on the floor. He wants the best players, the best coaches and of course, the best results so that his dream of owning a championship squad can someday be realized.
Up until this year, however, he and his Brave Dragons have failed to even put together a .500 team.
There are a few reasons, but none perhaps are bigger than Boss Wang himself, who often decides to show his enthusiasm for the game by directly involving himself with the team’s day-to-day operations, acting in such positions as head coach, assistant coach, general manager, scout, strength and conditioning coach, doctor, sports psychologist and more.
This year, things have changed in Taiyuan. First, the team decided to erase one of their biggest problems over the years — the constant in-and-out of foreign players — by signing two talented CBA veterans, Marcus Williams and Charles Gaines. Together, they’ve combined to average more than 60 points a game. More importantly though, they’ve stayed with the team the whole season, building a level of chemistry and continuity with their Chinese players that had never existed before.
Then, for the first time in team history, the team brought back their head coach from the year before. Yang Xuezeng, who took over midway through last season, was re-signed in the off-season and has stayed on the bench the entire year — another first. Assisting him has been American Beau Archibald, a former assistant at the University of Connecticut who has also stayed on the entire year. Reportedly giving Yang and Archibald some freedom to coach, Boss Wang supposedly backed off from his usual meddling ways and allowed people to do their job. The result: A 20-12 regular season record, a first round series victory over Shanghai, and a semi-finals matchup against Beijing — all firsts in team history. And though he is still definitely involved with the team (he can be seen sitting on the bench during games), he’s not as involved.
Or so you thought, until you read this amazing interview he held with Titan Sports Weekly (via QQ.com), published on February 27:
“This season, I’ve kind of been like an assistant coach,” said Boss Wang to a reporter midway through Shanxi’s first round series with Shanghai. “The team has been playing well, I feel like I’ve made a bit of contribution.”
Of course technically, or at least officially, he’s not. In China, where stamped certificates that can (usually) only be obtained by completing some kind of training or course work, some kind of zigezheng are required in many different professions, basketball coaching very much included. According to the article, Boss Wang wanted one of those certificates so that he could officially place himself on the Brave Dragon’s staff as an assistant coach. But the process was too mafan or too much trouble, so he did the next best thing: Ignore all the official stuff and just declare himself assistant coach anyways.
“So what if I don’t have a coaching certificate? That means I can’t be a coach?”
According to Wang, this season’s unprecedented success is “…because I’m the one coming up with the ideas, Coach Yang lays everything out and the team goes out and implements everything.” He proves that point by bringing up a game against Bayi in where the team was down by double-digits.
“One time we were down 15, the team was following Coach Yang’s gameplan. We were running a lot of off-ball screens and getting a lot of shots from long range, but nothing was going in. I remember that at one point we had missed seven shots in a row. Once I looked at it, I knew right away we needed a change. So I told Coach Yang to call a time-out. I went into the huddle and drew some stuff up myself.”
According to the report, he told the team to abandon shooting from the outside and instead to focus on giving point guard Lu Xiaoming some freedom so that he could drive to the rim.
“Five minutes later, the game is tied up. We ended up winning that game. We were down and Lu Xiaoming was passing the ball. Lu Xiaoming is better than them. Our other domestic players aren’t as good as Bayi’s, so our offense was weak. Letting Lu Xiaoming have some offensive freedom really kick started our offense and we were better than them on that end.”
“[I told] Big Yang, you need to watch more NBA. All of the good teams rely on their point guard to ignite their offense.”
Boss Wang knows that his heavy involvement with his team has drawn a lot of opinion. All that talk, however, doesn’t concern him in the least. Because as owner, he can do whatever he wants. And he wants nothing more than to win and coach the game he loves.
“I know over the last few years I’ve been criticized by a lot of people, but I don’t care. When you have an owner and his team is winning, then his reputation is good. Wait until we’re making the Final Four every year. Even if I’m wearing rags, who will look down upon me?”