OK, we’ll admit: Our recap of All-Star Weekend sucked this year. In part, that’s because our opinion from the 2011 Beijing edition has already been aired out loud and clear. But mostly it’s because our guy at Shark Fin Hoops, Andrew Crawford, made the journey down to sunny and warm Guangzhou last weekend to take in the festivities first-hand and to write us a report. Here’s the good, the bad and the unexpected from his Southern journey.
And if that’s not enough All-Star coverage for you, James Howden has a great write-up over on his blog about the game as well.
The All-Star game was a lot of fun
Yes, there were the awkward introductions and the uniforms looked a little tacky but when it came time for the players to do their stuff, no-one felt let down. Some huge dunks (Marcus Haislip, take a bow), Stephon Marbury doing his best Pete Maravich impression, Wang Zhizhi and Yi Jianlian trying to drop long-range threes — it was nothing but good times. Chinese basketball can get a lot of things very, very wrong but when its showpiece event lives up to the hype, it deserves some credit.
It felt like a special weekend
Having spent two years freezing my nether regions off in Shanghai during basketball season, the fact that I was watching games in jeans and a t-shirt was a revelation. The Guangzhou International Arena itself is probably the best you’ll find in the country and finally seeing CBA hoops in a modern facility reminded me that when it wants to, professional sport in China can be a very worthy spectator experience. The crappy in-game music, cheerleaders who were always out-of-synch, the unrelenting smell of cigerrette smoke, halftime entertainment that consisted of two teenagers shooting free-throws; all of this was absent and in its place was a relatively slick, well-produced two days of basketball.
Everyone got involved
Looking around me, I could see people representing their teams from around China and jerseys from Foshan, Xinjiang, Bayi, Jillin, Shanxi, Zhejiang, Guangsha and Jiangsu were all easy to spot. It could have simply been a Canto-fest in Guangzhou last weekend but brave souls nation-wide flew in to cheer for their guys.
Li-Ning still doesn’t have a clue
While the CBA held up their end of the bargain, the official providers of everything from jerseys to footwear did not. As a Sharks fan, the problems with jerseys are an ongoing problem but on the biggest weekend of the 2012-13 season, you’d think Li-Ning would be well-stocked with its own equipment. Nope. Ask for a Shanghai jersey, they didn’t have it. Or a Shanxi one. A guy in the queue wanted to get a Guangsha jersey but that wasn’t going to happen either. Indeed, I counted that only half of the teams in the league had their jerseys for sale at the marque event of the year. Also, if you were 5″10 or above, your chances of getting a jersey that would fit you were very limited too. Poor effort, guys. No wonder the players on the floor openly flouted the ban on non Li-Ning footware and seemingly to a man were wearing Nike.
The location is still very remote
As much as I loved the arena, it still is out in the sticks and then some. With no bus route or metroline anywhere nearby, you either need to hire a bus with friends or get a black cab home else you’re basically stranded. Having gone to both nights, I spent close to 500RMB in taxis. That’s fine for someone like me who could live with the extra expenditure because I really wanted to see the All-Star weekend but most people would be aghast at the hassle and cost it takes to get home.
The Dunk Contest is joke
It’s just terrible and was easily the weakest portion of the whole weekend. No ideas, mundane dunks and some very generous scores (guys who couldn’t complete their dunks in over a minute still getting an average of 6?!?). Look, no-one really cares about the dunk contest too much but if you have it at your All-Star weekend and it goes awry, then you look silly and then the rest of the basketball community gets to snigger at you. Which they did.
The amount of cheerleaders
There were quite literally hundreds of them; two crews of dancers for the main event, another group for half-time, packs of them roving the hallways encouraging you to take photos with them and one final set outside by the entrance. It was as if every mid-level government official picked up the phone and called in some guanxi because their teenage daughter wanted to put on some fake-eyelashes and dance infront of a paying audience for thirty-second intervals. When you have more cheerleaders than security guards at a big event, something has got mixed up in the planning stages.
The Shandong point guard played one season with the Sacramento Kings before rolling out to China circuit, but in the big game on Sunday, Jeter could be audibly heard shouting at two-time NBA-All Star Stephon Marbury to give him the ball before proceeding to break as many ankles as he could. For what was meant to be an exhibition event, the thirty-year old was extremely keen to torment various Chinese players just because he could. From a Shanghai perspective, it is of tremendous relief that Liu Wei and his creaking knees were not subjected to such punishment because that would have basically been the end of his career. Yi got the MVP but a gloriously cocky Jeter left Guangzhou with the crowd’s approval.
I caught a ball
In America or most other countries where common sense is factored into entertaining large crowds, allowing 6″7, 250lb professional athletes to throw pumped up basketballs into a crowd from close range would not be a good move. However, this is China, whereupon its All-Stars were of course encouraged to throw about forty balls into the crowd during the third quarter. I have one of these in my house after Guangdong’s Zhu Fangyu hurled it about twenty rows up and it bounced off the head of someone’s unsuspecting girlfriend and into my hands.