Anyone who has snooped around NiuBBall’s Twitter feed or the “About Us” section should know that we’re way into pick-up hoops. So when NiuBBall contributing scribe, James Howden, sent an email to tell us that he was going to be in Beijing for a weekend, we responded in the only way we know how: Bring your basketball shoes.
And it’s a good thing he did because Howden, despite the self-deprecation and the old-fart jokes, plays pretty darn well. Possessing high basketball IQ, great fundamentals, a keep-em-honest jump-shot and an understanding of the value of the hockey assist (as all proud Canadians should), he was an extremely stabilizing and useful addition to our usual Saturday afternoon squad’s backcourt. James, next time you come we’ll try to get you some better comp. In the meantime, stay well in Dalian and good luck trying to find a decent full-court out there.
Because I have connections with cool people in Beijing – well, okay, one – my itinerary on a recent trip to the capital was not the usual middle-aged tourist fare. My weekend in The Big Smoke (literally, if you look at the skyline or scout the pollution figures) was highlighted by a Saturday afternoon not pounding the pavement at Tiananmen Square or fast-breaking into Temple of Heaven Park or (thank heaven!) being full-court pressed by the salesfolk at the pearl or silk markets.
Instead, this lone man loose in the city went hooping. My ace contact had given me a standing invitation to “get in a run if you’re in ever in Beijing”, perhaps not thinking I’d be silly enough to take him up on it. I was, and (heaven help me) I was jazzed about it. Our rendezvous was set for 12:30 on the platform at the Xizhimen station of the number two metro line, the loop that runs a rough underground rectangle of the city center. I had no idea where I was going, but I had a mobile phone and a tall young American to look for at Xizhimen – that is, until he phoned to say that he was stuck in a police station, doing the obligatory bureaucratic dance of renewing his residence permit for foreigners. He wouldn’t be able to meet me.
(Who is this masked man? And was he the ringer? Read on, friends, read on.)