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To understand them, you must learn from them

September 30, 2010

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Pretty big news coming out of Shanghai last night.  Former Shanghai Shark head coach, Li Qiuping, will be heading to Cleveland this year to learn the NBA way of doing things from Byron Scott’s next year as China’s first ever NBA assistant coach.

In a TV interview (some of which can be seen below), Li stated that Huang Jianhua’s (aka Kenny Huang) connection to the team had a large part to do with the Cavs’ invitation.  That strikes me as odd, since Huang pulled out of the proposed deal to buy a minority share in the club in late August.  Obviously, there’s still some kind of link between the two, yet in what capacity is unclear.

Li, who coached Yao Ming when he was with the Shanghai Sharks, will go to “strive to improve myself as a coach” and to learn “how they do things over there, how they manage the team, and how they practice.”

Li’s kind of a big deal in China: He was Yao Ming’s coach while he played in China for Shanghai. Moreover, Li not only coached Yao on the senior team, he also oversaw his entire development from the time Yao was but a wee 7 foot lad playing for the Sharks’ youth team in the 1990s.

Li coached the Sharks from 1994, the first year China established a national professional basketball league, until 2002 when Yao left to play in the NBA, making him the longest tenured head coach in Chinese professional basketball history.  Armed with Yao and Chinese national team point-guard, Liu Wei, Coach Li brought home two titles with Shanghai before retiring in 2002 to become a brand consultant for his newly-minted Houston Rocket center.  Due to his success with Shanghai and his relationship with Yao, Li has decided against coaching again in the CBA, instead opting to open up his own basketball academies and training camps.

Though this is the first time a Chinese will act as an NBA assistant coach, this isn’t the first time a CBA coach has gone to the NBA to learn.  In 2007-08, Guangdong’s Li Qunceng went to Milwaukee when Yi Jianlian was with the team.  John Calipari has worked to develop China-U.S. basketball relations since his days in Memphis, an undertaking he continues today while he coaches at Kentucky.  It’s paid off not only for the coaches who have participated in the basketball exchange program, it’s also done a lot for Calipari’s profile in China: After Americans, the most visitors to website, CoachCal.com are Chinese, and they apparently know that one of his German shepherds, Dash, is “nimble and quick.” (Though I wonder exactly how, since Facebook and Twitter are blocked in China…)

In Yao’s last season with Shanghai, the team went 17-1 in the regular season on their way to a championship.  17 wins… seems like a good over/under for the Cavs win total this year.  Like dude said, he’s in this for the experience and the opportunity to learn.  How to lose is one thing he’ll be guaranteed to learn.

Here’s a quick video where you Mandarin students/speakers can listen to Coach Li tell it to you straight. Watch it — besides being good for your Chinese, it’s also good for getting your nanfangren – southern Chinese — accent down pat, which can come in handy when you’re bargaining for stuff in places in southern China.  The trick is, move your lips; not your teeth.

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