On October 1st, the day in which Mao Zedong declared the establishment of the People’s Republic of China in 1949, and the day which is currently celebrated as China’s National Day — the first day of Golden Week, a seven day holiday where the entire country is off work — Liu Qiuping announced he was headed to the Wine and Gold, the Cleveland Cavaliers, to become one of the team’s assistant coaches for the upcoming season.
Liu was supposed to become the first Chinese coach in NBA history. He was so sure of it that he even went on Shanghai TV to tell it to his country himself. In the coverage that followed, he was instantly labeled as yet another example of China moving up in the world; a Chinese basketball coach who was talented and experienced enough to get a job next to the some of best and brightest American basketball minds in the country.
People obviously ran with it. Every news station reported it. Sina published a whole feature on it the next day, even going so far as to speculate that the Cavs hired Qiu, who coached Yao Ming in Shanghai, in order to make a run at 2011 free-agent next summer.
Yet something didn’t feel right: No comment from the team, no news in the States and no mention of any kind from anything outside of China.
Indeed, something was off. Later on October 2nd, QQ Sports followed up on the story and requested a statement from the Cavs to confirm the news. What they got instead was a flat out denial of Qiu’s Cleveland prospective coaching gig. Garin Narain, the team’s Basketball Communications Manager, stated nobody within the organization has “any idea about Liu Qiuping coming to coach” and that he thought “somebody messed up… the team hasn’t been in contact with him, neither presently nor in the past.”
Six days after the initial news, the Cavs finally came up with a public response. This is what they wrote:
Coach Li Qiuping was invited as a guest to come observe Cavaliers practice and games during our training camp and preseason, and we’re honored and excited to have him do that. He is not a part of our coaching staff and that was never contemplated.
Tad Carper, Vice President of Public Relations, Cleveland Cavaliers
All this ends a very bizarre and awkward string of events, at least in regards to the question of whether Li was going to Cleveland to act as an assistant coach. But, so many questions have yet to be answered, the first and most important being: How did this happen? Who was talking with Li the whole time? Certainly, it was somebody who he believed to be high up in the organization. Remember, this wasn’t a rumor that came out in the paper one day — it was news delivered from the subject himself on a major television station. That’s how sure he and his people were about all of this.
Coach said in the interview that Kenny Huang invited him to Cleveland and basically set the whole thing up. Yet, how could Huang have arranged all this when he is no longer invested in the team? It’s a question I wondered aloud to myself when I first read the report on the 1st, and now after the team’s statement has been released, I question as to what line of communication was used between Shanghai and Cleveland and who specifically was in communication with Li through all of this.
The Chinese word for losing face is 丢人 (diu ren), and the two characters can be seen in all over the comments sections and forums of China’s basketball internet community today. In a country where laughing at other people’s misfortunes is somewhat of a national hobby, Li’s reputation is sure to have taken a hit. I just wonder whether it’s deserved.