China's ultimate goal is to be dominant in 2008 and finally be the overall medals winner and I'm sure no expense is being spared to achieve that goal. However, the problem will forever be their failure at the "big ball" sports (ie soccer, basketball, and to a lesser extent, volleyball). It was in thinking about this issue that I cam across this article from Sports Illustrated titled "Spawned by Yao, China's Next Basketball Generation is Taking Shape." Granted, for those "in the know" this article is your traditional filler that could be written by anybody at anytime since Yao came to the NBA, but its pertinence to the topic at hand is what inspired me. Yeah, yeah, yeah, the NBA is as popular as ever, more Yao-inspired Chinese youth are playing the game than ever before, and the quality of the game is rising. Then there's this quote from someone who runs an important US basketball camp:
"China is where Europe was 20-30 years ago, but it's only going to take China 10 years to catch up,'' O'Neil said. "After the 2008 Olympics you are going to see a lot of players going to the NBA.''
So China's not there yet but improving at an unbelievable pace, sound familiar? The basketball team has shown dominance in Asia, but little promise beyond. Outside of the NBA players, the rest of the team can't really hack it and are focused on the more Euro-style focus on shooting (and in China that often means outside shots) rather than the street style, take it to the hole game of the NBA. So its the typical "China lacks toughness" argument. Perhaps the basketball team can be taught toughness from the soccer team (read my post "Aftermath of a Fight" if you don't know what I'm referring to). As for the soccer team, that's another story. As this is already lengthy, perhaps I should save the whole argument for another time, but what it boils down to is simple. In "small ball" sports that China does well in (ie badminton, ping pong, gymnastics), these are individual sports where, with China's size, its bound to produce enough decent atheletes. However, the "big ball" sports require producing a lot more atheletes and are equal parts teamwork and individual skill. Producing one Yao Ming is great, but 5 above average players would be even better. The problem is that with China's emphasis on education, many of the kids who may love soccer or basketball get discouraged from playing them on a competitive level if they don't show enough promise at a very young age (say 8 or 9). Okay, I'm not doing justice to the complete argument, but I just have to say I hope this changes soon so that China can finally find a higher degree of success in basketball and, especially, soccer.
Looking for a laugh? Check out this post from Granite Studio on apartment hunting in Beijing for a bit of a laugh (sorry that it has to come at Granite's expense) and a great example of a classic "China moment."