[Editor’s Note: The Santa Barbara Breakers, champions of the West Coast Pro Basketball League, were invited by the Chinese government to play 12 games Sept. 19 through Oct. 5. This is one in a series of articles by Breakers coach Curt Pickering as he reflects on the experience.]
Our day was treated with a flight out of the gorgeous Beijing Airport, not to mention the players’ lustful sprint to the infamous Burger King.
The Chinese government obviously wanted to impress the world as fans and athletes made their way into the country for the 2008 Olympics in August. They did not disappoint anyone. We enjoyed visiting shops during the two-hour wait and eventually boarded a plane for Bauto, Mongolia. Once we arrived to the hotel, it was three hours of e-mailing and watching movies before calling it a day.
» Sept. 30: When we arrived at the arena for our shootaround, I thought of the movie Hoosiers with star Gene Hackman. This ancient museum was something out of pre-caveman days. Obviously, the city’s budget, up to this point, had not made sports top priority. A formal luncheon was scheduled so we hustled back to the hotel.
About 20 dignitaries along with media were present. What preceded was an awesome bonding of conversation, food, picture-taking and about 10 shots of their finest alcohol. In the midst of the two-hour meal, each participant was asked to give their comments about this new relationship of Santa Barbara Breakers basketball and the city of Bauto. Each comment was followed by another round of “toasts.” I lost count at about eight.
When it was my turn, I shared my experiences coaching and traveling abroad and the wonderful people I have met along the way. It gave thanks not only to the Bauto Sports Ministry, the mayor and our promoters, but to Dr. James Naismith who invented the wonderful game of basketball. I followed up with a three-minute history lesson about Naismith’s motivation to create this game, beginning with 13 rules. When all was said and done, those in the room declared that we coin this new relationship, “No Borders, No Politics, Just Basketball and Friendship.” We toasted to that, too.
Later that evening, we put on a great show, winning our game 84-73. It was our most spirited game thus far. The fans and media surrounded us afterward for autographs, and I gave away multitudes of Breaker basketball cards. Bauto, known for its steel mills and with the similar look of Pittsburgh, Penn., had won us over. How did I celebrate the win after the game? I watched Crocodile Dundee II.
Our next two days included another enjoyable dose of Shanghai. We located Friday’s restaurant and rejoiced on BBQ ribs and mashed potatoes, and later found a sports bar where they took us in like family and even gave us an original Chinese basketball to take home. The vendors were at all street locations 24/7, so it was another two-day periodical shopping spree.
It was back to business as we traveled to Shangdong and played before a full capacity 8,000 fans. I swore the same three referees were on the court that had served up “home cooking” when we were in Fuxin. We got shellacked 74-71. The score was close, but every time we made a run to tie the score, a whistle blew. We did have a chance to tie it on a three-point attempt with 12 seconds left, but it fell short, as did the final score.
The following night in Zibol, we played the same Shangdong Golden Club but different results transpired, thanks to a newly implemented full-court press that the Dragons couldn’t counter. We were up by 31 points. We closed them out 77-53.
Curt Pickering is coach of the Santa Barbara Breakers.