- TOP PLAYERSOffensePABLO S. TORRE | August 20, 2012
- TAMPA BAY buccaneersENEMY lines WHAT A RIVAL COACH SAYSJune 28, 2012
- Faces in the CrowdJune 11, 2001
In Canton, Kuo Chien-hua, a most authoritative leading member of the local sports federation, spoke in wonder about the superior physical condition of the American basketball players and their "superb stamina" compared to the Chinese. I said, "But, Mr. Kuo, that is not so surprising. Nearly all of your best players smoke many cigarettes a day. I have seen them." Mr. Kuo frowned thoughtfully and replied quite seriously, "That is something we had not considered. Do you suppose smoking has affected the stamina of our players? We had better look into this more fully." And he pulled out a notebook and wrote himself a note.
We visited a sporting goods store in downtown Hangchow. I bought two Double Happiness Ping-Pong paddles for $5.50 each. Among other things displayed on shelves and counters in the store were basketballs, volleyballs, badminton rackets, jump ropes, pneumatic pump needles, relay race batons, stopwatches, starters' guns and blank bullets, numbered bibs for competitors, whistles, harmonicas, bugles, dumbbells, Chinese chess pieces and an embroidered silk wall hanging showing Chairman Mao in a buttoned-up tunic playing Ping-Pong.
In a Shanghai park above busy Huang Po River Harbor, Ma Yuen-kue, 53, a shop clerk, and Chang Wan-ping, 69, a retired civil servant, were doing wu shu exercises together one morning. I asked them how long they had practiced wu shu, and Ma replied, "There was almost no wu shu done for health before the Liberation. I do it now to keep myself cured of my duodenal ulcer and tuberculosis." Chang, his face a wreath of wrinkles, said, "Historically speaking, wu shu used to be more valuable for self-defense than for personal health. Before the Liberation men practiced wu shu to defend themselves against rascals in the streets of Shanghai. Our security was not good then," Ma said confidentially. "There were hooligans and gangs then, much fighting and often broken glass in the cinemas. Wu shu was needed for safety." Chang said, "Of course, the self-defense use of wu shu is now canceled, for there is no need to defend yourself against people who are your friends." Not far from Ma and Chang an ancient man, bald as an eagle's egg, was methodically beating himself on the head with a stick. There was, in fact, a discolored spot where he had been striking himself. Chang explained that the fellow was 94 years old and that the stickbeating greatly helped the circulation of blood through his head and inner ear.
The coach of the Chinese men's basketball team is a jaunty jock named Chien Chen-lai who played for years on national all-star teams. When he was asked how one could send him a letter, he grinned and said cockily, "Just address it: Chien Chen-lai, People's Republic of China. They know me."
The sports magazine in China is called New Sports. It is a monthly, and almost impossible to find. At last we ran across a two-month-old copy at a remote commune deep in the south of China. As we and our hosts sipped Tsingtao beer, Mr. Li browsed through New Sports and translated the contents for us. "Aha, here is an interesting story by a woman high jumper about her practice and her experience in using material dialectics to analyze a sportsman's strengths and weaknesses. It is titled Going Much Along a Road of Being Both Red and Expert as Charted by Chairman Mao.... The next story is called Great Attention Is Paid to the Mass Sports Activities.... Then we have The Diary of a Ping-Pong Ball Player in the 32nd World Championships.... Here is a fine story on sports programs in a factory with three shifts.... This is titled A Worker Who Persists in Physical Training.... This one is called A Demobilized Man in Factory Plays Leading Role in Sports There.... Here is an entire section of short articles, testimonials you could call them, about people's experiences with friendship first, competition second. Then there is one on volleyball tactics and one on improving one's jumping power.... And there is An Essay Discussing the Amount of Energy Necessary in Certain Sports. This is a biological treatise, you'll find...."
Somehow the conversation turned to marriage in China. It was said that the average age for marriage is 25 for women, 26 for men, and that this was "very, very much encouraged by the state," although the legal constitutional age at which marriage was allowed was 18. Our host explained, "We have learned that people work better, learn more and are in better health if they wait to be older than 18 before they marry. An 18-year-old, we feel, is not well-built enough for marriage." Clearly a case for a biological treatise in New Sports.
Polite Noises from Monks
Spectators in China are an intent, almost scholarly lot, about as bland as their dress. One day while the U.S. basketball team was scrimmaging in Peking's 18,000-seat Capital Arena we walked through corridors under the stadium and up onto the floor. Ahead of us the arena seats were dead empty and we stood for perhaps five minutes watching the practice, aware only of a coach's whistle, the thump of the ball, the echoing shouts of the players. We thought we were alone in the big gleaming stadium when suddenly an American 7-footer rose high and viciously thrust the ball down through the hoop. From our backs there immediately rose a low surprising sound. "Ssssssaaaaaahhhhhh!" Startled, we turned. There were 5,000 people seated above us watching the practice.
At the actual U.S.- China games there was never a seat empty in any stadium, and every morning before a game long queues wound up to the box-office windows. But during the game the cackles and boos, the shrieks and leaps out of seats characteristic of the Western world were missing. The Chinese were almost always mum, emitting small polite noises when they were astonished by a play, occasionally applauding politely like opera buffs when something was done well by either team. They never booed, never whistled, never rose to their feet.
Only once did I see a Chinese crowd show bad manners. In Hangchow the Chinese fielded a hulking awkward young man named Mu Ti-tsu, who stood 7'3" and weighed 270 pounds. He was dinosaur-like, almost a freak. His hands were huge, delicate, gentle, lovely around the basket, but the rest of his massive body worked only with the deepest concentrated thought. His knees hit together when he ran, his thick arms dangled, his great out-turned feet slapped like canoe paddles. In amazingly uncharacteristic behavior the spectators hooted and shouted and laughed aloud, some with tears in their eyes, during the few minutes poor Mu played. But he did not seem to mind, and he waved with dignity at the guffawing applause from the crowd when he returned to the bench.