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MavKikiNYC
11-24-2003, 11:06 AM
The People's Game
By JEFF COPLON
NYTimes 11.23.03

In Haikou, a city off the southern coast of China, a team of junior Olympic hopefuls drilled their way through another 40-hour workweek in the municipal arena. It was a warm day, like every day in Haikou. Outside the gym, walkers and cyclists in straw hats weaved sluggishly among the palm trees. Inside, the future of Chinese basketball couldn't stop himself from yawning.

Chen Jianghua had just turned 14. At 6-foot-1 and 165 pounds, with a vertical shock of black hair and a face full of fine, sharp angles, he resembled an underfed cockatiel. Stripped to his waist, Chen was so skinny that his ribs stuck out as he rose for his jump shots. He skimmed along on what an insider called ''Ray Allen legs,'' after the elegant N.B.A. sharpshooter: pipe stems through the ankle, with a pomegranate of fast-twitch muscle high in the calf. They were legs that portended explosion.

Those in the know -- in the tight circle of top-tier basketball in China -- told me three things about Chen. First, that he was a rare athlete, the youngest and best player on a precocious team. Second, that Chen tended to loaf, a trait on clear display this morning. His stretches were halfhearted; he ran his sprints midpack. He lagged on defense after carelessly missing a scoop shot. Every so often he'd run his long fingers through his hair, as if struggling to stay awake.

The third thing I'd heard was that Chen just might become China's first world-class point guard. That he might be the one to feed the ball to Yao Ming in 2008 in Beijing, when the host nation will strive for its first medal in Olympic basketball.

''That is their ultimate goal,'' said Tony Ronzone, an international scout for the Detroit Pistons. ''Do they have a shot? Definitely. They're playing at home; I think they can compete with anybody.''

Much is riding, in short, on this spindly adolescent's progress -- because China, quite simply, has gone hoops crazy. According to various surveys, more Chinese now play basketball than soccer or any other sport. New arenas are sprouting in the dustiest hinterlands, and you cannot find a schoolyard without a backboard and a rim. The high school and college games are in a renaissance, to the point where they're beginning to mount a challenge to the old state-run academy system. Meanwhile, a playground subculture teems with hotshots in N.B.A. replica jerseys and the latest signature footwear from Nike, Adidas and Reebok. China is ''our fastest growing global market,'' according to David Stern, the N.B.A.'s expansionist commissioner, who recently announced a pair of preseason games to be played next October in Beijing and Shanghai.

The professional Chinese Basketball Association, despite stunted marketing and tepid fan support, has established itself as a solid midtier league -- rungs below those in Italy or Spain, but higher than anything in Turkey or Russia. Three C.B.A. alumni now play in the N.B.A., including a 7-foot-5 wonder who has turned the Houston Rockets into China's Team while achieving the ultimate in celebrity: to be known by one name. When Yao squared off against Shaquille O'Neal and the Lakers last January, days after O'Neal had mocked a fifth of the world's population with a singsong satire of Mandarin, the game was beamed live on a Saturday morning to a Chinese audience into the hundreds of millions.

By the time that Yao, the pride of Shanghai, had blocked the shots of his hulking nemesis three times and sealed the outcome with a dunk, he'd done more than win a game. Around the world, he'd smashed the stereotype of the small, submissive Chinese. (In fact, tall Chinese are not at all uncommon, especially in the northern provinces. During a visit near the Mongolian border, Ronzone came upon 20 seven-footers under the age of 18, plus a 12-year-old who's already 6-11.)

Back home, Yao erased some stubborn doubts that Chinese players could succeed on the biggest stage. Around the corner from the Shanghai Ritz-Carlton, at Malone's American Cafe, Shawn Doyle served scrambled eggs and French toast that day to 200 people, the large majority of them locals, as they clustered around a couple of big screens. A few years ago, Doyle said, N.B.A. telecasts drew only foreigners, who came to watch the Lakers. ''There's a lot more interest now,'' he said.

To grasp the Chinese passion for basketball, consider the warmhearted, exuberant Xu Jicheng, known to all as Big Xu, who spent his teenage years playing for a junior team with the People's Liberation Army. Big Xu still has a foot in the old system as senior correspondent for Xinhua, the state-owned news service. He and his wife and their 9-year-old son -- a standard-issue nuclear family under China's one-child policy -- live in a two-bedroom apartment provided by Xinhua on the campus of its Beijing headquarters.

But Big Xu's other size-12 1/2 sneaker is planted squarely in more entrepreneurial turf. In addition to his full-time job, he is a color commentator for the Sunday N.B.A. games on China Central Television, a guest lecturer at Beijing Sports University, the M.C. of choice for any C.B.A. or N.B.A. function in Beijing and a columnist and consultant for N.B.A. Time and Space, a local edition of the league's official magazine. After four years in print, the Chinese version -- with all original content -- has tripled its circulation, to more than 200,000.

A true believer in the new China, the proud owner of a Volkswagen Passat, Big Xu exults in his ''freedom to do other jobs,'' even if he seems free, most of all, to run himself ragged. Two years after China's acceptance into the World Trade Organization, two decades after Deng Xiaoping extolled the glories of being rich, a burgeoning middle class grows short on patience. They are eager to enjoy their lives, as the contemporary slogan goes. But they also crave something deeper and broader -- to see China restored to the promise of its ancient civilization, before its wealth and confidence were drained by waves of invaders and centuries of isolation.

''It's a psychological theme that runs throughout China,'' noted Frank Hawke, who arrived from Arizona via Stanford in 1979 as a student at Peking University, and stayed. ''The Chinese feel they have this great culture, second to none, and yet here they are, a third-world developing country. Since 1949, their major goal has been to catch up and surpass the rest of the world in all aspects: culture, national defense, technology, sports. When they feel they've made a huge leap forward, there's incredible national pride.''

These are heady times in the Middle Kingdom, at least for those who can overlook the nation's massive unemployment and a widening gap between haves and have-nots. One day the Chinese are sending a man into space; the next, they are striding toward an East Asian free-trade zone. With 1.3 billion people (almost twice the population of the European Union and the United States combined), China already has the most cellphones, the largest market for TV sets and the fastest-growing one for automobiles. Now the world's sixth-largest economy, it is gaining fast on the top two, the United States and Japan.

And as the sleeping behemoth stirs, where do a Yao Ming -- and, with luck, a Chen Jianghua -- come in? Sport is an ideal medium for geopolitical conflict; the rules are set, the fray contained. In 1971, Ping-Pong diplomacy marked a pivot point in Chinese-American relations. Today, as China wades into the global market economy, as its children embrace Western youth culture, as a new urban professional set seeks self-expression at every turn, what better vehicle than basketball? What sweeter dream of ascendancy than the N.B.A., that brand of brands, that glittering symbol of U.S. hegemony and hipness and the good life?

Back in 1997, at the Jazz-Bulls finals in Salt Lake City, Xu Jicheng had a freighted exchange with David Stern. In a moment of hubris, or perhaps of stunning foresight, Big Xu suggested that China might someday become the N.B.A.'s second-largest market.

To which Stern replied: It should be the first.


Basketball arrived in China piggybacked on the moral fervor of Y.M.C.A. missionaries like Max Exner, an ex-roommate of James Naismith and a participant in the very first peach-basket scrimmage in Springfield, Mass. The novelty found fertile soil, and its roots dug in. Exner took it to Shanghai in 1908, during the last gasp of the last imperial dynasty. According to Judy Polumbaum, a China expert and journalism professor at the University of Iowa, the basketball craze lent momentum to social reform and the cutting of Manchu-style braids, which could get in the way of a two-hand set shot. By the 1920's, the game was a mainstay among urban students; in 1935, it was declared a national pastime. As in the U.S. at that time, the sport fared most prominently at the university level, with legendary squads like the Five Tigers from Nankai teachers' college.

With the establishment of Communism in 1949, everything changed -- and yet the bouncing rhythm of Naismith's game skipped nary a beat. If the Christians saw basketball as a wholesome alternative to big-city debaucheries, and the Kuomintang used it as a point of nationalist unity, the People's Republic would transform the game into a vehicle for revolutionary fitness, hard work and collectivism. Unlike baseball, where pitcher and catcher monopolize the ball, or soccer or American football, where certain positions dominate the scoring, basketball is at its heart egalitarian. While some players may get more opportunities to score by dint of size or talent (from each according to his ability!), everyone must be able to pass and dribble and play defense, and to make an open layup. All are expected to share the ball and work together to create the best shot.

The sport continued to flourish under the Cultural Revolution of the late 60's and into the mid-70's. Aside from Ping-Pong and badminton, basketball was about the only recreation available in those days. Every farm and factory and government bureau fielded a team. Fans lined up down the block to see the Shanghai city five take on visitors from Poland or Hungary. The purpose of these contests was to ''earn honor for the country.'' Individual statistics were not kept, except within players' heads.

When Jaime FlorCruz came to China in 1971 for a three-week tour with a delegation of Filipino dissidents, he was blocked from returning home by the Marcos government and wound up stranded in China as an exile. Nowhere was his culture shock more pronounced than on the basketball court. ''The slogan we heard never-endingly was 'Friendship first, competition second,' '' said FlorCruz, now the Beijing bureau chief for CNN, as he sipped a latte at a sun-drenched Starbucks. ''If someone bumped you, they'd pick you up and say, 'I'm sorry.' ''

Later on, FlorCruz joined the Peking University varsity team as a backup point guard, a year before the team added Frank Hawke as an aggressive if undersize power forward. The foreigners were impressed by the school's two well-kept gymnasiums, then chagrined to find most of their ''home games'' moved to outdoor blacktops off-campus, regardless of winter cold snaps. The idea, Hawke said, ''was to be equal for everybody. In order to be fair and maintain the friendship, we'd play on a neutral court.''

I met Hawke that afternoon at Dong Dan, a mile from Tiananmen Square, where he plays pickup ball with his 15-year-old son, Aaron. Beijing's most famous street-ball venue, Dong Dan consists of two dozen or so half-courts flanking a large soccer pitch. The state-managed facility is underwritten by Nike, which established a marketing base here in the early 90's, way ahead of its rivals. (Since 1997, when it brought Yao to its Euro Camp in Paris, Nike had been instrumental in Yao's development -- until Yao switched to Reebok this fall for a LeBron James-size contract, a stunning reversal in China's sneaker wars.) Nike keeps the concrete smooth and the nets fresh, and adorns each backboard with its telltale swoosh. It costs 15 yuan, about $2, to pass through the metal green-mesh fence.

School was out on this crisp March day, and every court was packed; idle players awaited their turns behind the painted baselines. They wore sweatshirts and warm-up pants and sneakers costing up to $150 a pop. The best Chinese playground players are fast and smooth and sweet shooters, but not particularly fond of defense. While a murmured ''fangui,'' or ''foul,'' might hike an eyebrow, calls are rarely challenged.

Still, something serious is wafting in this air, beyond the dust from the Gobi Desert. On the court next to Frank Hawke's, a blocky teenager pounded the ball outside the three-point arc. He owned a syncopation to his dribble, an in-and-out hesitation as he lurched toward the basket. The move wasn't especially quick or even legal (as he grossly carried the ball), but there was an endearing self-consciousness to it. The dribbler was a stylist, and style comes only from immersion -- from steeping in a subculture that fits your image of yourself.


The conquest of the 1992 Olympics by the Dream Team whetted satellite-driven appetites for more. In 1994, for the first time, the N.B.A. Finals were broadcast live to China. As Hakeem Olajuwon danced around and over the Knicks, in rebuke to the notion that centers must rule by brute force, among those glued to their tubes was a 13-year-old beanstalk named Yao Ming.

By the time that Michael Jordan returned from his first retirement, in 1995, the Chinese were primed for him -- and, with their weakness for dynasties, for the rest of Chicago's ''Red Oxen.'' As Alexander Wolff noted in his fine survey of global basketball, ''Big Game, Small World,'' the Chinese thrilled to Jordan's aerial exploits; they revered his stony will. He became the mainland's premier pop cultural hero -- more lionized, in one poll, than Mao.

In Beijing I met a member of this congregation at the Sports City Cafe, a bar from a parallel universe. They'd festooned a back room with framed photographs of Bob Cousy, Ted Williams and Pete Rose. The main bar rimmed a basketball court that patrons could use between beers. Suspended from the rafters were six life-size papier-mache hoopsters, in assorted N.B.A. colors, tilting forward in slam-dunk mode.

An owlish 22-year-old with mop-top bangs, the son of a CCTV executive, Cheng Yang was a college student when I met him. He was also an N.B.A. addict who'd played hooky that morning to watch the Rockets with his 70-year-old grandmother: ''She knows nothing about basketball, but she loves Yao Ming.'' In addition to his TV habit, Cheng logged on to the new Mandarin edition of NBA.com at least once a day.

Cheng's dearest possession is his sneaker collection, which numbers 70 pairs and counting. He arrived this night in a pristine pair of red-and-white Vince Carter Nikes. He has 34 pairs of Air Jordans, but never puts them on. ''When I'm wearing a player's shoes,'' he explained, ''it gives me a feeling of what he feels on the court.'' But in donning the Jordans, he says: ''I'm trying to be like the gods. I don't measure up; I don't have the dignity to wear his shoes.''

Even as it fueled China's N.B.A. fan base, Barcelona marked a watershed for the sport's ruling bureaucrats, if only by framing the vast challenge ahead. After watching the likes of Barkley and Jordan up close, Jiang Xingquan, the dean of Chinese coaches, made ''a complete overhaul'' of the national team: ''I got players who were taller, faster and more competitive.''

The upshot has been less than impressive. China finished 10th in basketball in both the Atlanta and Sydney Olympics, and a disappointing 12th in the 2002 World Championships, even losing to Angola. Then came the shock of last year's Asian Games, where the Chinese had won five straight gold medals. This time they wasted a seven-point lead to South Korea in the final game's final minute. It was a devastating loss for a nation that teeters between can-do optimism and an age-old inferiority complex. The loss of face was complete.

On the Internet, the post-mortems were blistering. The players were overtrained and exhausted; the players were undertrained and out of shape. In either case, they had failed to match the Koreans' fighting spirit. Team officials, meanwhile, were denounced as overconfident in light of the semidefection of Wang Zhizhi, the first Chinese player to enter the N.B.A. (The anti-Yao, Wang had been expelled from the national team for ''indifference '' after he chose an N.B.A. summer league over training for international play.)

In the ensuing shakeup, the 62-year-old Coach Jiang was recalled to a third tour with the national team. On Oct. 1, 2003, he led his troops against South Korea in the Asian championships, with a berth in the 2004 Olympics on the line. As before, the smaller Koreans rained in three-point baskets against China's mechanical zone defense, a Jiang trademark. After watching their lead cut to one in the fourth quarter, the Chinese rode Yao's 30 points and 15 rebounds to survive and secure their date in Athens.

Once again, however, the team's soft spot had been exposed. The Chinese point guards were neither quick enough nor sure enough to make decisive plays. They imploded when trapped. Their shooting was too erratic to stop defenders from sagging back on Yao, and they often seemed flummoxed at getting their prized giant the ball. What good was an unstoppable big man when his team couldn't funnel him 20 shots a game? ''It's like the software that's missing from the hardware,'' said Terry Rhoads, who used to be Nike's marketing chief in China and now runs his own firm there.

It is no coincidence that China's first three exports to the N.B.A. -- Yao, Wang, and Mengke Bateer -- are all giants. Under the Soviet model, which the Chinese followed from the 1950's on, height was the holy grail. Enough of it could mask technical flaws or poor coaching -- it was, as per cliche, the one thing that couldn't be taught. Generations of Chinese children had their hands X-rayed. By age 10 or 12, the ones with outstanding growth potential were tracked into boarding academies for ''professionalized'' training. After three or four hours of morning academics, the rest of their waking lives revolved around basketball. The top talents rose to the senior provincial or P.L.A. level; lesser lights were eventually returned home, where they might wind down their careers on city or factory teams.

There are two problems with this system, which still holds sway today. First, it has produced thousands of ex-jocks with no future in a market economy. Second, it excluded the odd quicksilver prodigy who was too short to make the cut. The guards who emerged weren't rewarded for bold strokes or commanding personalities. They were schooled to defer to their coaches, follow set plays, make the simple pass. They might not inspire, but they were stable, predictable -- qualities much valued in China. They would not upset the order of things.

Though the system has loosened of late, to the point where C.B.A. teams now field some 5-foot-8 wisps, the point-guard gap remains. Chinese coaches and team managers, according to Jaime FlorCruz, hold that the problem is genetic -- that they cannot compete physically with African-Americans or Eurasians without a height advantage. (Similar thinking led to an internal Chinese experiment with a four-point shot in the 1980's, in the hope that their players' shooting skill -- born of numbing practice -- might outweigh their athletic limitations.)

''But I think it's more than physical,'' FlorCruz said. ''I think it's conceptual. I think it's the way point guards are taught. It's a matter of mind-set, training, coaching.''

Chris Herren, who has played the point for the Denver Nuggets and Boston Celtics, and moved last year to the Beijing Ducks, would agree. ''That position just hasn't developed here,'' he said. ''They're robotic -- there's no flair, no freedom, no individuality. The coaches don't let the reins go.''

The dominant N.B.A. point guards -- Jason Kidd, Gary Payton, Stephon Marbury -- are spontaneous and unbridled. They sense who should get the next shot, and where; when the pace needs to slow or accelerate; when the moment demands a lob, or a bullet pass, or a damning of torpedoes as they lunge into the foul lane and create for themselves. The great ones, as Rhoads noted, own a streak of ''rebellion, independence, unquestioned leadership.'' In the scheme of Chinese sports, where leadership long has been a top-down affair, these are not exactly traditional virtues.

But at the base of the pyramid, attitudes are shifting. Among Chinese youth, the favorite player of the post-Jordan era may be the league's prodigal son: Allen Iverson. The Chinese adore him as a normal-size person who takes on bigger men without fear, who never gives up. But there is more to Iverson's iconography than a profile in courage. From his intricate braids on down, he brings a whiff of subversion to the table. Of all the great American stars, Iverson is the least controllable. He does not conform.

On my last day in Beijing, a Saturday, I stopped by a recreational basketball clinic, a growing vogue for middle-class families since the advent of the five-day workweek. As their parents sat and watched intently from the sideline, seven small boys did their slide drills and dribbled up and down the court. One of them caught my eye, a bubbly, round-faced sixth grader with a cowlick. His name was Chen Lun, and I had only to look to his feet to guess at his role model.

Why Iverson? ''Because he plays all-out all the time, 110 percent,'' he said. ''And even though he's small, he can really score and make things happen.''

The boy's parents had university degrees, and his smiling, well-coiffed mother made it clear that Chen was headed the same way -- basketball was a fine hobby, no more. But when I asked him how far he wanted to go with the sport, he had no less grand a plan than any self-respecting 12-year-old in Brooklyn or Indianapolis. ''Like Iverson,'' he said. ''To Iverson's level -- the N.B.A.''


Halfway into the Haikou morning practice, in the first full-court scrimmage, Chen Jianghua abruptly became a different player: demonstrative, alert, in his element. From his seat in the stands, Zhang Weiping, the team's top executive, began to lean forward whenever his point guard touched the ball. The next minutes told why.

Chen startles, first of all, with his quickness: the lightning first stride, the full stops on a dime, the tommy-gun stutter steps as he veers in a new direction. Paired against an older, stronger, taller guard named Lu Wei, the team's toughest defender, he could not be contained. Chen feinted to rock Lu back, dribbled twice between his legs, then jabbed one more time before rising for a deft three-pointer -- a new toy for Chen, who'd only recently gained the upper-body strength to shoot from that far off. With his torso fading to gain space, the release came in a blink. The ball floated into the basket.

The next time, Lu crowded a few inches closer, spurring Chen to do what he loves best. He crossed over to his left hand to beat Lu and angled right by a second man -- only to find a seven-footer blocking entree to the foul lane. It was too late to reconsider, and Chen seemed sure to be felled by his own momentum. But as he sprawled full-length to the floor, he somehow slung the ball to an open wingman on the baseline for a score.

As violent as Chen seems in motion, there is a logical sequence to his moves, a satisfying syntax. And as spectacular as he can be, there is no ''French pastry'' to his game, as the late Al McGuire liked to say. His work is clean, direct, unitalicized. He plays with nonpareil style, but no ego. He has somehow absorbed the global point guard idiom.

An hour after practice ended, as the sun set over a man-made lake by the team's dormitory in Haikou, I asked Chen if he'd been influenced by any N.B.A. players he'd seen on television. With his team leader translating, he said he admired Iverson, ''but some of his moves are too wild, and I don't like that.'' He'd learned more from a coach at a clinic he attended in Eugene, Ore., he said, who ''told me to dribble two balls at the same time. It helped me a lot to practice this way.''

Though Chen grew up in Guangdong, the mainland's southernmost province, where street ball is played year-round, he wasn't born into the sport. His father had no interest in it, nor did an older brother. The family was amused when Chen, 6 years old, hefted a basketball and refused to put it down. He took the ball to bed with him, hugging it as he slept.

An uncle took an interest. After Chen turned 10, he steered the boy to a strong sports school, where teachers eyed the frail newcomer and shook their heads. As Chen recalled, ''Some guys who thought they knew about basketball, they told me I was too small -- to forget about it.'' His voice was low and soft, his face impassive. ''I never thought about those kinds of things. I just kept practicing.''

Seeing the boy's intensity, the school's coach allowed Chen a rare degree of freedom on the floor. For two years he was ignored by the provincial sport ministry, left to develop on his own. Then, at 12, Chen shot up to 5-11. He gained national prominence in August 2001, at the national finals of a Nike-sponsored three-on-three tournament in Shanghai. ''I saw this kid, and boy, he was beautiful,'' said Rhoads, the former Nike marketer. ''And he played so street -- so street! I kept asking myself: Is he really Chinese?''

The secret was out. Chen was summoned to his provincial junior team and then lent out to the Olympic hopeful squad last February. After speaking with Bruce O'Neil, who has spent the last eight years bringing a coaching-certification program to the Far East, Zhang Weiping expected great things. But at Chen's first practice, the team leader said: ''I thought he was terrible. Lazy. Just half-speed; walked up court.''

Over the next weeks, Chen showed glimmers of surreal brilliance. At an exhibition for the Haikou townspeople, he spun one full revolution in the air -- a 360, in the trade -- and finished with a clean slam-dunk. Then he'd skip four of the next six practices. The coaching staff wanted to send him home. A bad influence, they said.

Instead, Zhang imported Jack Schalow, formerly with the Portland Trail Blazers. After observing a Haikou practice -- seven hours a day of repetitive drills, often taught the wrong way -- Schalow understood Chen's problem. Yes, the kid could be lazy, but most of all he was bored. He was Mozart being taught by Salieri.

Schalow halved the team's practice time; each drill now had a purpose. He appealed to Chen as a leader, and the boy fell into line. Toward the end of Schalow's stay, the hopefuls took on the perennial island champions, a veteran group of grown men. The game was never close. Chen ''just dominated,'' Schalow said. ''He had maybe 20 assists and 20 points, and he didn't even look to shoot. The crowd went crazy for him.''

Zhang Weiping was sold. ''I didn't understand that little guys can sometimes compete with big guys -- can beat big guys!'' he said. '' I've totally changed, because of Chen.'' It was only a matter of time, he felt sure, before Chen became the national team's starting point guard. ''If he works hard, puts on muscle,'' Zhang added, ''I think he can make the N.B.A. Because he can feel the game. It's inborn, not something you teach him.''

Meanwhile, Chen confesses to thinking about 2008 and the Chinese Olympic team. He imagines delivering the ball to Yao and a rehabilitated Wang, and to Yi Jianlian, the 6-foot-11 16-year-old whose raw athleticism reminds some of a young Tim Duncan. ''We should medal,'' the boy wonder said bluntly.

Much lies beyond his control, of course -- the needed upgrades in training and coaching techniques; the direction staked by the new basketball commissioner, Li Yuanwei. Chen is as fragile as the next teenager. He could be injured or burn out, or dull for lack of competition. Enter the new brainchild of O'Neil's U.S. Basketball Academy: a program to admit junior Chinese players to American high schools, then return them to their homelands at a higher level. Rhoads is praying for Chen to get his chance in time. ''With point guards, it's more art than science,'' he said. ''Right now, the kid is painting his own canvas, using the paint that's available. But he needs more colors, and he can get them from overseas exposure.''

If and when that happens, Max Exner's mission will have come full circle, and Naismith's grand old game may never be the same.

aexchange
11-24-2003, 11:53 AM
great article, thanks a lot! i/expressions/face-icon-small-smile.gif

OzMavs
11-24-2003, 03:55 PM
I was in China almost ten years ago, and had great fun playing scrimmage matches at the Foreign Languages University. The standard was not as high as games I played here, but they clearly loved the game. With some development, I'd hope that China becomes a basketball superpower.

mavsman
11-26-2003, 06:18 AM
Yes, thanks for the article, it's a great read.

During a visit near the Mongolian border, Ronzone came upon 20 seven-footers under the age of 18, plus a 12-year-old who's already 6-11Now this is beyond being scary. Can you say "Do you have those digimon-lunchboxes in superlarge" in Mandarin?