On The Road

The official blog of the Rockets 2010 Preseason Trip to China

Jason Friedman

October 18, 2010, 9:00 AM Houston, Texas: Reflections

There are road trips and then there are those which take you more than 15,000 miles in the span of a week. Having just completed the latter, I now find myself in the impossible (at least for me) position of trying to find the proper literary ribbon with which to tie up this most extraordinary and surreal bundle of memories.

Basketball brought us to China and it certainly provided more than its fair share of memorable moments: everything from sold out arenas rising and roaring with every Yao Ming touch, to watching the Rockets’ bench react with incredulous euphoria following Shane Battier’s emphatic, turn back the clock put-back slam (don’t laugh; Shane was quick to jokingly remind me that he did, in fact, win a dunk contest during his high school days).

And yet, this trip was clearly about so much more than basketball. Like every travel experience, this was an opportunity to expand horizons and learn about the planet we call home. When leaving the familiar, all five senses are educated; the mind is challenged; the spirit soars. For often times the best way to understand one’s self is to see it through the eyes of another. And the view from China was nothing less than eye-opening and enlightening for those who seized the moment to take a glimpse.

Yet in the end, the lesson is the same as it ever was: despite our myriad differences as people and cultures, the value systems remain largely the same everywhere; we all want the same things out of life, and each of us is capable of the best and worst mankind has to offer. You don’t need to travel halfway around the world to come to that realization, but often times such journeys do serve as a helpful reminder.

But enough of the amateur hour philosophizing. This is an entry meant for memories. If you’ve followed this blog from the start, you no doubt already know the impact the Great Wall (October 14 entry) made on me. Let us, then, give a few of the Rockets players their proper turn in the spotlight, as they describe the moments that have now been forever emblazoned upon their minds.

Patrick Patterson: “When we first got off the plane in Beijing and went through customs, they had big signs all around that said you’re not allowed to take pictures in that area. But then you’ve got security guards, police officers and all the people behind desks taking pictures of Yao. So I picked up the sign and walked right beside Yao holding it and they just kept taking pictures (laughs). Obviously the rules didn’t apply when Yao was there, so I think that’s a great indication of how much he means to China.

“It was such a great feeling for myself to be here and a proud moment to be a part of the Houston Rockets. I never would have imagined myself being in China ever. And just having the opportunity because of Yao and the Rockets organization, I’m extremely thankful and grateful that I got to come and experience this.”

Ish Smith: “The Great Wall was unbelievable and the slide down was so fun. It was a great experience and something I’ll tell my children about.

“It’s funny because I just left college and to be in the position I’m in now you never take things for granted. I’m so happy I got a chance to be here.”

Courtney Lee: “It definitely had to be going to the Great Wall. That whole experience, seeing one of the wonders of the world and not really putting together how they built that thing during that time, it was one of the most memorable things I’ve ever done. Then riding the toboggan down the hill was awesome also.

“It was breathtaking. You grow up reading about it, but then when you see it and see how long and high it is, and some of the stuff they did without the use of today’s technology, it’s just so impressive.”

Chuck Hayes: The favorite for me was going to practice in Guangzhou (please see October 15 entry). The stampede that surrounded our bus that was something I’ve never seen before. It was unbelievable. I’ve never seen anything like that before in my life.

“They are nuts about basketball here and the appreciation that we received here was unbelievable.”

Last but not least, we conclude with Shane Battier, a player who falls only behind Yao in terms of player popularity in China. With endorsement deals, talk show appearances and the like, Battier is no stranger to the world’s most populous nation, so his perspective on this trip was certain to vary from that of his teammates. Sure enough, his personal highlight strayed from the common refrain but only in the best possible way.

Shane Battier: “Honestly, my favorite part of this trip was all the bus rides. I haven’t laughed that hard with a team in my 10 years in the NBA. We have an absolute cast of characters on this team and every bus trip I was laughing and thinking these are the funniest guys I’ve ever been around in my life. I’ll always remember this trip for the stories and the bus rides.

“I’m excited about the possibility of the chemistry on this team raising us to a higher level. I think we have great guys and we do cheer for each other, and it’s rare thing in the NBA. Obviously talent wins out at the end of the day but you never know. The (2004) Detroit Pistons team had some talent but the biggest key was they played unbelievably great together and it led them to a championship, so there is an example of a team doing that, so that’s promising.

“That said, it’s still the preseason and the popcorn hasn’t really popped yet, but we’ve got a good thing going and I think it could be a special thing.”

And with that it’s back to Houston, back to Central Standard Time and back to basketball. Practice resumes today with the Rockets’ regular season opener now looming little more than a week away. There are still plays to perfect, rotations to set and skills to hone. The demands of the NBA schedule dictate that one must always look forward; a player’s personal rearview mirror must relinquish the past at a dizzying rate.

Yet while China becomes now a memory, perhaps it’s not destined to be a distant one. Maybe, like Battier said, the seeds of something special were cultivated there, so that we might one day look back and see a significance that neither time nor distance can diminish; the Rockets’ very own version of the Great Wall an awe-inspiring, incomprehensible structure pieced together one stone at a time, until the day comes when we can all gaze upon it with marvel and joy.

Thanks for reading.

October 15, 2010, 7:45 PM Guangzhou, China: The Yao moment

From the moment we stepped off the plane in Beijing four days ago, many members of our traveling party have been waiting to witness a Yao moment that frozen snapshot in time when China’s favorite son sets off a frenzy with nothing more than his mere presence.

To be sure, there had been hints here and there, but nothing approaching the chaotic mob scenes we’d been bracing for you know the type: the ones which seem lifted straight out of “A Hard Day’s Night” in which hundreds of screaming fans lose their collective mind while frantically hoping to get little more than a glimpse of their homecoming hero. Before today, you wouldn’t call the scene surrounding Yao tame, but you wouldn’t label it turbulent, either.

And then it happened. Peaceful to pandemonium in the blink of an eye.

As a bus transporting Rockets’ players and staff pulled into the arena parking lot for practice, a sea of humanity suddenly appeared, racing alongside the vehicle, calling out Yao’s name, cameras snapping off pictures as fast as their shutter speeds would allow.

The frenzy was not merely relegated to the streets, however. Closer inspection of the adjacent buildings revealed windows teeming with life, too, as residents packed in, leaned out and took in the scene below. Surreal doesn’t even begin to describe it.

Yao, of course, is by now accustomed to such spontaneous outbreaks of chaos in his native country. To say he is perfectly comfortable with such a lofty level of celebrity is perhaps not entirely accurate it’s hard to imagine the game’s most humble and down to earth superstar ever feeling completely at ease with the pedestal on which he’s been placed but he certainly handles it all in stride. Teammates new to the experience, however, seemed blown away by what they witnessed this morning.

“You hear a lot about what Yao Ming means to these people here, but you have no idea until you actually see it in person,” said Rockets’ rookie, Patrick Patterson. “It’s just remarkable to see how much he’s loved.”

Yes and no. Yao is, after all, so many things to so many people. He’s not just China’s best-ever basketball export, he’s also a too-good-to-be-true ambassador representing a nation still shrouded in mystery to so much of the world. His humanitarian efforts have raised millions of dollars for victims of the devastating 2008 earthquake. And his loyalty to his home both in China and in Houston is unwavering.

So while the reception for Yao is in many ways remarkable, it also happens to be rather understandable as well. Giant that he is physically, the shadow that he casts extends far beyond his 7-6 frame. His is a legacy borne of hard work, hope and humility. And while wild events like the one this morning boggle the mind, they also shed light on something far more impactful: people like Yao simply don’t come along very often; and when they do, every moment be it quiet or chaotic, restful or rowdy is one to be savored.

October 15, 2010, 7:45 PM A Quick Hello Your Rockets Power Dancers In China

Hey, Rockets fans It's your world traveling Rockets Power Dancers signing in from across the globe! We're in China for the 2010 NBA China Games and are having an amazing time performing and meeting tons of Rockets fans halfway around the world (fun fact: did you know that China is 13 hours ahead of Houston?) . Check out some photos from our first few days Here we are arriving at our Beijing hotel (please note the cameo by Rockets.Com's own Jason Friedman), at the Forbidden City, and atop the Great Wall! We've just arrived in Guangzhou and are looking forward to tomorrow's game vs. the Nets! The fans were out of this world at the first game and we can't wait to meet more Rockets fans in Guangzhou. More photos to come!

See you soon! An, Brittany, Christie, Christina, Ebony, Geneva, Ginger and Natalie

October 14, 2010, 4:45 AM Guangzhou, China: The Great Wall as religious experience

You’ve heard about it since you were a child. A testament to human achievement so great, so incomprehensible, that mere words and pictures could never do it justice. The Great Wall is not to be seen it is to be experienced.

And so you go. The bus takes you up a winding road through the lush green mountains as the sun’s golden glow filters through the leafy canopy overhead. The wind blows softly through the ubiquitous willow trees which line the lake of a small fishing village. And on cue, as if ordained by the Wall itself, Jeff Buckley’s “Hallelujah” plays its hallowed, haunting and heartbreaking melody through your headphones as you approach.

The bus ride comes to a halt, culminating in a short uphill walk past a plethora of the obligatory merchants eager to trade you all types of trinkets and t-shirts for cash. After that, a gondola to the top.

Then little more than silence and awe.

No, there are no words. Not for this a majestic, seemingly supernatural structure that was millennia in the making, and said to stretch more than 5,500 miles in length. So instead you stand, snap photos, shake your head, and then repeat that process dozens of times.

All the while the Wall rests regally before you; its serpentine shape extending out to the horizon while a sort of silent poetry flows forth, speaking of its sacred history like a lover whispering into the ears of his beloved; creator and creation coming together to lift each other to far greater heights than either could ever hope to achieve on their own.

That is, after all, what this is about: vision, sacrifice, diligence, joy, pain, perspiration and perseverance joining forces to show us what we’re all capable of when the stars align. The final product result need not be something so grand and magnificent; the true magic lies far more in the effort than the end result.

After hours that could happily turn into days, it’s time to head back. On the way down you run into a handful of Rockets players and staff who came along for the journey as well. You recognize the look in their eyes and wonder if they, too, grasp the symbolism and significance. Piece by piece, stone by stone, and day by day this wall was built. How many millions of times must doubts have been raised? How often must all involved have asked themselves if the ultimate goal would ever be reached? Greatness is promised to no one. But faith and indefatigable strength of will can take you far.

Sometimes it’s all you have.

And sometimes it results in something that will be remembered, admired and adored for eternity.

October 13, 2010, 4:35 PM Beijing, China: Game day

Delirium departs. Normalcy returns.

Sleep. Breakfast. A weary but much-needed workout. And suddenly the world seems right-side up again, making it much, much easier to chronicle this extraordinary city.

Yesterday I mentioned the architecture here in Beijing and though it doesnt seem to possess the skyscrapers which dot the Shanghai skyline, there are still incredible ultra-modern buildings and structures that make it seem as if Frank Lloyd Wright had himself a field day in this city.

Also fantastic: the people. To absolutely no ones surprise, weve received first class treatment from everyone weve encountered, regardless of whether or not were with the team or out on our own. The courtesy on display is simply extraordinary; that is, unless you happen to be driving, walking or cycling on the city streets which bear more resemblance to a real-life game of Frogger than the seemingly far more regulated roads back home. Then again, through two days here we havent witnessed a single accident of fender bender of any kind, so who am I to judge? God knows you cant go a day in Houston without seeing some sort of vehicular malpractice.

Among the highlights of our trip so far: Walking past the Hall of Mental Cultivation inside The Forbidden City and thinking that would be the perfect place to send the Mavs fan in your family; bartering within the walls of the wild and frenetic Pearl Market; and a simply mouth-watering meal consisting of authentic Xinjiang dishes of lamb, beef, chicken, beans and pecan and dried grape rolls at the Crescent Moon restaurant a lovely little place tucked away inside a back alley that we never would have discovered in a million years if it hadnt been for our most gracious of hosts, Wang Meng, Rockets beat writer for Titan Sports.

Now fully fed and well-rested, its time to return to the business of basketball. The Rockets and New Jersey Nets play the first of two head-to-head matchups tonight and well have more in the way of videos, pics and stories at that time.

October 12, 2010, 5:45 PM – Beijing, China: The Longest Day Ever

There are long days and then there are those you spend traveling internationally, perpetually chasing the sun but never quite catching up to it, until finally finding yourself in a foreign land, punch-drunk with the sort of surreal vertigo that comes with a temporarily misplaced sense of the standard space-time continuum.

Rockets-Cavs at 6 PM Sunday. Hop aboard a flight to Anchorage, Alaska at midnight. Approximately 8 hours later it’s off to Beijing. And now, thanks to the beauty of time zone hopscotch, it’s Tuesday evening in China, some 12 hours after having arrived at our ultimate destination. For most of our traveling party, fatigue is high, sleep is but a myth and there is no siren song sweeter than the one emanating from the pillows inside the hotel room.

And it’s all worthwhile. Because this place… well, it simply must be experienced.

With a population of more than 20 million people and a history that’s even larger in scope, Beijing is infused with that rarest of qualities that comes with its unique combination of ancient and ultra-modern. From the extraordinary architecture of the Olympic facilities, to the breathtaking, sacred beauty of The Forbidden City, Beijing belongs in a class of its own.

We’ve got two more days here before moving on to Guangzhou, so there will be plenty of tales to be told – some of which might even include a little basketball. But for the time being, enjoy the pictures and video blogs and we’ll be back with much more in the very near future.

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