|I am up in the nosebleed section with the other Beijing locals.|
My first 2008 Beijing Olympics experience was great. Like other Beijing residents I had applied through the lottery to get the right to buy tickets for my favored events, and like others I won some and lost some. My best lottery tickets were for Sunday afternoon men’s basketball. For 50 RMB (about US$7) per ticket, I got tickets for a session with two great games: Spain-Greece and Argentina-Lithuania. All four are medal-contenders. Spain was impressive in its victory over a Greek team that passes and plays together beautifully. Argentina won the gold medal last time. But in this opener Lithuania beat them with a 3-point shot with 2 seconds left.
I expected the venue to be nice, but what pleasantly surprised me was the “software” side of the event. Security was thorough but fast. Helpful volunteers everywhere. The games were augmented by a lively international selection of music at timeouts and breaks. There were cheerleaders, acrobats, and people dressed up in big plastic costumes of the five Olympic mascots (each has a name that is a homonym for one of the five characters in the phrase, Beijing huanying nin, “Beijing welcomes you”). During one break the mascots brought out a trampoline so they could do some basketball tricks like the big guys. (Jingjing needs to work on that 360 slam dunk – missed it twice.)
My seats were up in the nosebleed section, surrounded by typical Chinese families that had also gotten tickets through the lottery. One man and his son had come up from Fujian just to see these games. People all around me were big NBA fans. The Chinese audience rooted for Spain in the first game and Argentina in the second, I think because they recognized the NBA stars Pau Gasol from the Lakers and Manu Ginobili from the Spurs.
|The basketball arena filled for the Argentina-Lithuania game.|
I hadn’t realized what a big following the NBA has in China. Of course there is tremendous interest in Yao Ming and Yi Jianlian. But there is a lot of fan support for the other big NBA stars as well. The weekend before the Olympics I took my family to Shanghai to see the USA team play an exhibition against Russia. I expected an expat crowd, but it was almost all Chinese in the audience. Lots of people wearing Kobe Bryant or Lebron James jerseys. Every time Kobe touched the ball the crowd chanted “Kobe” or “MVP.” We all did the wave and thrilled at the slam dunks.
A nice thing about international competition is that it produces some unlikely heroes. While everyone may have come Sunday to see the NBA stars, they appreciated Linas Kleiza’s elegant shot under pressure to give Lithuania its win.