China Sucks at Basketball, What Does that Tell Us, Part 2

I hate to beat a dead horse (and I’m not going to compare China’s Olympic basketball team to a dead horse), but I am fascinated by the discussion that has ensued from my earlier post excoriating China’s Olympic basketball team and asking what business conclusions we can draw from them — if any.

That post made it to reddit, here, where some truly interesting comments were made. The comments started out applying my incredulity at the lack of smoothness and teamwork to soccer:

  • I’ve got to echo his point on football (soccer). Playing football with Chinese players is such a frustrating experience. Nobody makes movement off the ball, looks for space or anticipates anything you want them to do. And usually when you pass to a player they will just try to do everything themselves and try and get the individual glory.
  • Second this [the above comment]. Every team has one player who is LIHAI and the aim is solely to get him the ball and let him try to dribble through the entire opposition team. Twenty times a game. And then he gets through once and scores and he is LIHAI. I’m average at best at soccer, and out of shape, but me and a small group of ragtag expats run rings around almost every team we play. The only time we got schooled was 5 Korean uni kids who are ultra fit and have a mean passing game.
  • I remember once I joined a group of guys to play. The one in the Arsenal shirt seemed to be the captain:
    “What’s your name?” “Genius” Genius was very much the player described [in the comment] above, except he wasn’t actually that good.
  • Sounds like they should be forced to play netball until they master teamwork (in netball you can’t run with the ball, only pass)
  • Sounds somewhat familiar. I occasionally join the evening pickup games at the local public stadium. Thing is, none of the people I see there have had any actual coaching growing up. Tactically they’re all over the place even though they try (we’re most often 10-12 players to a team). It’s just weird as hell seeing the left fullback suddenly attempting to be a striker and even weirder on the ensuing counter, nobody seems to be realising the left side is totally open. I’m not exactly 18 anymore so I don’t really care. It’s funny though, that even in Saturday pub/pick up games in the parks back home, you’d be getting a massive chewing out for something like that 🙂 Oh, reminds me: We have a couple thousand Burmese in this city so sometimes they get to the field first. I’ve played with them once or twice and it’s really quite different. First of all, the teams they make have clear leaders telling everyone off if you’re out of position and they take it a lot more seriously -in a good way.

Then a discussion regarding Chinese food ensued:

  • Is the food in general even all that great nowadays? It used to be for sure, but most of the Chinese food restaurants I end up trying in Shanghai nowadays are disappointing to say the least. There’s still a lot of great places to eat, but I just feel that more and more stores are being opened by people who have no interest in the food they’re serving.
  • Yeah. Is this off topic? I’ve had the same feeling in my lowly 2nd tier big city. There’s endless chains being opened where all of the business aspects are on point (iPad ordering, great social marketing, good decoration, theming, staff doing a reasonable job, play areas for kids or whatever) and then the food itself is average and boring. Shit ingredients, lazy cooking, boring menus. There’s much less of those kind of random, poorly decorated but exceptional food restaurants around.

Then someone analogized the way the team played to the way Chinese employees act:

  • Reminds me of some of the meetings in my company. No passion. Everyone has a rehearsed role, nobody steps out of line (or anywhere for that matter) and nothing really moves. It’s just dull.

And then a few people questioned my methodology (I didn’t even realize I had a methodology, but okay)

  • I don’t rate this guy’s methodology. If I judged the USA by its Basketball teams the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina would have been totally beyond prediction.
  • Yeah this is a stupid article, well at least its a clickbait headline.
  • That is a hell of a rant for a single fucking ball game.

I realize I can be attacked for attacking a team for one game, but in my defense, I would not have done so had I believed there were any chance the team might play differently under other circumstances. I saw too many Chinese players literally step out of the way when an opponent was driving against them to believe they are capable of ever playing tough.

I also found the following two comments to our original post interesting:

  • I think there are a number of good points raised here overall about the mentality I see generally in China – Guangzhou, Guangdong. Again, generalizing of course, but lack of creativity or uniqueness is a real issue. Every liquor store in our area, for example, sells exactly the same liquor. By the way, many (90%+) Chinese play basketball on the playground the way he described it above. I do disagree on the food stores, however. I don’t know what food stores Mr. Harris frequents while here, but in Guangzhou, I see a ton of mediocrity (with few exceptions), average-low quality, and repetitiveness across stores, and I don’t see the “creativity” and the delicate touch he mentions. I really don’t. And, one of the more expensive restaurants in our area that tries to emulate a 4 or 5 course meal in France or the US etc. just really lacked the final delicate touch that would separate them any other restaurant trying to do the same or is going for 4 stars. They have a saying – Cha bu duo – which effectively means “it’s good enough” that is used quite frequently.
  • Australia and China are neck and neck in the medal count, although that will change I suppose. But Australia has 2% of China’s population, i.e. less than Shanghai. China has more middle class people than our entire population. It is the system baby.

I promise this will be the last post on this topic, but does anyone have any more thoughts? Any commonalities between how China plays basketball and what it takes to do business in China?

UPDATE: A friend of mine who spent 10+ years in China and has been doing business with China for at least twice that long, sent me the following by email, requesting anonymity:

  • Renato Canova from Italy is the top distance running coach (marathon) in the world. He has worked in Africa for years training Kenyans and Ethiopians. He had a lot of success in Italy before that. The Chinese sports federation hired him on a three year contract to fix their men’s and women’s distance running programs. He quit after the first year, saying he could not change the Chinese system. He said “they just would not do anything I told them to do.” This sounds typical to me. On basketball, the answer is really easy: no team sports for the Chinese. Everyone hates everyone else and cannot play on a team. The situation is really bad now in the error of the single Child families. The result: fabulous weightlifters but no soccer, no basketball, no baseball/softball and not even any volleyball any more. Ask anyone who tries to run a technical/science R&D project in China: impossible.
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