Saturday, February 10, 2007

Shanghai Sharks Basketball

The Sharks are Shanghai's professional basketball team, in the CBA league - the Chinese Basketball Association. The obvious reference point is Yao Ming, who was a star on the team, and still has a massive following in China - usually if I talk to a stranger my age, they'll mention Yao Ming within the first 30 seconds of conversation. Maybe my height gets them thinking about basketball?

Supposedly the Sharks were popular when he was on the team, but the Sharks aren't really that good a team, and the CBA is criticized as being a farm league for the NBA. The criticism seems off to me, as only two players have ever moved from the CBA to the NBA.

My first visit to the stadium was a little weird. If not a very convenient location, it is pretty much in the geographical center of Shanghai. It's part of a very large sports complex, with professional-grade tracks and so forth. I've heard Shanghai's athletes all live in on-site dormitories and train here, something like a Communist-style work group. Not just basketball playerys, but gymnasts, swimmers, fencers, and so on. The complex is big and modern, weirdly enough there's also a large Japanese-branded superstore underneath the main gym.

I didn't go to many Warriors games when I lived in Oakland (who can blame me?), but I don't remember the teams lining up beforehand to shake hands. The red team here is the evil Shandong Bulls.

Another difference was they didn't play the American National Anthem. It was the first time I had heard the Chinese Anthem, everybody stood up and all that. It was a recording of a choir, rather than a live singer. It sounds something like Wagner to me, a little strange.

A look at the game! There's a few small differences between the court and the NBA, I'm guessing it goes by the international standards court. The 3-point line is elliptical, without the side lines, and the lanes are substantially wider at the base.

That serves to discourage an inside game, and I was reminded of pick-up games in Oakland Chinatown - teams of 5 guards! It's a lot of ten or fifteen foot shooters, or people cutting inside for the lay-up. There were also a lot of set plays that involved driving inside and flipping it out for a jumper. Here's somebody calling a play.

Very strangely, Shanghai, which ended up winning the game, had five separate players score in the double digits, with two other players reaching eight and nine. With the Bulls, though, a foreign player dominated the game. He was #21, he played less than half the game but was still scored 33 points, the next highest scorer that night scored 21. I'm very curious why he didn't play more, especially considering the team lost. Would it be considered unfair competition, does the team not care about winning? Unfortunately I didn't get a decent picture of him, here's the team's other foreign player:

I wouldn't call the other foreigners outstanding players, but they did go inside from time to time. And to a casual observer like myself, they also seemed to play a lot harder than the Chinese athletes. Sometimes it seemed like the game was just a friendly match, without the players giving it their all.

A hilarious rule about foreign players is, they can only play five quarter's worth of minutes! So the way the Shandong Bulls did it was to double up on foreigners in the fifth quarter. Shanghai probably would have done that, but one of the foreign players got a minor injury, and took the rest of the game off.

The stadium is pretty small, I'm guessing it could hold a few thousand people max, and was probably holding less than a thousand when I was there. Ticket prices were from $2.50 to $20. I just got the cheapest seats, it was fine. The $20 seats area was pretty small, maybe twenty people in a box right next to the court. It was a bunch of white guys, they seemed to follow the league enough to know who to yell at, and were obviously pretty drunk. Check out the tables full of Carlsbergs and Heinekens. I think I took that picture during the first quarter, to boot.

Most of the crowd was Chinese, of course. People seemed pretty into the game and cheering their team on, although not as much as in the Bay Area, which isn't exactly sports-fanatic capital. It's hard to compare given the smaller crowd and stadium, though. Noisy balloons were passed out (slapping them together gives a clapping sound), but they weren't as loud as the ones from Oakland A's games. There's also a guy there with a snare drum, a few people brought them in.

And of course I'll mention the cheerleaders. They were a bunch of high-school girls, with baby fat and all.

They danced a couple times, it was the same dance every time! There were also a couple girls dressed up as the Sharks mascot, they left the ponytail hanging out though. For the most part they just cheered on the sidelines, they were silly and acted more like a bunch of high-school girls than cheerleaders. They razzed on the people shooting free throws, a couple times the referee had to tell them to cool it down. Most of them were wearing thick yellow jackets during the game, it was too cold for a skirt and tube-top!

A few surprises on commercial aspects: I wanted to get dinner at the stadium, but all they had was drinks and candy, so I waited until after the game. I thought the Shanghai Sharks logo was kind of cool and contemplated getting something branded, but they didn't have anything for sale, there weren't even any bootleg items on sale outside! That was a surprise. Finally, considering Nike, Reebok, and Adidas have NBA-themed advertisements all around Shanghai, it was kind of surprising that none of these companies advertised with the Sharks.

Oh! And, as far as I can tell, the CBA doesn't publish their schedule in English, very strange! A Chinese-language schedule is available at the CBA website. It also lists the scores of past games. My favorite is the 149-135 game, I can't even imagine. There's also Chinese-language box scores and a small collection of pictures for this game.

SH magazine, a free English-language weekly guide to Shanghai, frequently lists dates and prices. Every one of these is inaccurate, so be on alert for that if planning to attend.

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