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Brave Dragons: A Chinese Basketball Team, an American Coach, and Two Cultures Clashing [Kindle Edition]

Jim Yardley
4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (20 customer reviews)

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Sold by: Random House LLC

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Book Description

The wonderfully original story of a struggling Chinese basketball team and its quixotic, often comical attempt to right its fortunes by copying the American stars of the NBA—a season of cultural misunderstanding that transcends sports and reveals China’s ambivalent relationship with the West.
When the Shanxi Brave Dragons, one of China’s worst professional basketball teams, hired former NBA coach Bob Weiss, the team’s owner, Boss Wang, promised that Weiss would be allowed to Americanize his players by teaching them “advanced basketball culture.” That promise would be broken from the moment Weiss landed in China. Desperate for his team to play like Americans, Wang—a peasant turned steel tycoon—nevertheless refused to allow his players the freedom and individual expression necessary to truly change their games.
Former New York Times Beijing bureau chief Jim Yardley tells the story of the resulting culture clash with sensitivity and a keen comic sensibility. Readers meet the Brave Dragons, a cast of colorful, sometimes heartbreaking oddballs from around the world: the ambitious Chinese assistant coach, Liu Tie, who believes that Chinese players are genetically inferior and can improve only through the repetitious drilling once advocated by ancient kung fu masters; the moody and selfish American import, Bonzi Wells, a former NBA star so unnerved by China that initially he locks himself in his apartment; the Taiwanese point guard, Little Sun, who is demonized by his mainland Chinese coaches; and the other Chinese players, whose lives sometimes seem little different from those of factory workers.
As readers follow the team on a fascinating road trip through modern China—from glamorous Shanghai and bureaucratic Beijing to the booming port city Tianjin and the polluted coal capital of Taiyuan—we see Weiss learn firsthand what so many other foreigners in China have discovered: China changes only when and how it wants to change.

Editorial Reviews


 “Rollicking . . . Lively and often hilarious . . . Yardley’s tale resonates far beyond sports . . . He manages to capture, in touchingly human detail, the essence of a nation in transition.”
-Brook Larmer, The Washington Post
“Illuminating . . . Brave Dragons is to Chinese basketball what Laura Hillenbrand's Seabiscuit was to Depression-era horse racing: Both books certainly do justice to their respective sports but also use them as tools to gain access to wholly different cultures.”
-Maureen Corrigan, Fresh Air
“An engaging history of basketball in China . . . In Yardley’s deft handling, the tale of the Brave Dragons and their American coach becomes something much bigger than an account of an oddball basketball team.”
-Jason Zengerle, The New York Times Book Review
“Yardley’s vivid, pointed, and often very funny examination of Chinese basketball has much to say about the country at large—and the way Americans often come flying down the lane at it, only to find themselves called for a charging foul.”
-Jay Jennings, San Francisco Chronicle
“Remarkable . . . Brave Dragons is about much more than basketball. It is about more than Weiss’s adventures. It is a serious look at the deep divisions between American and Chinese cultures.”
-Steve Kelley, The Seattle Times
“Brave Dragons is a winner—informative and conversational, occasionally funny and frequently suspenseful . . . Yardley rewards readers with his close eye and felicitous prose. This book amounts to cultural catnip.”
            -Karen R. Long, Cleveland Plain Dealer
“Exceptionally ambitious . . . Yardley’s observations of a country in transition are instructive, sometimes even poetic.”
-Bill Littlefield, The Boston Globe
“Entertaining . . . Yardley presents basketball and young China’s growing fascination with it as an apt, pacy metaphor for a China cautiously engaging with the West.”
-David Shaftel, Mint
“A-. Brave Dragons is thorough micro- and macro-history, capable of sucking in both the basketball-obsessed and the non-athletically inclined.”
-Vadim Rizov, The A.V. Club
“Yardley strikes gold . . . The Brave Dragons put together a decent season, and Yardley a memorable book.”
“Unique . . . Engaging . . . A fantastically implausible, ultimately cautionary tale of how the Chinese and American ways often mix like oil and water.”
“Brave Dragons has all the ingredients of a farce: larger-than-life characters, sudden plot twists, and don’t-let-the-door-hit-you-on-the-way-out moments. But Jim Yardley sees the bigger picture: In many ways, basketball is a metaphor for the emergence of China as an economic power and its relationship with the rest of the world. “
-Curt Schleier, The Seattle Times
“Masterly . . . Brave Dragons is a must-read for any hoops fans with a hankering to understand what is and isn’t happening in China.”
-Alan Paul, Slam
“An engaging story that will appeal to sports fans and general readers alike.”
-Publishers Weekly
“In delightful and insightful ways this wonderful book takes the reader into a world, China, through another world, basketball, that even helps illuminate a third world, America. I couldn’t put it down.”
-Ira Berkow, co-author with Walt Frazier of Rockin’ Steady: A Guide to Basketball and Cool
“Jim Yardley’s terrific book, telling the story of an obscure Chinese basketball team and its American coach, opens a vivid window on an unexpected item in the broader Sino-American encounter, and it does so not just perceptively but entertainingly as well. Nobody should mistake Brave Dragons for a sports book alone—yes, it’s full of action, big personalities, and excitement, but it’s also a universal story of human striving and cultural collision that's hard to put down.”
-Richard Bernstein, author of Ultimate Journey: Retracing the Path of an Ancient Buddhist Monk Who Crossed Asia in Search of Enlightenment
“By following a backwater Chinese basketball team and its new American coach for a season, Jim Yardley has created a character-driven narrative that tells the reader as much about contemporary China as it does about sport. Yardley takes us into the gym, on the road, and behind closed doors in this immersive, funny and suspenseful book, which I couldn't put down.”
-Michael Meyer, author of The Last Days of Old Beijing: Life in the Vanishing Backstreets of a City Transformed
“Jim Yardley's wonderful book not only provides a unique prism for understanding today’s China but is as entertaining a book as I've read in some time. It's also a basketball fan's delight.”
-Bryan Burrough, author of Barbarians at the Gate: The Fall of RJR Nabisco

About the Author

Jim Yardley has worked as a journalist for The New York Times for the past fourteen years, including eight years as a foreign correspondent and bureau chief in China and India. His reportage on China’s legal system won the 2006 Pulitzer Prize for International Reporting, which he shared with a colleague, Joseph Kahn. He has also won or shared numerous other awards, including the Overseas Press Club Award for best international environmental coverage and the Sigma Delta Chi Award for best foreign reporting from the Society of Professional Journalists. He lives in New Delhi with his wife, Theo, and their three children, Olivia, George, and Eddie.

Product Details

  • File Size: 7679 KB
  • Print Length: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage (February 14, 2012)
  • Sold by: Random House LLC
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B0051ANPWO
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Word Wise: Not Enabled
  • Lending: Not Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #376,476 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

4.3 out of 5 stars
4.3 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Who Knew!!! March 2, 2012
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
Who knew that learning about the culture and politics of contemporary China could be such rolicking good fun! The author introduces us to an American former NBA player and coach and his wife, strangers in a really strange land indeed, hired by a Chinese basketball team owner to bring the "NBA WAY" to his failing team, the Brave Dragons; and foreign basketball mercenaries brought in to make Chinese basketball teams better. Then there is a cast of Chinese characters beginning with the over the top team owner - a first generation self-made millionaire who excels at berating his players and hiring and firing one coach after another. We are introduced to heartbreakingly endearing young Chinese basketball players, chosen at a young age to play basketball because Xrays indicated that they would grow to be tall. These young men, some of whom do not even like basketball, are condemned to basketball prison - living two to a room in a converted warehouse and enduring endless hours of pointless drills "The Chinese Way." In addition to these is a wealth of other characters delightfully and insightfully portrayed and not easily forgotten.

As the author follows the team around China for a season, he gives us an enlightening lesson in Chinese history and a clear look at the tensions between individualism and the good of the state. Through the microcosm of basketball, he shows us the bewildering, often frustrating attitude of today's Chinese, "we want all things American - but we want them our way!"

A terrific and funny read!
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
The author, Jim Yardley, has worked for the New York Times and has won a Pulitzer prize for coverage of China's legal system. He had lived in China for 6 years during the time he covers the Brave Dragons, and has a very good (albeit outsider's) view of Chinese culture. He and his father are one of only two father/son pairs to both with Pulitzer Prizes.

The subject matter might be considered mundane, in that we are not talking about an Arab Spring type of story where material is so rich, it probably writes itself. Rather, we are talking about a basketball team's season in China.

The experiences of Americans living there are also among the most entertaining facets of the story. Chinese culture is very closed to outsiders as Yardley often tells us. Even, he, after six years living in the country cannot really explain some Chinese customs.

While the team doesn't have a blowout season, and their standings within Chinese basketball haven't really improved much, Yardley cannot be blamed for this. The story is still worth reading.

There are times when the story gets slow, and some parts I skipped out of impatience when the author delves into lengthy history lessons. One such part that seems like it could have been pared down is the history of the YMCA in China. Granted, this is what brought basketball to China, but I found the history of Communism and Insdustry in China emmensely more captivating.

In the end, it is Yardleys proficiency at telling a story that kept me reading. He has a distinctly New-York-Times-style of writing that just flows and feels natural and academic at the same time for me. The characters are very memorable and often entertaining. Having finished the story a week ago, the thing that will most stick with me is the team's owner, Boss Wang, followed closely by how well written the book was.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Witty and insightful look at culture clash April 22, 2013
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
One of the oddest experiences I can recall was sitting in a hotel room in Hong Kong in 2000 watching a Korean league basketball game being broadcast in Mandarin. It was all so familiar and all so completely strange. The style of play was almost feral: constant fast breaking, run and gun play with what appeared to be no discernible play running and ferocious, desperate defense. All being delivered to me in a language that I didn't understand more than 10 words of. And all punctuated with the occasional "cooooooool" and "oh, maaaaaaan." As it turned out, not bad preparation for Brave Dragons.

Loosely, the book covers a season in the life of the Shanxi Brave Dragons of the Chinese Basket Ball Association, who's owner, the pugnacious and bellicose Boss Wang has just made the daring and controversial move of hiring ex-NBA coach Bob Weiss to run his team, the first time such a thing had happened. Wang then spent the year systematically undermining, undercutting, second-guessing and pile-driving said Bob Weiss. Weiss, looking for a coaching gig and thinking this might be interesting and a lot of fun, was in for the ride of his life.

By turns poignant and hilarious, the book is more than just a chronicle of a season of culture clash and uses the basketball team and its experiment as a lens into the larger world of US-China relations and misunderstandings. There is a lot of basketball here, but there is a lot more as well and author Yardley, a veteran US reporter in China for, at the time, over 6 years, examines what happens in China when outsiders try to do things their own way, even when brought in expressly to do things their own way.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars I Loved This Book
Surprisingly great read. I thoroughly enjoyed it. Great story telling.
Published 6 months ago by Joe
5.0 out of 5 stars I highly recommend this book to all basketball fans and also to ...
I played high school basketball with Bob Weiss and truly appreciated this in-depth analysis of his attempt to bring NBA-style basketball to China, including the trials and... Read more
Published 6 months ago by Lawrence R Fraley
3.0 out of 5 stars A good read....
Interesting book but ultimately only a good as opposed to great book.
Published 10 months ago by John David Kenney
3.0 out of 5 stars brave dragons review
When you think of pro Basketball players you usually don' t think of the Chinese but after you have read the book Brave Dragons. That may change your opinion. Read more
Published 18 months ago by colt45 (Burdman)
4.0 out of 5 stars Very well researched account
I loved the combination of politics, socioeconomics, culture, tradition, and basketball as it relates to both China and America. Read more
Published 21 months ago by Anna Prillaman
5.0 out of 5 stars Terrific
The author does a great job in highlighting both the oncourt and offcourt comparisons between Chinese and western culture. I would recommend this book to anyone.
Published on January 18, 2013 by Roy A. Keefer
5.0 out of 5 stars Entertaining read
Good as both a sports book and as insight to China. I spend a lot of time in China and immediately identified with and chuckled at Yardley's descriptions of the cities, the... Read more
Published on January 9, 2013 by Glenn Hershey
5.0 out of 5 stars Basketball Chinese style
Basketball in China is a revelation. The teams play where the owners live and not in the larger cities. Read more
Published on October 10, 2012 by clean
5.0 out of 5 stars awesome read
"Brave dragons" is a great book! The author spends a year with a basketball team in China, giving us great sketches of all kinds of colorful characters, on and off the court. Read more
Published on September 8, 2012 by a reader from MN
5.0 out of 5 stars "You can never tell what people in China are thinking. So you must...
Brave Dragons is almost too relaxing and funny to read to be as brilliant, thought-provoking, humane, and endlessly fascinating as it is. Read more
Published on August 7, 2012 by E. Kutinsky
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