on March 2, 2012
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!
on March 20, 2012
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.
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. Yardley's portraits of the city, the country and the system are balanced with the more personal glimpses of Weiss, Wang, the Chinese players for whom basketball is, literally, their whole life and the foreign players (two per team only, please) who come to China to either further or recoup their careers. And along the way, he provides some nice thumbnail history of China over the past 150 years as it has gone through one upheaval after another. And he does it all deftly and with a light hand. This is a very readable book and a great pleasure to spend some time with. Highly recommended for those interested in a look at contemporary Chinese society and culture. And some darned good basketball writing, too.
on March 22, 2016
As someone interested in both basketball and Chinese culture and language, I was naturally attracted to this book and found it a very engaging and fascinating read. There are not many books like this out there, and this is a rare glimpse and fun ride into the world of the CBA in China.
I enjoyed "getting to know" the characters such as Joe the translator, Michael the Nigerian center, Kobe the upcoming Chinese player, the wacky and eccentric Boss Wang and of course coach Bob Weiss.
The contrasting experiences of Bonzi Wells and coach Bob Weiss in China described in the book are excellent examples of unsuccessful/successful cross-cultural adaptation to China and other contexts. These examples should be highlighted for foreign athletes headed to the CBA who seek to make a successful transition to the league and life in the middle kingdom.
NBA coach Bob Weiss (brought in as a “foreign expert” to help the team) maintained his sense of humor and flexibility in a situation of constant change, drama and turmoil (much due to the eccentric and erratic owner of the Brave Dragons, “Boss Wang”). He and his wife seemed to embrace their time in China, caring for the players, learning some of the language (the book mentions coach Weiss speaking in Mandarin at a press conference much to the delight of the Chinese present) making Chinese friends, and exploring the city on their own.
In contrast to Weiss, Bonzi Wells (the highest profile foreign player in league history) wasn’t able to adapt to life in China, clashing with the owner, isolating himself in his hotel room, and choosing not to return to the team after the New Year vacation. I was especially interested to read about the Wells story since I knew about him from his days at Ball State (I grew up not far from his hometown of Muncie, Indiana).
Along with the entertaining story of the Brave Dragons, the book provided interesting cultural and historical insights. It was interesting to read that basketball was first introduced to China in Tianjin (at the YMCA), a city that I spent more than three years teaching and studying in; I’d love to visit the old gym the next time I travel there. Another example included discrimination faced by a Taiwan player by his mainland teammates and coaches of the Brave Dragons. I hadn’t heard much about this kind of treatment towards Taiwanese in Mainland China, and would like to know how often this occurs in Chinese society today.
Yardley also provided some interesting glimpses into the CBA such as claims of fixing matches by owners and referees and the enormous salaries that foreign players can earn. I got the impression that Chinese owners/coaches stress constant drilling and practice much more than their American counterparts, some even implying that this is the reason why Chinese athletes retire relatively so early.
I’d recommend this book for anyone interested in basketball, China or even cross-cultural relations/adaptation.
on October 30, 2014
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 tribulations associated therewith. I highly recommend this book to all basketball fans and also to all persons interested in the fast growing Chinese economy and particularly some of the more successful persons thereof. Truly fascinating.
on March 23, 2016
The book did a great job of telling the story of Bob Weiss and the Brave Dragons. It really peaked my interest. As someone who has studied in China, travelled their often, adopted a daughter from China, and works closely with Chinese students, I found much that resonated with me and the book provided cultural insights while telling the saga of the Brave Dragons season. I recommend that people follow up on the foreign players who were on the team, and check out the history of the YMCA. All great stuff!!
on October 10, 2012
Basketball in China is a revelation. The teams play where the owners live and not in the larger cities. The training is definitely not American with emphasis on conformity and constant repetition. I found basketball life in China is so unlike ours and that makes this book worth reading.
on April 15, 2012
I expected this book to be about an ex NBA coach coaching in China. But, I found it really to be a dissertation about government and society in that country, with some space given to Chinese basketball teams and very little to the actual day to day activities of the coach. It felt like I was back in school taking "China 101." I have spent a fair amount of timein China myself and found a few areas where I disagreed with the auathor's observations, and conclusions, about the Chinese people. Would I recommend this book? Only if one were interested in reading about how things work in China, and not very much about the American coach there.
on September 8, 2012
"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. It's funny and insightful, without being sarcastic or judgmental. It's just great storytelling from someone who obviously loves writing, and is more interested in his characters than his own opinions. Thanks Jim!
on November 11, 2013
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. It is an inspiring book that will surely make you appreciate Chinese Basketball league. This Novel also captures the interesting and complex Chinese culture.
The players may lack in skill but there is no shortage of heart in the and teamwork in the players... That is why this book is truly inspiring. The team overcomes adversity multiple times, when the star Forward left the team the other Forward practiced so hard that it did not matter he was already better than the other player who had left the team. In the novel there was also a player from Nigeria who just got drafted to the team; the players accepted him right away as a member of the team.
The Author shows love for the game that each and every player posses. It seems that all the players know is basketball. The players are eager to go through even coach Weiss' conditioning programs. They consider themselves blessed to even play basketball. It is truly amassing how inspiring these players and coaches are.
This novel shows how important quality teamwork in an amazing way and story. I would not recommend this for anybody that does not appreciate the sport of basketball because there is not much else to the story besides basketball. If I had to compare this to any other story it would have to be Miracle because they both show the compassion and teamwork that each player shows for one another. I enjoyed this book because of the story and the message it sends.