HANG TIME WEST – The girl — about 5-foot-2 and appearing to be in her mid-teens — was caught in the mosh pit, jostled by enthusiastic fans on the rope line outside the hotel the teams shared in Beijing and overly aggressive security guards who would get unnecessarily physical to control situations. And she didn’t care.
It was the first morning the Lakers and Warriors were in China, last Sunday outside the Ritz-Carlton. She had straight dark hair parted in the middle, down just past the shoulders, black-rimmed glasses with yellow temples, paper in hand. She also had a dark streak from right eye to throat, tears combined with mascara.
She was crying at the chance to see Warriors players, coaches and staffers walk past on the way to the bus to practice, most of whom stopped among the crowd for autographs and pictures. A.C. Green, the former Laker and current Oakland resident on the trip as an NBA ambassador, spent about 20 minutes, or until every one of the few dozen fans who wanted an interaction left happy. It was the teenage girl who spoke up.
“I love basketball,” she said in broken English. “It is the importance of my life.”
The Warriors and Lakers in China was a hard schedule even with the first-class travel, with a series of appearances in the name of NBA public relations when players would rather have had alone time, and it was an unwanted trip for many with the regular season coming fast. But it was undeniably an experience of unique sights and sounds. Just ask Green and the girl with black watery line down her face.
A basketball takeaway? The 14 assists and five steals by Andre Iguodala in Shanghai on Friday. It was exhibition play, and not exactly against the dream Lakers lineup on a night no L.A. starter broke 26 minutes, Iguodala the distributor is intriguing look when Stephen Curry is out, or maybe even when Curry is in and able to play off the ball. Toney Douglas may be listed as Curry’s backup, but Iguodala, the likely starter at small forward or shooting guard, said he feels comfortable at the point. He has experience in the pros, mostly from his 76ers days. If Iguodala can be successful there, Golden State can play very big (Iguodala, Klay Thompson, Harrison Barnes or Draymond Green, David Lee, Andrew Bogut) as part of several lineup options coach Mark Jackson can deploy with a versatile roster.
Meanwhile, Jerry West delighting in the chance to go mostly unrecognized proved to be short-lived. He received a very loud ovation at the first game, Tuesday in Beijing, when he was brought to center court to be introduced with Dell Curry, Muggsy Bogues and Green, and so many fans interrupted West at his seat back in the stands that the Warriors executive was finally moved to the scorer’s table with security close. Team officials are ordinarily not allowed to sit there, but the rules are bent for The Logo in a different continent.
Kobe Bryant left China with his status for the regular season in as much doubt as when he arrived. Bryant has not ruled out opening night, Oct. 29 against the Clippers, and he continues to increase the workout activities in the return from a torn Achilles’ tendon. But he is also underlining patience. As much as he wants to be on the court as soon as possible, Bryant gets the risk of coming back too soon and playing before the injury is fully healed.
The Warriors landed in Oakland at 1 a.m. Saturday with plans for a very quiet Saturday and a light practice Sunday to get re-adjusted to California time, and then for a big week ahead for the entire organization: Talks on an extension for Andrew Bogut could accelerate, with both sides optimistic a deal can get done before or very early into the regular season. A Golden State insider, while cautioning a lot of negotiating remains, agreed with Bogut’s assessment that team and player are starting serious conversations in the same ballpark on dollars and with common ground on length and possible incentive clauses based on games played. There is no deadline, but Bogut, hoping to stay, either wants the contract done soon or table the issue until after the season.
Beijing and Shanghai both have nice basketball facilities, but especially Shanghai, with Mercedes-Benz Arena and a second quality building in another part of town that was used for a Fan Appreciation Day. Shanghai as a whole has a very modern vibe. It has about six million more people in the city itself, yet seems to move smoother and is cleaner than the country’s government center.
One other thing about Beijing: Cabbies make the most ruthless of New York taxi drivers seem timid. It’s probably not only the cabbies, either. Traffic lines are suggestions, yielding to pedestrians an occasional happening.
And finally, there was Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni on Thursday in Shanghai, when asked what kind of restaurant he went to the night before with Yao Ming: “Chinese. But that would be just ‘food’ over here, right?”