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Brave Dragons: A Chinese Basketball Team, an American Coach, and Two Cultures Clashing [Deckle Edge] [Hardcover]

Jim Yardley
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
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Book Description

Feb. 14 2012
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.

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 “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.

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Most helpful customer reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars China as seen through basketball May 3 2012
By Brian Maitland TOP 500 REVIEWER
You literally could not make this stuff up--arenas thick with cigarette smoke, teams located not in major city centres but in smaller towns near owners' places of business for "convenience" sake and referees that can be bought. Welcome to the world of Chinese basketball.

Now these are just examples of the dark or weird side of the sport in China. The human face to all this is manifested in the various players and officials involved in the game for better or worse. The worse is Boss Wang, the extremely crazy owner of the team author Jim Yardley chose to follow for a season, the Shanxi Brave Dragons. In choosing one of China's worst teams Yardley tapped into something special as Boss Wang is also a pioneer in hiring ex-NBA coach Bob Weiss (you may know him as the balding backup guard on the '70s Chicago Bulls as well).

The story doesn't just focus on Weiss's trials and tribulations as an on- and off-again coach (he had to share coaching duties with a Chinese coach, Liu Tie, for much of the season). We get to hear the players' stories as well from a much-traveled Nigerian center to ostracized by the owner for having the audacity to simply be Taiwanese, guard Little Sun.

It's not really a book about basketball but one about relationships, team building and Chinese society as a whole. The book is aided by other events that fall into Yardley's story's lap. Boss Wang worships the NBA and signs a bonafide all-star in Bonzi Wells midway through the season. Problem is Wells, as anyone who follows basketball knows, was a bit of a handful during the so-called Jail Blazers era in Portland. He proves to be very good on the court in China as he was hired to be a star and scores bucketloads of points. The problem is team chemistry takes a huge hit when Wells arrives.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 4.2 out of 5 stars  18 reviews
9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Who Knew!!! March 2 2012
By J. Leonard - Published on
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!
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Very well written, subject material sometimes fails to captivate... March 20 2012
By Jonas J. Schreiber - Published on
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.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Witty and insightful look at culture clash April 22 2013
By J. Hundley - Published on
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. 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.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Interesting March 18 2012
By Joey California - Published on
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Wow, amazing what this couch went through. It makes me want to visit China! An entertaining look at basketball and the growth of China from Communist to (sort of) acapatlyst hybrid.
5 of 7 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Not What I Expected April 15 2012
By White shoes - Published on
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
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.
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