Smile Politely

Alex and Dominique go to China

Al and Dom went to China, and all I got was this lousy exclusive.

But in fact, they’re great photos. It’s much easier to write half-truths about Illinois basketball when the set-up material is so strong.

Accompanying a team of collegians coached by Illini Director of Basketball Operations Sean Harrington, Al and Dom played eight games in China, and tied only one of them. (At the end of regulation, everyone felt they had seen enough basketball.)

Each day took them to a new city. The routine was to wake up too early, catch a plane to a new city, take a bus ride to a new venue, and inhale a bunch of smoke while combating teams of seven-foot Mandarins, Mongols and Cantons.

According to Keller, the basketball was comparable to Division II, or junior college.

The tourism, on the other hand, was incomparable.

The Red Army never rose for Mao. But they came to life and defeated Lord Hong in Terry Pratchett’s Interesting Times when Rincewind found the remote control helmet.

But that’s another story.

The terracotta warriors are merely a representation of the droves — the legions if you will — of fans who followed Al and Dom through the streets of China, chanting “Kobe! Kobe! Kobe!”  The government, it seems, had posted huge billboards of Kobe Bryant and Jason Kidd, prefatory to the team’s arrival in each city. The locals were easily fooled. For one thing, they’ve been taught to take the government’s word. And we all look alike to them anyhow.

Sightseeing, on top of traveling for about five hours every day, sleeping for about five hours every night, and continuously playing sparsely regulated games versus enormous genetic mutants is exhausting. On top of all that, our guys were forced to eat strange foods, like Szechuan KFC (featuring Strange Flavor Original Recipe).

Coach Harrington expressed bemusement, on returning, at the proferring of a roasted duck.

It’s not that the duck’s head was still there, it’s that Harrington had never heard of eating a duck before. He compared it to chicken, and turkey.

But it turns out he liked it, mystical and otherwordly as it might be. We need to get Sean a raise. He’s done a great job, and he deserves to dine in more adventurous restaurants. (I told him about the duck enchiladas molé at Escobar’s. Ray Timpone has a good duck, too. So does Luke Kennedy. And Thad.)

That reminded me, I have an excellent movie recommendation for him, too.

Alex is leery of strange flavors. He ate mostly fruit and rice while abroad, and dropped a few pounds.

So it wasn’t the food that made him sick. It was the nicotine.

Philip Morris and R.J. Reynolds have had it with Americans and their damned laws. They (like all the other major publicly held companies that once did business in America) have moved to China where you can still smoke in public. In fact, you can smoke in athletic arenas.

Here’s a picture of one gym before the smokers arrived.

The clouds accumulate during the pre-game ballet.

Dom said there were about 20 guys lighting up directly behind the team bench. The players took to wearing facemasks.

But it was not enough. By the end of the tour, they were gassed—literally. That’s why their stats were so bad for the last few games. Also, they couldn’t see the basket through the haze. (Alex showed me a funny picture of a nude ‘Nique crapped out on a hotel bed, but for some reason Information Comptroller Derrick Burson thought that one should stay in the file.)

But apart from the air (and the water, and the soil) China is very tidy. So eventually ‘Nique got dressed again, and the Tall Ones ventured forth, to fresh-ish air, and fraternizing with the locals. As ambassadors to the Orient, our lads wore many hats:




Here’s an extremely rare sighting of Alex Legion’s teeth. Known for his stolid, serious countenance, Al nonetheless cannot conceal his joy upon defeating three street hucksters at their own three-card monty.

Meanwhile, Dominique explained to a youngster just how dirty a basketball can become if it’s left in a country which has no viable environmental policy.

Afterward, they stopped to get a lemonade and some peace from Mr. Miyagi’s Traditional Mandarin Roadside Rickshaw.

But still they were hounded by Philip and RJ, whose agents followed them everywhere.

Cigarettes … yum.

All photos by Alex Legion and Dominique Keller

Related Articles