Thank you, Mr. Duncan

I never liked San Antonio Spurs.

I couldn’t bear watching them playing against my favorite teams over the years, namely, Los Angeles Lakers (Kobe Bryant), Dallas Mavericks (Dirk Nowitzki), Phoenix Suns (Steve Nash), and winning time and time again.


I thought they were cowards who preyed on their opponents’ errors. I thought they were the most uncreative bunch who could even dunk properly. Most of all, I never thought highly of the center of the team — Tim Duncan.

Yes, I know he held probably the highest degree in the league. But still, he seemed so beige to me.

That was probably until then I read the news about his retirement. I suddenly realized that the man had been with the same team as long as I could remember watching NBA.

When everyone was shouting for attention in this world of social media, he focused on just one thing — basketball in addition to family and friends.

I tried to imagine what kind of life that was. So simply. And yet, so profound.

Isn’t it his persona? This quietness. This resilience. This focus.

I find myself reading about the guy at the verge of his retirement. We need more heroes like Duncan, who led without seeking for attention, who played his part and no more and no less.

Don’t you love the guy when he says —

I’m just a basketball player. I play the game. I go home.

I didn’t. But I do now. Thank you, Mr. Duncan, for all those “beige” years.

When Kobe was playing his last game

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Where were you?

What were you doing?

Were you watching the game?

I was not. But I watched his postgame interview today.

A journalist asked about his plan after retirement. He said, “I’ve been doing a lot of research. And I will meet with my business partner tomorrow. Lots of people when they retire, they tell themselves, well, I will start a new life tomorrow. Then tomorrow becomes another tomorrow. As a player, I always have a routine. I need to find a new routine after basketball. Or I will lose my sense of purpose.”

That’s why Kobe is Kobe.

Everybody stopped what he was doing and decided that watching his last game was the most important thing that evening. The world stopped for Kobe, because he’s worth it. Or, because he’s earned it. Day in and day out, he played. He never stopped.

In his interview, he also mentioned discipline. When media praises his talent, his streak of luck, let’s not forget how disciplined he has always been. He was no ounce more gifted than his peer Tracy McGrady. The latter retired already and became a sportscaster, while Kobe fought to the last minute his body could sustain him. That’s why we love Kobe — not because he’s a genius, but he’s like us, only thousand times more driven. Only.

Kobe, amongst my other heroes — Steve Jobs, Will Smith, focuses on the one thing and do it to the fullest.

So when I recalled what I was doing last night, I was writing. One day is not going to make any difference. But I will persist. Even Kobe’s last game wouldn’t distract me from honing my own craft. That’s what he has taught me over the years while I followed his career religiously.

I want to be among the league of people like Kobe— who fight their best fight to the last minute of their career.

And I will write to the last minute of my life I can lift my hands and type.

NFL and China

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Read this news first from Wall Street Journal: NFL Considers Staging Game in China by 2018.

China has become “the elephant in the room.” If any business wants to make it worldwide, it can’t afford to ignore China. When I asked how NFL will penetrate into China upon staging a game there in 2018, I was looking for more than a simple “If you build it, they will come” answer.
 
Anybody can hold a one-off game with snowflake marketing and giving away free tickets to the government officials. But how to reach out and build the kinship with the average Chinese?
 
Take tennis for example. China began broadcasting tennis at the peak of Michael Chang’s career. But those games were often interrupted because of the poor ratings. In 2002, Shanghai partnered up with ATP Tennis holding men’s final for the following three years. At the time, most people don’t even know the “math” in tennis — Love-15–30–40, and not 45? It took another decade for tennis to gain nationwide popularity at the sensational news of Li Na winning the French Open in 2011.
 
Or look at NBA. It has been popular in China from Michael Jordan’s Chicago Bulls to Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal’s LA Lakers. But it was Yao Ming that brought about the China bonanza. Granted, it takes an ensemble of stars like Steve Nash, Tracy McGrady, Dirk Nowitzki to make the game interesting. But for the Chinese audience, while they were starstruck by the gifted NBA players in the past, now they got to cheer for their own. For the first time, NBA was “approachable.”
 
NBA is alway on the lookout for its next bridge, the next cultural ambassador that makes China tick from Yao Ming to Jeremy Lim. It holds summer camps in major Chinese cities. Megastars like Kobe Bryant, LeBron James trek the Great Wall, visit schools, play with kids and interact with fans. At every Chinese New Year, they put out video clips with star players greeting fans in broken but cute mandarin.
 
It is only human that everyone wants to cheer for someone we can relate to. The first hurdle for NFL is to educate its Chinese audience about the rules. How to popularize the game when Americans use yards while Chinese do meters? If NFL wants to cultivate sophisticated viewers in China like NBA, it needs more than just putting on extravaganza at the Beijing Bird Nest Stadium. And why should Chinese care about American football? What’s good for them? Is it not in the Olympics? If yes, then you bet every school will mandate American football at the gym class from kindergarten to college.

It’s the bond that makes us human.

It’s the bond that makes the fans care.

My concern about NFL’s presence in China is more about “ecosystem” than merely holding one game on the China soil. Where to begin when you do not yet have that bridge, that bond?
 
To win a market, one must first understand its culture, like what Nixon did with his Ping-pong diplomacy in 1971.