Having spent a fair amount of time traveling throughout the country observing and conducting interviews with movers and shakers about various aspects of the China Basketball Association and the sport of basketball in general, I have found Jim Yardley‘s book very accurate and brings back to life those memories I have from my own extensive experiences covering that country’s brand of hoops.
The Pulitzer Prize winning reporter, a long-time journalist for The New York Times, delivers a funny, insightful gem about a season NOT on the brink, as he recounts how former NBA player-turned-veteran coach Bob Weiss is hired by a wealthy Chinese steel magnate to improve the fortunes of his Shanxi Brave Dragons, one of the nation’s worst teams.
Much more than a fish-out-of-water sports book, Brave Dragons is a terrific study in contrasts about how two nations pursue goals and dreams. The veteran foreign correspondent excels in taking us inside this compelling world and richly illustrates both those different perspectives and common experiences with a sense of humor, adventure and pathos.
The contrasts within a capitalist-friendly, authoritarian-ruled Communist country are well represented by the story’s main backdrop, the city of Taiyuan, which the author calls “the boiler room of China” for its role as the country’s leading center of coal mining.
“It was where miners earning maybe $5 a day died by the thousands in unsafe mines,” writes Yardley, “and it was where so many overnight millionaires had been created that Louis Vuitton and Cartier were anchor tenants in the newest shopping mall in downtown Taiyuan.”
Proving his ability to deftly weave a story together with facts and entertainment, Yardley’s prose provides a brilliant cultural anthropology as a way to not only better understand today’s China beyond the hardwood courts, but provides readers with a perceptive prism, a metaphorical mirror to how ambitious China is in general.