I’ve been over here in Malaysia for the past couple of weeks, soaking in the culture, warm weather and chicken rice. Seriously, they eat a lot of chicken over here. Chicken curries, chicken sandwiches, chicken kebabs, and of course chicken rice. Overwhelmed with the chicken I went to a place called Kenny Roger’s Roasters named after the American singer-songwriter himself, expecting to find some authentic American flame-grilled burgers and Texas-style barbecue. Instead all I got was more chicken; chicken tacos, chicken pasta, and chicken salad. They eat a lot of chicken over here.
As this is my first decent stay in an Asian country I’ve been keenly keeping an eye on the public interest in basketball. Before coming here I was excited about the prospect of giant Nike and Adidas stores filled with endless racks of NBA jerseys. Maybe I’d buy a new pair of Jordans? Maybe I’d even find a pair of C-Billups since the entire city of Melbourne seems to be sold out in my size. Maybe I’d turn on the 6 o’clock news to find a segment on how the USA basketball team was travelling? Maybe I’d see kids shooting hoops in a primary school and join in to teach them my un-guardable turnaround J?
It turns out all my dreams were pretty much shattered. Yeah the Adidas and Nike stores at KL-CC were big, but I didn’t find any of the shoes I wanted. They have ESPN here but they show so much damn Premiere League I feel like I’m living in the UK (although I did get to see Barry Bonds 756th). I’ve been scouring the newspapers everyday for one bit of basketball info but all I’ve got so far is a paragraph about Yao Ming’s wedding. In two weeks I haven’t seen one basketball ring, one person wearing an NBA jersey, or one person at a bar who understands my Carlsberg-fuelled rantings about the KG trade. I guess it’s the off-season, but I kind of expected more. I thought Yao’s popularity had swept across the entire Asian continent to the point where his face was plastered across giant building-sized posters in every city. I’ve now learnt this is not true.
One basketball-related story worth telling happened on the weekend. There is a young Philippino man I’ve been working with called Rolly, and he knows a thing or two about basketball. Apparently the NBA is big in the Philippines and basketball is their number one sport (would not have guessed that). After a night out at Pizza Hut where I satisfied my severe Pepperoni cravings (and Rolly ordered six chicken wings – yes, he went to Pizza Hut to eat chicken) we jumped in a cab with some friends to go back to the hotel. We were sharing stories about our families back home when he told me about his son Riley.
“He was an NBA coach, you know?” He said in his thick Philippino accent.
“Pat Riley?” my friend remarked. “You named your son after Pat Riley?!”
I was laughing in the back seat; Rolly was in the front so I couldn’t see his face.
“Oh yeah” he replied.
“Are you serious?”
“Yeah, we named him after Pat Riley… and also cos Riley is like my name, Rolly”.
The rest of the cab ride home I was in stiches. Here I was, an Aussie in Malaysia listening to a Philippino man tell me why he named his son after a 60-year old American basketball coach. It was weird, so weird it was funny. Pat Riley? If I wanted to name my son in honour of my love for the game of basketball I could think of a hundred better names than Riley. How bout Jordan? How bout Isiah? Why on earth go for a coach? What is he going to tell his son when he gets to fifteen years of age and starts practising AND1 moves in high school? “Son, you were named after a famous coach who won titles in the 80’s with greasy combed-back hair”. I love Pat Riley. The first NBA championship video I ever saw was of Magic Johnson and Pat Riley in arms, pouring champagne on each other. He was coach of the Knicks when they were one of my favourite non-Detroit teams of all time. Then he went to Miami to coach my favourite player of all time, Timmy Hardaway (in a team that grossly underachieved – people forget that team had Zo in his prime, Hardaway in his post-knee-surgery prime (which still made him the league’s best PG in my opinion, he finished 4th in MVP voting in ’97, and yes I just used brackets within brackets), Eddie Jones, Jamal Mashburn, PJ Brown and yes… Dan Majerle). Me and Mr. Riley go back a long way. In fact, I don’t know if there’s another coach I’ve admired more over the past 15 years. So if after the birth of my son the doctor came rushing to me and said “Mr Rob, unfortunately your child has a rare bone-deficiency disease that will require you to name him after an NBA coach” then Riley might be #1 on my list. But in the event that doesn’t happen, it might slip to #2153 behind “Gilbert” and “Laimbeer” .
Just yesterday I happened to bump into a local NBA fan at a market (looking at fake sneakers). After getting a positive response from “Do you follow the NBA?” I took the opportunity to ask a few more questions:
Which team do you follow? “Cleveland”.
Why do you follow Cleveland? “Lebron James!” came the answer.
Who else on the Cleveland team do you like? “Ahhhh… not sure”. I prompted him a little. “How about Drew Gooden? He’s a pretty good player”. I got a puzzled look. “You don’t know Drew Gooden? Big guy… head band” I explained. I pointed to the back of my head and grabbed my hair when his eyes lit up. “Oh yeah dat guy! Goodon! Funny hair on back of his head!”. I had to laugh.
The NBA might not be big in this country. Their sports shops might not be filled with jersey’s and kickz, basketball might get no air time on the TV, and there might be more chicken shops than basketball courts. But as long as word has spread of Drew Gooden’s funny patch of hair, the NBA is in good hands.