Saturday, March 29, 2008

Nike in China

Just how big is Olympic gold medalist 110m hurdler Liu Xiang? Big just in China right? Let's try this.

Big enough for Nike to bestow upon him an honor given only to elite, status symbol defining athletes.

Every sport has a hero.

Tiger Woods is synonymous to Nike Golf.
Rohnaldinho is synonymous to Nike Futbol.
Michael Jordan is synonymous to Nike Basketball.





Zhang Han, a DJ based in Beijing wearing a Nike jacket that says China on the front

Now Nike is looking to make Liu Xiang synonymous to Nike Track and Field on sport's biggest stage at sport's biggest up and coming country. The 2008 Beijing Olympics. Even though Adidas paid over $80 million to become the official partner of the Olympics and is the official outfitter of all Chinese medal winners, this isn't stopping Nike from striking deals with big name athletes that are expected to be popular with all the Chinese watching this summer including Liu Xiang and Yi Jianlian and releasing exclusive Chinese themed sneakers and clothing.

Liu Xiang and Ronaldinho at the opening of Nike's flagship store in Beijing

Last month, Nike introduced a line of sneakers in China named 1984, commemorating the first time the country took part in the Olympics under Communist Party rule, winning 15 gold medals. The line features limited-edition retro sneakers with chunky red soles and decorated with yellow Chinese characters spelling the word for "breakthrough."

Liu Xiang and Ronaldinho at the opening of Nike's Beijing flagship store

Launched exclusively in China last June, the Nike Air Jordan 1 XQ China edition, with dragon-inspired patterns and red silk accents, was the first Air Jordan shoe designed with Chinese characteristics.

Last summer, Nike introduced shoes and sports clothes featuring Mr. Liu's date of birth, gold medals, and a picture of a star he drew as a child.

Such marketing tactics are actually a shift from recent years, when Nike promoted American-style individualism and U.S. sports starts, turning Michael Jordan and LeBron James into heros among young Chinese. In the past year, Tracey McGrady and Kobe Bryant have been the highest selling NBA jerseys in China over the past year... shockingly enough, Yao Ming's jersey has been sitting at number 6. Now after seeing Liu Xiang, Yao Ming and Yi Jianlian launched into phenomenal success in the international spotlight, the Chinese are getting antsy to see their athletic profile to explode like their newfound economic success.

A Nike wushu uniform on display at the 9th World Wushu Championships in Beijing last November.

Only adding onto the Chinese's hunger is seeing athletes from rival Asian countries spring into American sports stardom in sports that the Chinese has so far been unable to penetrate. Suzuki Ichiro, Daisuke Matsuzaka and Hideki Matsui (which just got married btw, congratulations!!) are revered as deities of baseball in their homeland of Japan, most of them with museums dedicated to them in their hometowns. Golfers KJ Choi and Jeong Jang are Korean barrier breakers. Chien-Ming Wang of the New York Yankees is nothing less of a national hero in Taiwan.

So while China overshadows Japan, Korea and Taiwan in just about everything else, the athletic successes and accomplishments of these three countries seems to level the playing field with the behemoth country.

So while Yao Ming, Yi Jianlian and Liu Xiang are undeniable international sports superstars, China wants more...

China is capable of more...

China is destined for more.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Matsui Gets Married

I always implicitly assumed that Hideki Matsui of the Yankees has been married, so when news broke that he finally got married this past Wednesday, I was a little bit surprised but the most curious thing of all was that he apparently told no one about it, not even his teammates knew why he took a sudden leave of absence to New York (for his wedding).

Talk about global reach, his wedding was blessed by the chief government spokesperson in Japan, wishing him "a very happy wedding".

"How do you say sneaky in Japanese?" said a stunned Derek Jeter.

But the identify more than a sketch of his new wife is completely unknown. All Matsui said in his press release was that she is a "25-year-old civilian and had been formerly working in a reputable position at a highly respected company."

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Yao set to be China's first torchbearer

Yao looks set to be the first to carry the Olympic torch when it comes into China for the first time in Sanya, Southwest China's Hainan Province. According to the route map, it looks like he would be carrying the torch for a 200 meter stretch with Yi Jianlian, fellow countryman and NBA Milwaukee Bucks forward set to be his backup (don't imagine Yao will have a problem jogging 200 meters though).

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Is Ichiro's brain bigger than mine?

That's what Dr. Kenichiro Mogi (nice naming coincidence there....), a celebrity brain scientist in Japan says, or at least that his brain is better than mine.

Ichiro says he's eaten the same thing for lunch (homemade Japanese curry cooked by his wife Yumiko) before home games for all 7 years of his career in Seattle, and when on the road prefers cheese pizza, easy on the sauce and fluffy on the edges. Doc attributes this routine for Ichiro's consistency at the plate. This isn't too hard to believe, baseball players more than athletes from any other sport are creatures of habit, abiding zealously by their pre-game rituals that every player has whether it's when they wake up, what they eat or their specific pre-game workout routine.

Where Dr. Mogi goes a little off the beaten path is when he says that Ichiro has remarkable "metacognition". Dr Mogi says "It's the ability to observe yourself as if you're observing your own internal state from the outside. Of course, it's all your own feeling, but you can access and analyze it as if you are observing it from an objective point of view."

Dr. Mogi says Ichiro has an ability to be able to separate himself from his body after an at-bat and be able to analyze all the feelings, sensations, emotions and other "intagibles" that he felt during the at-bat and figure out what he did wrong.

Really sounds like either the doc or Ichiro are full of it (probably even both of them....)... but baseball is a game of numbers and numbers of all things don't lie...

"Ichiro begins this season with 1,592 hits in the major leagues, just more than halfway to 3,000 in his seven years with the Mariners. If he plays beyond his new five-year deal that begins this season, he could conceivably achieve 3,000 hits in the major leagues. He'd be in his 40s, but 10 of the 27 players to reach the milestone achieved it in their 40s.

Adding his 1,278 hits from Japan, 3,000 more in America would give Ichiro more lifetime hits than Pete Rose's 4,256, currently the most of any pro to ever swing a bat."

Maybe his brain is better than mine.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Sports > Politics

It's worth noting... for all the "we'll officially declare war on Taiwan if they declare independence" crap that China spews, sport seems to transcend that...

During the MLB Beijing series, many fans that were in attendance didn't know a single from a wild pitch, but when Taiwanese shortstop Chin-Lung Hu of the Dodgers came up to bat for the first time, the crowd erupted and was cheered wildly... maybe it was because it was the first Asian face seen during the game... but the fact he was from a politically hostile country seemed to not be obvious at all.

Chin-Lung Hu

Even Korean right-hand pitcher Chan Ho Park of the Dodgers was popular with Chinese fans. The fact that South Korea (where Park is from) fought the terrible Korean war against China less than 50 years ago was of no importance during this baseball-centered weekend.

Chan Ho Park

Many analysts that are watching MLB make their push into China seem to be on the pessimistic side of things, not quite believing that baseball will catch on in China like basketball has.... but I'll go out on a limb and say that I bet I know what every Chinese fan in the stands was thinking when Hu and Park came up...."oh man, I wish he was Chinese... is it that impossible?"

Just say when.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Padres and Dodgers in Beijing

Now playing at the Wukesong Stadium, the San Diego Padres and Los Angeles Dodgers??

Chin-Lung Hu chatting with the Chinese National Team

OK, spit out the first thing that comes into your mind when I say baseball in the Far East.... Daisuke Matsuzaka.... Ichiro Suzuki...... Hideki Matsui...... right? Just a few of the names that'll pop right up. Notice a trend? All from the land of the rising sun.

Now name a MLB player from China....... drawing a blank? So am I...

So that is why this weekend was a momentous past few days in Beijing, China for reasons completely unrelated to the Summer Olympics.

Baseball has always faced adversity in China. In the 1960s, Communist Leader Mao Zedong banned the game because it had Western roots and the sport has struggled to gain mainstream interest in the country since his death in 1976. This is in opposition to the cult like following baseball has in Japan ever since American Professor at the University of Tokyo, Horace Wilson introduced the game in 1872.

No hometown fans here... just generic MLB hats at the Beijing game

Arguably the greatest reason that baseball hasn't caught on yet in the land of 1.5 billion, is that they don't have a good reason to get excited about it.... or to be more accurate, no one to get excited about.
Ichiro Suzuki single-handedly brought baseball to the entire country of Japan in 2001.
Yao Ming made 3 pointers and the crossover household terms to 1.5 billion people in 2002.
Chien-Ming Wang brought the sinker-ball and strikeout to the dinner table as conversation topics for every family in Taiwan.

Dodgers squad on the Great Wall....the Great Wall!!

Who will bring baseball to China and when? The MLB is looking to answer that question starting with this past weekend. The LA Dodgers and San Diego Padres played a 2 game series this past weekend in Beijing's Wukesong Stadium. The Friday night game was played to a 3-3 tie and the Padres beat the Dodgers 6-3 on Saturday night. But more important than the score of the two games was the fact that this was the first American Major League game in China... ever. Exhibition games are common place in Japan with the Boston Red Sox season opener to be held in Japan over the venerable Fenway Park.

Who of China's young athletes will make the jump and bring back the passion of baseball?

Former NY Yankees skipper Joe Torre on the Great Wall

Sunday, March 9, 2008

24 and counting...

Thank you to for this graphic...

While it's certainly a great sign that major league sports in the United States are reaching out to other countries in an attempt to diversify team rosters, we can't ever forget that it'll always be about the money to the guys in suits...

Yung Chi Chen from Taiwan, minor league star second
baseman for the Seattle Mariners

Chien-Ming Wang from Taiwan,
right hander for the New York Yankees

Takashi Saito (right) from Japan, right-hand relief pitcher for the LA Dodgers
Hiroki Kuroda (left) from Japan, right-hand relief pitcher for the LA Dodgers

Kazuo Fukumori of Japan, right-hand pitcher for the Texas Rangers

Jae Kuk Ryu of South Korea, right-hand pitcher for the Tampa Bay Rays

Shin-Soo Choo of Korea, outfielder for the Cleveland Indians

Yasuhiko Yabuta of Japan, right-hand pitcher for the Kansas City Royals (struck out Alex Rodriguez, Derrek Lee and Johnny Damon in the World Baseball Classic in 2006 for Japan)

Friday, March 7, 2008

Yi Jianlian's Impact on Milwaukee

When you talk about Chinese communities in the United States, the first thing that comes to mind are established Chinatowns in major cities, enclaves that immigrants from mainland China tend to congregate in; San Francisco, New York City, Vancouver, Seattle, Chicago and even Boston. All of these cities have established institutions that cater specifically to Chinese residents (churches, schools, newspapers), and were among the first cities that the Chinese chose to settle down in over 200 years ago.

So in due deference to the blog, we return to the point... All of these cities would be hospitable places for a mainland Chinese athlete (or any mainland Asian athlete for that matter...) to come over and make their stateside debut on a team.

Chien-Ming Wang came over from Tainan, Taiwan (don't even start with the China/Taiwan stuff.....) to the New York Yankees, a city with almost 400,000 Chinese residents (big .pdf file).

Ichiro Suzuki came over from Japan to Seattle, Washington, a city with 74,000 Asian residents.

Even Yao Ming, from Shanghai, China came over to Houston, Texas with a formidable 100,000 Asian residents and 24,000 Chinese residents.

So what happens when highly touted Chinese basketball player Yi Jianlian (second only to Yao Ming in national heroism) makes the notoriously difficult east-to-west transition and gets drafted by a team in a city with a minimal, if not non-existent Chinese population? Well for a few, everyone from the Chinese Basketball Association reluctant to release one of their home-grown star athletes to a city without a substantial Chinese-American presence, to his agent Dan Fegan who was concerned that Yi wouldn't get a contract worth his skill in a low-cap sports market like Milwaukee.

Last one to the Great Wall is a crappy foul shot shooter....... GO!

So after this bleak painting of Milwaukee, it looks as if things aren't so bad for the Chinese community in Milwaukee after all....
On the campus of the nationally known Marquette University sits the Modern Chinese School in the university's language building, teaching 250+ diligent 7-10 year olds Chinese nursery rhymes and vocabulary every Sunday morning.
The launch party for The Milwaukee Chinese Times, the area's first Chinese-language newspaper which published its inaugural issue on Dec 29th, was held mid-afternoon before the highly anticipated 200 million+ viewership event of the Chinese Superbowl, Bucks vs Rockets, Yao vs Yi. The game also coinciding just one week before 1.7 billion Chinese people around in the world ushered in the Year of the Rat for Chinese New Year.

Milwaukee's getting there...

Yeah, that's what I said..

Chinese journalists outnumbering American reporters
are not that common of a sight in an NBA locker room...

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Little Fukudome

So you think Kosuke Fukudome's arrival to the Cubs is a big deal to the south side of Chicago and the franchise??

Looks like the impact is mutual. According to Japanese linguists, his newborn son (born a couple of weeks after he signed with the Cubs), named Hayato;the name is a blend of "Windy City" and "uniform number 1".

Look like he's having a helluva time for his first few weeks in Chicago though...

Saturday, March 1, 2008

The next Michael Chang?

A young Japanese named Kei Nishikori beat an 8 year professional tennis veteran James Blake recently at the Delray Beach International Final in Florida.

Here's the big news (for non James Blake fans) .... James was the number 1 seed in the tournament and Kei wasranked 244th in the world before he won.

Here's the kicker. Kei is 18 years old.

Can Michael Chang's place in Asian tennis history not just be a fluke...?

During the past baseball All-Star game, 25% of all the media press passes issued were specifically for the media contingent from Japan, traveled halfway across the world just to cover Ichiro Suzuki.
What happens if Kei Nishikori makes it to a grand-slam semifinal??? The ATP just may have to expand their media pit.

MLE: Major League Eating

Derek Jeter of the New York Yankees was featured on the cover of MLB 07, the game.

Shaun Alexander of the Seattle Seahawks was featured on the cover of Madden NFL 07, the game.

Tracy McGrady of the Houston Rockets was featured on the cover of NBA 07, the game.

Now, we finally have a star gracing the video game of sport's newest league, MLE, Major League Eating, Takeru Kobayashi. That's right, he's finally made it big.

Unfortunately, it looks like the game is only going to be for Wii....... actually, this should be more than interesting than anything. There's always been a problem with Wii controllers getting thrown into TVs and windows... but are we going to start seeing controllers getting stuck in people's throats....?

National Sports Academies

Country number one has 5000+ sports academies with the personal responsibility of nurturing the Olympic dreams of over 6 million school-age children from the start of their 4th birthday. Country number two holds national try-outs for their Olympic teams 6-8 months before the opening ceremonies. The first country destines every child that goes through it's system to a berth on an Olympic team or professional sports career and considers any that fail to reach this point, a disappointment to the system, themself and their country. The second country considers high school and college breakout athletes as the becoming of a future super star, and outstanding professionals in the same esteem as national heroes.

One country won a total of 102 medals at the 2004 Athens Summer Olympics, the second, only 63.

Which one is which?

The United States is the second country with 102 medals the past Olympics and China is the first country. Surprised?

So the initial impression is that the Chinese, government sponsored and facilitated sports training philosophy is a largely unsuccessful gamble. This is on top of the gamble a parent has to make by sending their only child (China has a one-child policy for population control), off to a sports academy at the age of 4, facing the prospect of potential abuse until they reach legal age, all in the name of their son or daughter possibly becoming the next Yao Ming or Liu Xiang. But before you make a few premature conclusions, let's hop in the De Lorean...

Chinese Medal totals beginning with 1984:

Year Host city Gold Silver Bronze Total

1984 Los Angeles 15 8 9 32

1988 Seoul 5 11 12 28

1992 Barcelona 16 22 16 54

1996 Atlanta 16 22 12 50

2000 Sydney 28 16 15 59

2004 Athens 32 17 14 63

Source: International Olympic Committee

They must be doing something right....

And now in 2008, native turf, 1.5 billion home fans, could this be China's breakout year?

This is all in stark contrast to American Olympic prospects. Taken to hockey or soccer practice by mom's minivan from early childhood to late adolescence, become accepted to a renowned university program (all the while, academics still being the main emphasis), become a team and conference standout, nurture the hopes of getting drafted by a professional team and try to catch the eye of the Olympic team recruiter. All of this, receiving only meager compensation while training for the Olympic team. Potential Chinese Olympic athletes are identified not long after they turn 4 while American athletes are left to care, train and fend for themselves until they're considered worthy of an Olympic coach's attention.

So the while the Olympic games this summer are seen by many as a non-political statement of China's newfound economic and industrial strength among the world's superpowers... many others that are more interested in the potential emergence of China in the sports world than its politics, see this August as a grand audition for the nation's athletes on the world's biggest stage.