Travel literature review: Brave Dragons

Brave Dragons by Jim Yardley

Rating: 4 out of 5

Reviewed by David Gorvett

Penned by Pulitzer Prize winner Jim Yardley, Brave Dragons is an original and insightful tale of the meeting of two very different cultures: East meets West, through the medium of basketball. Yardley’s own background and experience position him perfectly to act as observer and narrator of the experiment going on in one of the Chinese Basketball Association's (CBA) floundering teams. As an American living in China for more than seven years, most of which was spent heading up the Beijing bureau of the New York Times, and a keen follower both of the basketball leagues in the States growing up and of the CBA since arriving in Beijing, Yardley was intrigued when he first heard that one of the CBA’s worst-performing teams was importing a former NBA coach to try and help turn things around, and attached himself to the team. He goes on the road with them, garners interviews with the eccentric owner (Boss Wang), league officials, interpreters and, of course, with Bob Weiss, the former NBA coach turned Head Coach of the Shanxi Brave Dragons. The result is a well-written and in-depth look at one of the most quickly developing of the BRIC nations, and a revealing analysis of the differences between the most powerful democracy in the world, and its Communist counterpart.

Yardley balances what might, written by another author, be the dryer sections of historical and political analogy, with amusing, and at times sensitive, anecdotes. There’s Tracy, Bob Weiss’ wife, who persuades two of the 6’6”-plus Chinese players to secretly adopt two little puppies named Prince and Princess. Or the Taiwanese point guard, Little Sun, who is constantly demonised by the Chinese (mainland) assistant head coach because of his ancestry. Over the course of the narrative, which broadly follows one season in the CBA, the reader learns not just about the highs and lows of the Shanxi Brave Dragons, and not only about the history of basketball, but also about the political and cultural history of one of the world’s most fascinating countries.

David Gorvett works for Lonely Planet in the Melbourne office and has been a keen traveller throughout much of Europe, South America and Asia Pacific.

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