Saturday, November 6, 2010
I have a friend who is a crazy basketball fan. The kind of fan who would convince his fiancé to plan their wedding so that it would not conflict with the NBA's regular season. He is the world's biggest Nets fan (the guy went to Las Vegas just to see summer league practice.) Let me repeat this statement. He is the world’s biggest New Jersey Nets fan. Being the world’s biggest New Jersey Nets fan historically, would have been like saying you are the world’s best Pachinko player or the world’s most functional crack head. It’s not something you would be boasting about while eating fondue at a party. (I have never been to a party with fondue. I just assume that there are some people who still have fondue parties, where they presumably eat melted cheese with tiny forks, play Jenga and swap wives.)
The Nets although a laughingstock last year, are primed for future success due to an influx of new talent, a new coach and a new Russian billionaire owner whose so cool strippers toss money at him. I actually am also a Nets fan and have recently re-connected with my friend over this fact. His name is Wally Ho.
Wally Ho grew up with me in my suburban NJ town, where he was one of about six Asian kids, but he was not “off-the-boat.” He and his family are Chinese but he was “off-the-cul-de-sac” like the rest of us.
So, about two years ago, the Nets traded for this 7 ft Chinese basketball player named Yi Jianlian. He is skilled but has not developed his game and plays soft for a “power” forward. Yi was traded to Washington after last season (where you need to be a quick shot on and off the court.) If you think LeBron James is (or was) popular here, Yi's fame not only supercedes sports in China but he's probably the third most well known person in a country of over a billion. In America, Yi blends in with all the other 7ft Asian guys, but in China, Yi is so popular he probably has his face on everything from water bottles to condoms (would give a whole new meaning to the saying “Haven’t I seen your face before?)
Anyway, Ho knew someone who was connected to the Nets and told him they were looking for an interpreter for Yi. Wally urged him to tell the Nets’ front office people that he speaks fluent Chinese, when he really spoke about as much Chinese as I do Hebrew (Like most Reform Jews my age, I can recite the Hanukkah prayer, but can no longer tell you what it means.) So, Ho got a meeting with executives of the Nets. They met him, saw that he was Chinese and basically said “You’re hired”
After getting the job of being Yi’s interpreter, which would enable Wally to live out a dream and travel with the Nets, he had two weeks to prepare. He spent that time immersing himself in the language of his ancestors. Ho hired a tutor and studied Chinese phonics tapes. He managed to pull it off too. For four months, he went to press conferences with Yi and acted as the link between him and the media. He basically made up half of Yi’s answers when he spoke to the Nets beat writers and knew enough about basketball that it sounded right to them.
He was walking a constant tight rope as he didn't want to get too close to Yi or else he'd figure out he barely could speak the language. The guy probably thought he was an idiot after about a week. Wally had to do assistant-type things for him as well, like help him look for an apartment. Yi eventually learned how to speak more fluent English and they didn't need him anymore, plus he was always injured. The beat reporters didn’t need to interview him after games to hear him say "I should be back in two weeks".
Wally did say one time he had to call up his mother right before meeting reporters to interpret something and his mom told him a mom version of what she would say if she were Yi, like "Well, I really do think the boys played swell tonight and I hope I didn't hurt that boy's arm trying to grab that ball away from him." After he told this to Yi in Chinese, Yi looked at Ho as if he was a four year old scribbling his name in crayon for him to read.
There is definitely a sit-com or bad buddy film in the Ho-Yi relationship. I imagine Wally helping Yi pick out his jumbo-sized condoms at Rite Aid (without his face on the box of every product, Yi would not be able to buy things as easily as he did in China.) I’d like to think they went to amusement parks where Yi would hold his hand over Wally’s head, wave his long, ET like finger and tell him he was too short. I’d like to believe at one point they rode down a casino elevator in the same suit as “Iko Iko” played over the speaker system. Or, they were at Yi’s home watching Lost, while Wally tried to explain who the smoke monster is in broken Chinese.
I can see there being a night when Yi insisted that Wally accompany him to see Twilight. Yi whispers to him halfway through that he really associates with Jacob, because he too had to put on a lot of muscle in order to perform on the court and that he also has pined for a girl who he felt invisible to. Wally then admits that he is definitely in Camp Edward and that he knows what it's like to not be able to get too close to someone. He then begins to reveal to Yi that he used to have a crush on a girl named Lynn in high school who broke his heart when he caught her making out with J.T. Liebowitz behind the soccer field in gym class. "I was heart broken. I swore off tall black girls and soccer forever and have not been able to give myself emotionally to a woman since."
The duo look at each other and Yi says “It's ok, Joe. It's ok.” They give each other a man hug and Wally says "Wait a minute. You know my name is Wally right." Yi says "I call all American guys Joe because you all look alike. Then he pauses, smiles and says "Gotcha." Their friendship is sealed as they both laugh spontaneously.
At this point a guy with a goatee sitting behind them with a barrel of popcorn in his lap and a date that looks like she was rejected from the Real Housewives of NJ, kicks Wally's seat hard and shouts at them to "shut the hell up." He tells Yi to move his giant head, so he could see the damn screen, and a kernel flies out of his mouth on to Yi's shirt.
Wally and Yi, give each other a quick nod and then hop over the seat and proceed to give this guy a pummeling the likes of which have not been seen in a Paramus multiplex since a showing of “Booty Call” broke down in the final reel just before its comedic climax was revealed. A riot ensued and the projectionist was pelted with goobers and ju-jubees. (I'm not sure if ju-ju-bees are spelled ju-ju-bees or joo-joobees, but I'm 98% sure they're not spelled jew-jewbees- at least not in New York)
The new pals then leave behind a few hundred dollars with the guidette girlfriend as she tosses popcorn at her obnoxious boyfriend, to get him to wake up. They proceed to put on sunglasses and strut out of the theater in unison as they exuded coolness as if it was the ending to Pulp Fiction. Young men in the theater looked on in awe as their girlfriends were transfixed on Bella and Edward gazing longingly into each others eyes.
This story has the makings of a typical Hollywood buddy comedy. Of course in the film, Yi would be played by LeBron James and Wally Ho would be played by Joseph Gordon Leavitt, whose almond-shaped Caucasian eyes are sure to bring in the coveted teen girl Twilight crowd.