Today we are #blessed to bring you an exclusive insider look at ITB legend Shavlik Randolph, who is currently playing professional basketball in the Chinese Basketball Association. Shav needs no introduction, but you should all go check out Settle Monroe’s article in Walter Magazine from last fall for an in-depth look at his story.
Cory Ferrier recently traveled to China to be embedded with the Liaoning Flying Leopards as they try to close out their regular season on a 17 game win streak. Here’s his ITB Insider look at traveling with the team, life in China, and Shav’s dominance of the CBA.
I flew out of San Francisco on a Wednesday and was scheduled to land in Beijing by Thursday. It only made sense to pass the time by watching Pistol Pete documentaries and a replay of the 2012 U.S. Open during the 12 hour flight. Six hours into the flight I was feeling good and energized on my ITB high. Then hour 8 hit and I felt like Matt Damon on Mars with no end in sight. I actually tried to calculate the velocity at which I would hit the ocean if I were to jump out of the plane. A brief moment of turbulence was a jolting reminder of why I was here, to watch an ITB legend play his last regular season game of the year in China.
I land in Beijing and wait for a quick puddle jumper to Shav’s city of Shenyang, where he plays for the Liaoning Flying Leopards. I’m expecting to see billboards and skyscrapers with his silhouette when I land, anything else would be a travesty.
It should come as no shock that Shavlik Randolph has been dominating the Chinese basketball scene. Currently, his team is in first place, riding a 16 game winning streak. He’s not playing against average Chinese people, who I tower over at the airport as I write this. No, he’s playing against NBA talent. China has become THE destination for NBA stars that want a short season, playing time, and ITB money.
Now, you and I are not surprised. We were privileged to see his greatness first hand. You could taste the demoralizing tears running down the cheeks of his opponents. You could smell the fear. I wanted to see that first hand again, tears running down the cheeks of abnormally large domestic Chinese guys and some NBA talent.
It’s early morning of game day. We load the bus as a team and head to the arena for shoot around. It’s 5 degrees outside. It’s at least double that inside the gym, so that’s nice. The team goes through a light stretch, a brief walk through and then what I would classify as a few drills. A Chinese player sees me sitting on the bench and offers me water. He must know that watching this shoot around is the most physical activity I’ve done in a while. Shoot around ends with a pep talk from the coach. The Chinese coach. It’s all in Cantonese or Mandarin. I assume he’s saying something inspirational like, “We have won 16 in a row, don’t blow this streak on the last game of the season. Win one for the Gipper.” Sadly, the only words I can make out are “10 minute” and “sweet and sour chicken”.
After the speech we head out to the bus where tons of fans are waiting. They ask me to sign basketballs, take pictures, and autograph anything they have on them. Clearly they know how famous I am, or they’re just big fans of white Americans wearing Adidas.
It’s game time. We make it to the arena a couple hours before tipoff to get a quick shoot around in and relax before the game. We run into the Haitian Sensation Samuel Dalembert who plays for the opposing team. We exchange pre-game pleasantries and head to the locker room. This game has an ominous feel. It’s the last regular season game, with a 16 game winning streak on the line. In fact, the other team, Shanxi, has offered quadruple bonuses (probably close to $60,000 each) to their players if they can beat Liaoning and ruin the streak. This is like Dad trying to bribe the judge to get me out of that speeding ticket when I was 16, and 19, and 24, and 27.
The first quarter is a little bit of back and forth. As some of you know, China limits the amount of time an import can play in each game. The first quarter is usually limited to one import per team. Halfway through the quarter, Shav subs in and immediately hits a 3 as effortlessly as Steph Curry. This was the legend I came to see again. A 6 foot 11 inch legend, rolling off screens and hitting 3’s with ease.
The second and third quarter is intense, with back and forth lead changes and the most atrocious officiating I have ever seen. Shav breathes on a guy at the top of the key and gets called for his 3rd foul. It’s so bad that Dalembert comes over to talk to me on the side of the court while his teammate shoots free throws. Even he admits that this is ridiculous. If Shav needed motivation for this game, the officials just gave it to him. He starts attacking and hits shot after shot.
Shav finishes the 3rd quarter with 19 points, 12 rebounds, and 2 assists. The lead grows to the point that he doesn’t need to play anymore. Time to save it for the playoffs. The Flying Leopards win 132 to 115 and finish the regular season with a 31-7 record and a 17 game win streak.
Shav finishes the regular season averaging 23 points and 11 rebounds in 28 minutes of play. What this tells me is that he was so dominant that his own team had to sub him out and limit his minutes because of their insurmountable leads.
We decide to fly to Shanghai to celebrate. Next up are the playoffs and anything less than a championship will not suffice for this Chinese province, starving for success. It’s a good thing they have a legend on their team who can bring it to them.
PS – I asked Shav what drove him. He said he wouldn’t be out here eating rice every day if it weren’t for the ITB support back home. He’s excited to bring home the ‘chip and a banner to Holliday Gym.