Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

December 2, 2011

NBA is back: Hoops and hardwood make merry Christmas for fans

By MATT CHRISTIAN
Princeton Times

PRINCETON — Well, the NBA is back. The players and the owners have reached an agreement to get the season started on Christmas Day. Like every year before the NBA starts, I am really excited because I love basketball, and it is a lot of fun to watch basketball being played at its highest level.

One of the first questions that I get when I start talking basketball with someone is: why are you a Houston Rockets fan? That answer comes in three parts.

First, like most little kids, when I was coming of age and becoming a sports fan, I wanted to pick a team that won. When I was 7 and 8, the Rockets won the NBA championship, so it was fairly natural for me to like them.

My first experience with basketball is playing with my dad and my sister in our kitchen. The only thing was we only had a door frame and had to stretch for another goal. We used to use the stove, and I can remember vividly dunking on it. While I did that, I used to pretend to be the Rockets with my dad acting as the Orlando Magic and my sister pretending to be the Indiana Pacers, who lost in the 1995 Eastern Conference finals to the Magic.

Second, the year after the Rockets won the championship, they started a point guard named Matt Maloney. Because my name was Matt, I felt like that Maloney represented the everyman playing with the Rockets. And playing with Hall of Famers Hakeem Olajuwon, Charles Barkley and Clyde Drexler, he pretty much was.

Then, two things happened to cement my Rockets fandom. One, the Utah Jazz beat the Rockets for something like three straight years, giving me a rival to hate. It didn’t help that Maloney was epically schooled by Jazz Point Guard John Stockton. Two, my aunt was a Chicago Bulls fan, and she used to tease me about the prowess of her team.

I got my revenge when the Rockets beat the Bulls that year, and I am pretty sure that I gave her a 9-year-old’s version of smack talk for a few weeks.

Third, even after Maloney left the Rockets, they were able to acquire several players that I liked a lot. I’m talking about guys like Shane Battier (my favorite player ever), Yao Ming, and Chase Budinger.

An interesting side note is that after Yao got drafted, I became very fascinated with China and started to ask a lot of questions about life there and whatnot. Some of these questions were answered by Yao’s book “Yao: A Life in Two Worlds.” And I kept asking until I met a Chinese girl that tried to answer it for me. As you probably guessed, that girl became my wife.

Also, a somewhat related note: I have actually played basketball in China, both by myself and in a game setting with my cousin-in-law. It was really fun, and although I don’t know a lot of Chinese, I could understand enough to play basketball with them.

That sort of relates back to one of my favorite theories, that any two men can relate to one another but that the process is made easier with sports like basketball and soccer. As we globalize, I’m hoping to use that to my benefit. Now, if you will pardon me, I am going to go wait for the start of the free agency period in the NBA. Jia You Huo Jian (Go Rockets in Chinese).

Matt Christian is a Princeton Times reporter. Contact him at mchristian@ptonline.net.