(Text by Patricia Wen / Globe Staff)
BEIJING--On the day of the long-anticipated match-up between the U.S. Redeem Team and China, we went in search of a bar or restaurant where typical Beijingers would watch together on a big-screen T.V. We found such a placeat the Xiao Yu Mountain restaurant in central Beijing. The place, where scores of red lanterns hung from ceilings, seemed an ideal spot to test one thing we had heard from our sports department colleagues: Chinese fans like U.S. players.
Indeed, there were many fans -- mostly young men under 30 -- who named Americans as their most admired. There was a 22-year-old waiter, Huang Hui, who looks up to Los Angeles Lakers guard Kobe Bryant because he plays "rough and wild." Zhang Rui, 28, likes LeBron James of the Cleveland Cavaliers because he's "a funny guy." And Xu Dan, 26, aspires to be like Denver Nuggets guard Allen Iverson because he's "a short man" who works hard in a tall man's game.
For the most part, we found that patriotism took a back seat to personal passion. Still, many also named Yao Ming, the 7-foot, 6-inch center for the Houston Rockets, who has been given by China's rulers the status of a national hero, especially during the Olympics. And they wished that China would miraclously beat the U.S. (China did not, losing 101 to 70.)
At a time when China seeks to boost its patriotic image to the world, did those who liked the American players feel disloyal?
Tang Wei, 27, who likes Bryant, shook his head.
"One world, one dream," he said with a smile, repeating the slogan for the 2008 Beijing Olympics.