Finding a niche

Updated: 2011-06-06 07:45

By Anthony Tao (China Daily)

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 Finding a niche

Slam-dunk! Jon Pastuszek nets a score in his favorite game. Basketball brought him to China and now he is trying to increase awareness of the sport. Anthony Tao / for China Daily

Writing about basketball is a dream come true for Jon Pastuszek, reports Anthony Tao

Jon Pastuszek's earliest basketball memory happened at a kindergarten after-school program. Ball in hands, basket in sight ... like a tower the rim must have loomed. Who could have known 10 feet (3.048 meters) was so high? But the kid was not daunted. Ball in hands, he pulled back and slung from the hips. The shot went off the backboard and, naturally, in.

"The most amazing feeling ever," Pastuszek recalled. "Pretty much since then I've been completely hooked on basketball."

The sport can be credited for bringing him to China, where last fall he created the website NiuBBall.com, the only comprehensive English-language resource on Chinese basketball.

Two winters ago, Pastuszek was sitting at home in Newton, Massachusetts, fresh out of college and surrounded by friends who were unemployed or hated their jobs, when he heard rumors that former US national team player Stephon Marbury would venture overseas to play in the Chinese Basketball Association (CBA).

Pastuszek had experienced China before: He spent 30 days in Yunnan province when he was 16 and a full year studying at the University of International Business and Economics in Beijing in his college years. As a segment of the North American sporting public began learning about China for the first time through Marbury, Pastuszek found himself with a thought he couldn't shake: He could - no, should - position himself to be the foremost expert on Chinese basketball.

"It was interesting to me how so many people could judge Marbury and China and the CBA when the most experience they've had of China is eating at a Chinese restaurant in America," he said.

In June he left for Beijing, and three months later - combining his interest in basketball, China and writing - he launched NiuBBall.

"If you want coverage of something, there has to be somebody there who has a background with it," Pastuszek said. "It's a goal of mine to create awareness, to create a basic understanding and educate people about what's actually happening here."

In the past eight months, he has written about everything from streetball (basketball with Chinese characteristics) to alleged referee corruption to the CBA playoffs. His big break came last month when the New York Times sent him to Guangzhou to cover the CBA finals between the Xinjiang Flying Tigers and the Guangdong Southern Tigers.

"I feel like the exposure for the site is only going to keep going up," Pastuszek said. "I'd like to expand NiuBBall into an all-encompassing website on Chinese basketball, a place you can go for statistics, standings, player profiles, history, all that stuff - a one-stop shop for everything basketball."

Pastuszek, 24, is a natural choice to create such an operation. He's a devotee, a basketball purist, an unapologetic, a participant in a Thursday league at the Canadian International School and a coach on Wednesdays and Sundays of youth basketball clinics and camps. While growing up, before a belated growth spurt turned him into a lanky 193 centimeter dude who could dunk, he was a "raging pre-teen basketball fanatic," as he put it, who was just barely not good enough to make the most competitive teams. As a result, he became an ardent student of the game, reading books such as Basketball Skills and Drills, Five-Star Basketball Drills and Jerry Strauss' Coaching Basketball, the vade mecum for hardwood coaches.

Normally soft-spoken, he opens up when talking about the sport.

During the fourth quarter of Game 4 of the Eastern Conference finals, as the upstart Chicago Bulls clung to a slim lead against the Miami Heat, the enfant terrible of the NBA, Pastuszek watched with a calm understanding. "I don't like watching the Heat play," he said. "It's boring. It's just isolation for LeBron [James], isolation for [Dwyane] Wade, pick-and-roll, pick-and-roll. Other than the occasional great dunk, there's not a lot of ball movement and teamwork."

But as the contest headed into overtime, it was clear that Pastuszek was absorbed. Of course he would have been. With a little more than a minute left, James sliced between defenders with a combination of power and speed, in a way only he can, and flipped in a contested layup to give the Heat a four-point lead. "Wow," Pastuszek said in admiration and disbelief. "As a Celtics fan, I don't like him, but he's a fantastic player. Probably the best in the league."

This is Pastuszek, disciple of the game, speaking. He may have been born and raised in Boston Celtics country, but he will always appreciate a good play, even if it's executed by his hometown team's arch-nemesis.

Asked what he would do if he were CBA commissioner, he replied: "I would put heat in every single stadium in the CBA. Literally, that would be the first thing I'd do. Because when you talk to foreign players, if they play for Nanjing or Zhejiang, the first thing they say is, 'I'm cold all the time.'

"If you want to be a professional league, have some professional standards, OK? And the trainers and medical staff if you want to ice up after games, well, good luck finding ice in China."

On the Beijing Ducks' failed experiment with the former NBA star and teammate of Yao Ming, Steve Francis: "He was really, really bad. I don't think it was like anything anybody expected. I don't think he was expecting it to be like that."

And on alleged referee corruption in the CBA: "Nobody is profitable, so the people at the top - the commissioner, whoever's in charge - they can let that stand."

The system is far from perfect, Pastuszek knows, but he also understands that China offers the perfect opportunity to witness a potentially transformative process from the very beginning. And if the CBA were ever to become a popular and profitable league, well, he'll be here to write about it.

"I like this. It's what I came out here to do," he said. "I'm definitely going to keep developing myself within basketball and writing and coaching and whatever other stuff pops up. I just want to be here."

(China Daily 06/06/2011 page5)


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