Swin Cash checks in from China.
By Swin Cash / @swincash
Not long after ending 2010 on a high note with a victory, 2011 ushered my team in with two straight losses. I watched my team collapse around me in both games. It had nothing to do with what we were doing and everything to do with what we weren’t.
In order to best explain, I need you to first understand that this is about the differences in a player’s mentality. This is not a knock against my teammates! So please don’t start with the anti-China talk or bad teammate innuendo. My teammates are hardworking, funny and amazing women. This is about the mindset that is sometimes exhibited that I desperately want to help some of them change. I can only speak first-hand for the women’s league but I would not be surprised if the men aren’t too far behind.
The players in the WCBA league, who also compete on the Chinese national team, are revered in a way that even Michael Jordan would have had trouble matching. Ok…maybe not MJ but you get my point! Most of you who follow me on twitter (@swincash) know one of my trademark words is “foolishness.”
Well the fat lady has sung because I have entered upon Foolishgate!
You see, in the states, our basketball culture is structured completely different. We train constantly and push ourselves to be the best. If you took a poll, 9 out of 10 people would say being the best individual will translate to team success and self-fulfillment. If you’re known as the best player, you must work hard to sustain that title because once everyone starts calling you the greatest, everyone (and I mean everyone) will be coming to try and take that title from you.
You may disagree but here’s an example for you…
When I came into the WNBA in 2002, I thought about every player that I would have to compete against to prove I belong. I’ll never forget my first game against Sheryl Swoopes who is often referred to as the Michael Jordan of women’s basketball. I respected who she was and what she had accomplished but that didn’t mean I wasn’t going to try and go at her when we stepped on the floor. The funny thing is, Swoopes was a seasoned veteran that wasn’t about to let a young rookie like myself show her up. After winning a championship at UConn, and my selection as the #2 overall pick in the WNBA draft, I knew a superstar like Swoopes was not about to just hand the torch over without making me earn it. It’s the nature of the beast and the progression of the game. Younger players come in and want to prove they belong. Veteran players fight to stay one step ahead to remind them who is boss. This was one of my early lessons learned as a rookie.
Now relax, I know what you’re thinking, and yes there are always exceptions. Just because some rookies will already be stars before they play their first game doesn’t mean a clash won’t occur. To this day we all remember watching Allen Iverson’s crossover on Michael Jordan. Iverson amassed a lot of individual awards during his career but the ones that separate themselves are the ones that can be great individually while also attaining the ultimate success with the team. I mean, how long will the debate continue about Lebron James until he gets a ring?
So, in understanding how our culture perceives competition, I have to tell you about how my teammates struggle with “Team China” players. The girls on my team want to emulate the girls on the national team but they refuse to challenge them and show they belong. My coach tells me, “Your teammates are younger girls 24, 25 and so they fear the Team China players who are older and more experienced. They just respect them!”
You know before I replied I side-eyed her (another trademark of mine), prayed, and asked the Lord to take my tongue. I told her I’m a USA National Team player, but that doesn’t stop one girl on our team or in China from defending me like the NBA of the 80’s (shout out to the BAD BOYS). So why are those girls any different? She told me it’s because those girls are famous in China, If you play for Team China and can win gold you will bring honor to the country, your province, and family.
I told her I totally understood that, but I recall Team USA just won gold in October and has been winning gold since I started playing basketball (asterisk 2006 Australia) but that hasn’t stopped one girl from trying to stop me by any means necessary! So how is respect just given? Isn’t it earned?
I was still in disbelief after my conversation and needed to investigate Foolishgate a little further. After speaking with Ebony Hoffman, Chasity Melvin, Katie Feenstra, Iciss Tillis and Kara Braxton I came to this conclusion: It’s the same on every team. The collective view is that you need to respect Team China players and maybe one day you will be like them. So we all just decided to accept Foolishgate as it is and all it entails. It’s overseas and out here…anything goes!
So chuck that WNBA rulebook out the window, forget you ever heard the term ‘hand-check’ and take it back to the playground where only the strong and sometimes dirtiest players survive… Like Al Davis once famously said “Just (win) baby!
“Cash for Kids” Charity
P.S. The pictures above were from an ice sculpture my teammates and I visited in Heilongjiang, China. I was freezing!