Learning About Taiwan: Basketball

I had the opportunity to play some hoops yesterday morning with Lani’s cousin Tong Fu.

Over the past decade or so, basketball has quickly become one of the favorite sports of the younger Taiwanese pop-culture generation.  Anytime you go near a gym or a sports apparel shop, you can see life-sized posters and advertisements featuring Kobe Bryant, Lebron James, or (and this was a bit more surprising) Derrick Rose.

You can see NBA games live every Sunday morning on channel 75 out here (which ends up being the Saturday afternoon NBA lineup in the states)… and they even replay them on Sunday night / prime time.

But add on top of that the recent fanfare surrounding American-born Taiwanese Jeremy Lin, any time you walk by a park or a school with basketball courts you’ll see scores of kids playing ball, wondering if they could be the next Taiwanese NBA star.

And speaking of Lin, he’s gotten to be quite a household name around here.  Lani was a wee-bit too excited to see him featured in a television commercial for Volvo out here… speaking in Mandarin and everything.

But I digress…

Anyway, I learned that there are quite a few differences between the way we play in the US vs. the way they play out here.

First of all… they don’t typically run 5-on-5 full court.  The preferred game is 3-on-3 half court.  Walking by the courts near our place, I regularly see groups of 10 or so guys… but because of their preference to play 3-on-3, they’ll only have  6 playing, with 4 guys waiting… even though the other half of the court is free and can be used for a full court game.

I asked Tong Fu why, and he basically said “eh, too much running.”

Second of all (and I guess partly due to the fact that they typically only run 3-on-3), “pick up” basketball is pretty rare.  Usually, when guys come together to play ball, they’re only playing with friends or guys that they already know.  And I guess it’s a lot easier to regularly get a group of 6 friends together than it is to get 10, which is why there is not as much culture or history for “pick up” ball here.

Anyway, since it was just Tong Fu and I, we did end up getting picked up — well actually, Tong Fu just went up and asked a group of 6 whether or not we can join.  Fortunately for us, the spirit of hospitality that is engrained in Taiwanese culture did extend onto the basketball court.  So while the group of guys did look a bit surprised to be asked, they were nice and let us in anyway — so we ended up running 4-on-4 (but still half court).

It was a ton of fun (I hadn’t actually played since moving away from the Bay Area back in March)… but a few other quirks that I noticed:

  • Even though it’s half-court, they play “losers ball” and not “make it, take it”
  • They always count by 2′s and run with 2′s and 3′s
  • When the ball goes out of bounds, they inbound from where it went out of bounds (similar to organized play)
  • Whenever there is a foul, they inbound from underneath the basket along the base line (also similar to organized play)

I wasn’t entirely sure if this was just the style that this particular group of guys played with or if it was more the cultural norm… but looking around at the other games going on on the schoolyard we were playing at, it did seem pretty consistent across the board.

Anyway — it was a lot of fun, and it looks like Tong Fu and I are going to try and make this a regular weekend thing.  Woot!