BEIJING — It was a unique Lakers road-trip flight.
The team got a far larger charter jet than usual to accommodate all the extra team personnel, family and friends who joined what will be a week-long preseason stay in China for the NBA Global Games.
Some Lakers players spent the 12-hour flight bonding with girlfriends instead of teammates, while others couldn’t pass up the rare opportunity to connect with the Laker Girls, who don’t usually go on the road.
For your trusty reporter here, traveling via commercial jet, it wasn’t as interesting. Well, there was a guy sitting in my row wearing a rip-off non-NBA-merchandise sweatshirt with “LAKERS LOS ANGELES” (in that order) on the front.
The Lakers’ plane was met by fans at the airport and more at the team hotel—some fans staying beyond midnight in hopes of seeing players (or that one player). The Lakers’ hotel had a buffet waiting for them if they were hungry…and then a full team dinner right after that.
I joked on Twitter before leaving LAX that I’d be open to one of the insane Kobe diehard fans in China coming to pick me up at the Beijing airport. Alas, no one outside customs was holding up a “I LOVE KOBE / KEVIN DING IS OK, TOO” sign. So I suffered through a line for a taxi that extended far behind the “Estimated queuing time: about 60 minutes” sign.
I did learn while in line—via rotating video billboard—that Brad Pitt is the brand spokesman for Cadillac here in China, even though he is personally banned from visiting since he made the movie “Seven Years in Tibet.” Odd.
I also couldn’t help but notice one especially impatient man in line trying to pass a couple of tourists who stopped to take a photo next to the vending machine with beer in it. Muttering his disapproval, he actually stormed past them, but his wife yelled out for him to come back to his spot in line. Kind of reminded me of my dad.
Because my parents both emigrated from Taiwan, I knew this would be an interesting trip for me. I don’t speak Chinese, but I look like I should, and it took all of one hour for the first instance of that miscommunication to occur.
Pork or duck? That’s what the flight attendant was offering for the meal, although that certainly wasn’t what she first said to me.
All props to one of the Lakers’ security guys I ran into at the team hotel later, however, for recognizing me right away despite being distracted by a crowd of people outside. Lakers head physical therapist Judy Seto, whose parents were born in China, told me while we were recapping her wildest stories about Kobe fans in China that she has been separated from Kobe’s group on previous occasions here because she blends in with the fans.
There was no such excitement here Saturday night, with the team chilling out at the hotel after the evening landing and gearing up for practice and the trip to the Great Wall on Sunday. I hung out over at the lobby bar at the team hotel and can report back that despite the proven consensus that everything is cheaper in China, a beer at a very upscale hotel can still cost $10 U.S.
More relevant info than that was circulated in a Lakers internal e-mail Friday about how many public restrooms in China don’t have toilet paper and how everyone from the Lakers’ party should travel with a companion in this Communist country.
Does everyone have his buddy?! It’s the buddy system here!
I heard Kobe and Pau talked a lot on the team plane, but no word yet if Kobe chose Pau to be his buddy on the field trip …
Kevin Ding covers the NBA for Bleacher Report