Non ti saluto perché resti. (Goodbye, Jackson)

Recently, one of my best friends has had to deal with the loss of a loved one. He issued a small sort of statement on his Facebook page and, even though I had never met the woman he mourned, it felt like I did. Such a touching description was his, with not a single word that could have been marked as commonplace, or even remotely trite and predictable.
What almost brought me to tears, however, was the closing sentence, which also makes for the title of this short, very rough piece of writing you’re hopefully reading.
It’s, of course, in Italian: non ti saluto perché resti.

I’m not saying goodbye, ’cause you’re not leaving.

Jackson Vroman was one of the big three in Shandong as the Lions made it to their first and only CBA Finals appearance against the Guangdong Southern Tigers. Pooh Jeter has left Shandong at the end of this season, and won’t come back. Zaid Abbas, just like JV, left after the Finals. His Asian import status was bound to make him leave, happy or not.

As a young CBA fan in a country that’s very much not China, I don’t have too many fellow countrymen to discuss matters like these with. I usually stick to NBA talks, sporadic Euroleague or Serie A chit-chats and that’s it.
Only when around close, basketball-fanatic friends I usually feel comfortable bringing up Chinese basketball.
Being good friends of mine, they will listen to me, but the conversation quickly turns into some sort of storytelling; because, ça va sans dire, I want them to enjoy the moment and feel entertained (they deserve it), it’s usually the weird, random, peculiar stories that get the nod inside my “songbook”.
One of the weird stories is certainly how Jackson made it to a CBA import status: while his first stint in China with Jiangsu comes with good-looking stats (close to a 26-12 average), he’s been very much a third option on every offense he’s played for since then. His rebounding stats have been good, but not great. His FT% was abysmal: 26,5% in Shandong.
What stats don’t keep track of, however, is leadership. He was the heart and soul of a young team. He was the veteran, the loud mouth making sure everybody was focused. He was a team player in every aspect. On the court, he often was the best passer, and probably is in the top-3 all-time when it comes to passing big men in China (Blatche is probably superior, Yao was a true star).

Of course, there’s another, more personal layer: 2013 Shandong wasn’t just a surprisingly good team, it was the squad that truly got me attached to Chinese b-ball. I’d never thought the CBA could honestly be entertaining for NBA fans, who were used to excellence.
But the CBA is not here for comparisons, as it is a league of its own in a country of its own. So many rules and habits don’t apply in the Middle Kingdom, and so many underground tales make their way to China that you might or might not see in the Association.
You might come for the Beasleys, the Blatches and the Marburys.
But you stay for the Zaid Abbas’s, the Hu Xuefengs, the Su Weis.

And the Vromans.

A presto, Jackson.

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