Thunder booms abroad

TAIPEI, TAIWAN — It is no secret that professional sporting franchises have now developed worldwide fan bases. 

Soccer (the original football) draws television viewers in America to watch the world’s best players of the “the beautiful game” compete in Europe and around the globe – and then, many of the best players come to America to compete in Major League Soccer toward the end of their careers.

Baseball has attracted players from across the globe to compete for the best teams. Chien-Ming Wang, a phenomenally skilled pitcher who began his career in the Taiwanese Major League Baseball, went on to several seasons for the New York Yankees, and is still playing in the U.S., for the Washington Nationals.

The Super Bowl of American football is, annually, the world’s most watched televised sporting event (with the exception of the World Cup in soccer every four years).

And then, there’s basketball.  (My first reporting stint was in high school, when I covered the McGuinness basketball team for the school newspaper. It’s not my favorite sport, but I do love the game.)

Although born in California, Jeremy Lin of the New York Knicks in the National Basketball Association is a national hero in this island nation. Considered a son of Taiwan, he is a man whose exploits bring national pride and unity even across political and philosophical divides.

Still, NBA fans in Taipei do not automatically default to Lin’s team. In fact, they are discerning in their decisions on whom to support. 

After a delay in Los Angeles and a long 13-hour flight to Taipei  — where I am attending the inauguration of President Ma Ying-jeou — I was exhausted. But Andrew, a resident of Taipei with flawless English and an amiable manner, perked me right up as he drove me from the airport to downtown.

“Where are you from, Mr. McGuigan?” I told him, and he replied, “Ahhhh, The Thunder.”

He then proceeded to dissect the first two of the second round playoff games (Thunder victories over the Los Angeles Lakers) and analyze the strengths of Kevin Durant and the rest of the Oklahoma City team. I told him my favorite player was James Harden, whose toughness and selflessness I admire. 

To this, he replied. “Yes, yes — the best sixth man there is.”

In the last few days, when I tell government officials, other reporters from Taiwan and around the world, and even hotel staff where I’m from, the response is something like this: “Ahhh, the Thunder. Very good team.”

It was raining, with occasional thunder, when I got to Taipei.

The locals are joyful, after a bit of a dry spell. Just like at home. 

Ah, the Thunder. It’s a small world after all.