Will Manso: The GREAT Great Wall
Updated On: Oct 09 2012 08:48:46 PM EDT
OCTOBER 9 - 10:33 AM (10:33 PM BEIJING) - Wow. What a day in Beijing. You want to talk about eventful? We saw a little bit of everything today, so let's start from the top.
I was warned about the jet-lag following a 14-hour plane ride and 12-hour time change. Well, let's just say everyone was right!
Heat forward Shane Battier told me before the trip not to be surprised if I woke up at 3:30 am on my first day and hit the gym. He was only off by an hour. My body was so wired to the time back home that I woke up restless at 4:30 am in China. Remember, we're 12 hours AHEAD here, so I felt like it was 4:30 pm.
Battier was very right, because I found myself at the hotel gym for an extremely early workout.
Speaking of working out, that's where the Heat started their day.
The team held its first practice since arriving in China. They got a "light" practice in at the MasterCard Center, site of the exhibition game here in Beijing against the Clippers.
I say "light" because most of the team, like everyone else on the trip, was still adjusting to the time change. Head coach Erik Spoesltra called it productive, and Dwyane Wade hinted he would be able to play in the game. He missed the preseason opener because the team is taking it easy with him while he recovers from offseason knee surgery.
From the practice, the players took a quick shower in the arena and headed over for a brief tour of the Summer Palace. The trip was more about taking a team picture at this historic spot. They joked and smiled during the picture in what players expected to be one of the bonding moments of the trip.
I was surprised to see the crowds act so calm the entire time. For some reason, I expected a mob scene or something wild. Instead, the hundreds of fans following the team around the location snapped pictures but never got too pushy. The players stopped for numerous pictures with fans. Their was a heavy police presence to make sure nothing got out of control, but it never did.
This was the team's first chance to feel like rock stars during the trip. I walked from behind the players and you can just see the waves of people walking, running and following the players every move. But again, it was all done in a very organized manner.
LeBron James, in particular, seemed to really enjoy the location. He was taking pictures and shooting video the entire time.
At this point, the team split up because the trip to the Great Wall of China was next. Coach Spoelstra only made the trip mandatory to players who had never seen it because so many of the Heat's players had visited the Wall many times before.
That meant no LeBron, Wade or Chris Bosh, but plenty did take the long trek to see one of the Seven Wonders of the World.
The group included Ray Allen, Mike Miller, James Jones and Mario Chalmers. The team provided three buses to make the 90-minute journey to the Wall's location in Beijing and many family members came along for the ride.
Honestly, while the entourage was pretty tired at the conclusion of the bus ride, everyone caught their second wind when we saw the Wall for the first time.
Simply put, it was awe inspiring.
It's one thing to see the Great Wall in pictures, but to see it in person is almost impossible to describe.
Even a veteran like Allen, who's seen just about everything during his NBA career, was acting like a little kid while walking up the Wall.
We all took cable cars to the top of the mountain where the Wall loops around. The views are not only spectacular, but absolutely breathtaking.
The one word I kept hearing from players as they walked by was "wow!"
It's a simple but perfect way to sum up what we were seeing. Their were a lot of touching moments with family members of the players taking pictures and walking along the path.
Probably the most touching was seeing Norris Cole and his parents smiling ear to ear at spending time together. As Cole's mom told me, it was difficult to describe the pure emotion of it all.
You'll probably never guess who was the last person down from the Heat's group. It was Coach Spoesltra. Despite seeing this location a number of times over the years, the coach walked all the way to the top of the steps and back two times. He was really letting it sink in.
Eventually, we made our way back down and loaded the buses again. I think it's safe to say, it's a day we'll never forget.
The only negative of the day was the drive home. I don't think you know the real definition of rush hour traffic until you drive through the highways around Beijing at 6 pm. We all sat in the buses for over two hours in bumper-to-bumper traffic.
In the end, we got home safe to our hotels and everyone was ready for a nice meal and great nights sleep.
Another adventurous day awaits in just a few hours. Good night from Beijing.
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