Around 4:30 A.M. this past Friday morning (5:30 P.M. Shanghai time), while I laid fast asleep in my bed, my little brother Jimmer was just leaving his apartment in Shanghai to go to the nearby Pudong Yuanshen Gymnasium, where his Shanghai Sharks would soon be taking the court to battle the widely revered Guangdong Southern Tigers. As Jimmer stepped out of his apartment, walked by the stray dog that hangs out in front of his building (which he has named Hufflepuff), and entered the car which was ready and waiting to take him to the arena, he mentally went into his zone, focusing on nothing but the game. With a team featuring 3 very formidable former NBA players in Donald Sloan, China’s renowned Jianlian Yi, and former two time NBA All-Star (as well as Jimmer’s former Chicago Bulls teammate) Carlos Boozer, Jimmer knew that the Tigers would be his biggest challenge yet in his overseas career. When Jimmer entered the Arena, he could tell that the vibe was very different than on any other game night up to that point. There was the kind of buzz in the air that only can truly be felt when a major event is about to take place. Jimmer is no stranger to that kind of buzz, and possibly more than anything else, it is that very kind of fuel that feeds him as an elite athlete.
So once this highly anticipated match up began, the 4,000 plus fans (just short of the arena’s maximum capacity) would waste no time in expressing their excitement with each Shark basket. Jimmer started out very patiently, similar to a boxer feeling out his opponent in the early rounds of a fight. With a bigger defender draped all over him by design, Jimmer had to strategically lull his defender to sleep before exploding towards the ball, creating just enough separation to receive passes from his teammates. After getting into the lane, creating contact, and working his way to the free throw line a couple times, Jimmer started to heat up. Then midway through the first quarter, Jimmer dribbled off of a screen and hit a tough, highly contested 3 from the top of the key. One possession later. . . Jimmer dribbles up on a fast break, stops on a dime, and sinks another contested 3 from the right wing. The crowd eats it up. They were absolutely loving it, and after Jimmer’s 2nd consecutive 3 pointer, you could hear the crowd gasp with anticipation the next time the ball was in his hands. So in typical Jimmer fashion, with the momentum all on his side and an arena full of fans ready to explode, he shows Shanghai where the term Jimmer range came from, as he pulled up and stuck a 3rd consecutive 3 pointer, this one from well beyond the ark, bringing the shark fans to their feet.
From that point on, Jimmer never let up. His dazzling drives to the basket and eye popping 3 pointers excited the crowd all night long, as Jimmer helped lead his team to a 111 – 88 victory over the Tigers, with a career high 51 points! By the end of the night, the fans were chanting MVP each time that Jimmer stepped to the foul line. Obviously this chant was all in fun, but even so, it certainly was a wonderful sign of respect, and a very congenial way for the fans to show how much they appreciated Jimmer’s amazing performance. Even NBA Hall of Famer and Celtic legend, Bill Walton, who was in the building enjoying the game Friday night, had to smile ear to ear as he watched Jimmer (who Bill knows well from his days announcing for the Sacramento Kings) put on a show. After the game, Bill, along with part time ESPN basketball analyst Fran Fraschilla, who was also in attendance, came into the Sharks locker room to chat with Jimmer, and congratulate him on a job well done. Jimmer also had the chance to catch up with his former teammate and friend Carlos Boozer, who has always been very supportive of him. Carlos joked with Jimmer that despite wanting to win the game, he couldn’t help but enjoy the great show that Jimmer put on for the hometown fans.
In the end, this incredible performance by Jimmer sparked feelings of nostalgia for me personally. From Jimmer’s 30 point performance against Florida in the first round of the NCAA Tournament – where he lead BYU to their first tournament win since the Danny Ainge era. . . to the 49 point performance against San Diego State, in what was at that time called the biggest game in Mountain West Conference history – and in my mind, the game that birthed Jimmermania. . . to his 52 point performance in Las Vegas against a New Mexico team that had beaten them twice already that season, to his 24 point performance as a Sacramento King against the Knicks at the Garden – the Mecca of basketball, where the lights shine brighter than anywhere else on the planet. . . to now. . . to now where Jimmer’s 51 point performance, in the biggest game in his career in China gave him a new career high, and a very meaningful victory. Now, if there is one thing that I’ve learned about my little brother – it’s that when the stage is at it’s biggest, and the lights are at their brightest. . . that is when Jimmer is at his best!
After winning another game last night (Sunday night) with a 37 point game from Jimmer, the Shanghai Sharks are now 6 and 0! How far can the sharks take it from here? Stay tuned to find out.