Jeremiah Jenne on the NBA finals and being a Boston sports fan in China


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We round up the news this week with Zhang Weili’s stunning knockout win in the UFC. How long until she fights for another title (2:26)? Meanwhile, F1 driver Zhou Guanyu — a recent guest on the podcast — continues to have a run of bad luck, plagued by technical issues when driving well (3:45). Meanwhile, China’s breakout tennis star Zhang Qinwen backs up her strong run at the French Open by winning her first WTA title in Valencia (9:23), and a trip down memory lane to 2016 when then-Manchester United manager Jose Mourinho was grilled at the Bird’s Nest by a certain Haze Fan — who’s been in the news this week for entirely different reasons (11:00).

Our guest this week is Jeremiah Jenne, a long-time Beijing resident, historian, podcaster, and — crucially — a big Boston sports fan (13:00). Jenne talks about what it’s been like watching the Celtics play in the NBA Finals and makes a bold prediction (15:00). Watching the games in China can be done using a variety of different methods — legal or otherwise (16:07) — but the impact of the NBA being banned from Chinese screens for the past two years has been minimal for Jenne (18:15). He recalls the time when NBA Commissioner Adam Silver pissed off the Chinese government not by what he said or did, but by revealing they had tried to silence him (19:40). There used to be a time when he could watch games with friends in pubs, but now that’s much harder (22:28).

Jenne discusses why Boston sports fans got their reputation (24:00) and wonders whether there is a Premier League equivalent to shit-talker-in-chief Larry Bird (28:56). Another Boston team, the Patriots, once opened an office in China, but it was a short-lived affair (31:33), with the NFL’s hyper-detailed nature clashing with China’s events culture (33:10), reminiscent of the NHL’s exhibition fiasco in Shanghai when hockey players couldn’t see through the fog on the ice (34:00). In fact, players from all sports have had issues when traveling abroad for pre-season, even though the fans love it (36:00).

Onto baseball and some theories on why the sport hasn’t made it big in China (38:05). Jenne says that watching sports is a taste of home that helps keep him grounded (42:20) and explains why being a Red Sox fan has helped him understand China better (45:09). Why relegation needs to happen in North American sports (48:06) and which US sport is most likely to adopt the concept (48:42). Finally, Jenne describes the evolution of the typical Chinese sports fan he’s encountered over the decades (50:06), reveals what’s exciting him these days (53:40), and muses on what Chinese sports fans must think when they see full stands in Europe and North America (54:50).