One of the first lessons I learned about China was that NBA star Yao Ming is the most famous person in the country.
Boys and young men wear his Houston Rockets jersey; he's on the cover of every magazine; and his face is plastered on ads throughout Beijing. Today he was chosen to be the country's flag bearer during the Olympics opening ceremony, and there are special security measures to keep his fans at a safe distance.
Naturally I assumed China would be rooting for him during the Games.
But I've met several Chinese people here who are backing the U.S. basketball team hands down. In fact, many of them are far more educated about the NBA than I am, and can spit off the names of our entire national team.
I met a 23-year-old Chinese man while checking out the Bird's Nest (the main Olympic stadium) the other day. As soon as he heard I was American, he couldn't stop talking about Kobe Bryant. I was surprised enough to hear that he knew Bryant played for the Lakers, but he was also up-to-speed on the NBA star's life. He told me about Bryant's "two girls" (it took me a minute to realize he was talking about daughters, not girlfriends) and career statistics.
He continued to name nearly all the teams in the NBA and discussed a few more big names, such as LeBron James and Dwight Howard.
There was no doubt in his mind the U.S. basketball team will win the gold despite their opener with China and, everyone's favorite, Ming.
I am, of course, also confident that the U.S. basketball team will succeed at the Games, but it's nice, and surprising, to know there's a fellow fan on this side of the world.