Team USA as: Ancient Chinese Historical Figures

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Published: August 25, 2008

These Olympics have provided me with an interesting conjunction of two of my favorite hobbies – Basketball and Ancient Chinese History.  Ever since I was young, I've been a big fan of chaotic periods of the early Chinese Empire, and have eagerly devoured translations of some of the most influential Chinese Historical texts as they've become available.  Indeed, I host(and wrote a lot of) an entire website devoted to the Qin Era, as well as run a RPG/Simulation game called Warlords that takes place in that era.  I even use my Dungeons and Dragons Alias, Kymvir Raemiz, as my username on that game. 

That's right, my geek cred is unassailable.

Those of you who have read this blog know that I love to do strange comparison pieces, like those relating Hornets Players to Halo Weapons, American Idol Contestants and Dungeons and Dragons Classes.  So it should come as no surprise that I will now link the 12 members of the Olympic Team to Historical figures from two of the historical periods of China:

– The Chu-Han Conflict that started in 209 BC when the First Emperor of China died and a rebellion was launched that lasted a dozen years and ended with the founding of the Han Empire – which existed for 400 years and provided the foundation for China as a nation.

– The Three Kingdoms era that commenced around 180 AD, and spanned the fall of the Han Empire and the  formation of three kingdoms that fought intermittently for more than half a century. 

These two time periods are the basis of a significant part of Chinese Culture, having the same sort of impact that Greece and Rome did on Western Civilization.

So here goes.  We'll go at this in a kind of reverse rotation, starting with Boozer, and ending with James. For those of you familiar with the era, forgive my ever so brief representations of these historical figures.

12. Carlos Boozer – Wei Yan
I cheated a little on this.  The nickname Boozer carries in China "Betrayal Skull Head" is a reference to Wei Yan, a general of the Three Kingdoms Era who eventually betrayed the kingdom of Shu.  The nickname was given because of his actions in Cleveland, but the comparison is good for other reasons.  Wei Yan was one of Shu's most prolific commanders, but he was always in the shadow of a group of other Generals of Shu, known to History as the Five Tiger Generals.  In the historical records, you could always tell he was a good, reliable general, but just not on the same level as the other Shu Generals.  Isn't that what Boozer is on this team?

11. Michael Redd – Peng Yue
Peng Yue was a General of the Chu-Han Conflict who eventually became a King.  He was a quiet general who would only sporadically involve himself in battle.  When he was on the field, he was good in certain situations, but when the battles began in earnest, he was usually forced off the field and his position taken by a tougher, more aggressive General.  Still, his loyalty earned him a Kingship under Liu Bang, the First Emperor of the Han Empire.  Redd was used sparingly, couldn't really stay on the floor when the pressure was raised. Still, he was a good teammate, and got himself the gold.

10. Tayshaun Prince – Zhang Liang
A legendary strategist of the Chu-Han Conflict, Zhang Liang was most concerned with protecting his own homeland from the depredations of the various powerful Warlords.  Zhang Liang rarely took the field himself during the war, but when he did his strategy and intelligence allowed him to have startling results on the battlefield.  When he was not on the field, his advice eventually helped Liu Bang to seize power and found the Han Dynasty.  Tayshaun served as a mentor to Dwight Howard and other members of the Olympic team, and when he was put into the game, he always had an immediate positive impact.

9. Deron Williams – Sima Yi
Sima Yi lived during the Three Kingdoms Era.  A brilliant administrator and capable general, he eventually became the most influential man in the Kingdom of Wei.  In early battles he commanded he was almost always the victor until he began a series of invasions and counter-invasions against the Kingdom of Shu.  Those invasions, which were thwarted again and again, eventually established him as the second best strategist of the Era behind Zhuge Liang . . .

8. Chris Paul – Zhuge Liang
Zhuge Liang was a young genius, joining the biggest Hero of the Three Kingdoms Era at the age of 18 and becoming his chief advisor for the next 25 years until he died at an early age.  In Chinese popular culture Zhuge Liang is an infallible strategist and the number of proverbs and sayings that can be traced back to works written about him rival those of Confucius or Sun Tzu.  Zhuge's strategy never lost him a battle unless he was betrayed or forced to retreat by his inept King.  Deron and Paul were the two best Point Guards on the Olympic team – and are the two best Point Guards in the NBA, but I think we know who is Zhuge Liang, and who is Sima Yi.

7. Chris Bosh – Han Xin
One of the most skilled Generals of the Chu-Han Conflict, Han Xin was ignored for most of his early career due to his unassuming nature.  However, when Liu Bang recognized his talent and put him in the field, Han Xin produced incredible results, rolling up the entire northern region of China and putting it at the disposal of Liu Bang.  In the end, Liu Bang took the credit for his actions, and eventually had him disposed of.  Chris Bosh, still a strangely forgotten man from the James-Anthony-Wade draft, was hugely important to the Olympic Team, vital to the second unit's defense and offense, and was usually on the floor at crunch time.  Yet, have you seen any post-gold medal interviews of Chris Bosh? Seems like a solid comparison.

6. Dwayne Wade – Zhao Yun
Zhao Yun was historically the most decorated of the Five Tiger Generals of Shu.  He is most famous for his exploits at a battle called Chang Ban where he saved his Lord's infant child, killed 100 enemy officers single-handedly, and avoided capture at the hands of thousands of enemy troops.  His tactics?  Set spear and charge!  Brings to mind Dwayne Wade and his reckless forays to the hoop.  Just a vital player in the Olympics, and my MVP for the USA team.

5. Jason Kidd – Liu Bang
Liu Bang is one of the most controversial figures of China.  He founded the Han Empire that lasted 400 years, which gave him enduring fame, but his methods made it difficult to classify him as a Hero to be emulated.  During his war against Xiang Yu, his rival for the Imperial Throne, he stole two armies from Kings allied to him, frequently abandoned armies he set out with to save his own life, kicked his family from his carriage once to let him get away faster, and after the last battle, stole the credit for the final victory from his most loyal General, ensuring his rise to Emperor.  Then, he butchered his best five generals because he thought they might  betray him.  In case you can't tell yet, comparing Kidd to him isn't going to be flattering, but I don't like Kidd.  He's thrown teammates and coaches under the bus, is a thug on the court, somehow managed to start ahead of two better point guards in the Olympics, and in general is given way too much credit for a lot of things.  And I'm SOOO tired of hearing about how he's undefeated in the Olympics.

4. Carmelo Anthony – Jiang Wei
During the Three Kingdoms Era, Zhuge Liang kept the much smaller kingdom of Shu from being crushed by its northern neighbors, but he died at an early age and designated his protege, Jiang Wei, as the new commander of Shu's armies.  Jiang had a tremendous reputation as a strategist and warrior, but when the actual battles started, the results were disappointing to say the least.  Carmelo was hyped as the best international-style player we had, he would have been serviceable as a small forward, but as a power forward, he was overmatched on the boards and in the post, and only viable offensively from the three-point line.  That's disappointing.

3. Dwight Howard – Zhang Fei
Zhang Fei was one of the Five Tiger Generals of Shu during the Three Kingdoms Era.  He was a physical specimen, a terror on the battlefield, and a sworn brother to his King.  However, he was an indifferent strategist, devoid of finesse, and completely reliant on sheer physical strength in battle.  Dwight Howard seemed confused in these Olympics.  He had some nice rebounds, alley-oop finishes and putbacks, but his sheer strength actually became a liability at times as the other teams big men fell down at his merest touch.  He was important, but not our best big man.

2. Kobe Bryant – Lu Bu
Lu Bu is known to Chinese History as one of the most ferocious warriors ever.  He fought during the Three Kingdoms Era, and started his career by teaming up with a powerful Warlord named Dong Zhuo who believed strongly in Brute Force.  Not long afterwards, however, Lu Bu became disenchanted with Dong Zhuo, got in trouble with a woman, betrayed and killed Dong, and then went off on his own.  For some time, he was a force, coming close to dominating the central plains of China, but in the end was captured and went to his execution blaming those around him for his own betrayals and failures.  This was a fantastic analogy for me, down to Dong Zhuo being a good analog for Shaq.

1. LeBron James – Xiang Yu
Xiang Yu is tremendously popular in China, to the point there is a famous Chinese Opera about Yu, his concubine, and his struggle to become the Emperor of China.  Xiang was a warrior of incomparable ability and size, and led the armies that broke the first Dynasty of China, setting up the Chu-Han conflict that established the Han Empire.  Xiang was a peerless general who almost never lost a battle he was personally engaged in.  However, he was surrounded by mediocre generals and eventually he refused to trust any of his subordinates, marginalizing even the skilled ones.  When Liu Bang launched multiple attacks into his territory, Xiang Yu couldn't be everywhere at once, and his Kingdom was shattered and he killed.  Only time will tell if LeBron will remain a remarkable single talent or if he(and his front office) will forge a team that he can lead to the top.

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