Aubrey Sherrod had a good time on his summer vacation in the Far East. He learned a lot.
He learned that cheeseburgers cost eight bucks. He learned not to eat food he couldn’t identify by sight. He learned that when somebody offers you a chair, they’re not necessarily asking you to sit and chat.
Maybe you remember the photograph. It ran on this page a few weeks ago. It shows a Taiwan basketball player throwing a chair at George Washington University’s Michael Brown during a Malaysian basketball tournament in Kuala Lumpur. Brown and Sherrod, Wichita State’s silky smooth guard, were teammates on the U.S. Select Team that toured the Far East this summer.
When the photo first ran, the caption didn’t explain why the Taiwan player threw the chair. I’m told people here tried to find out, but nobody in the entire United States knew.
I thought it was unfair to assume that the chair had been thrown in anger. You never know about these things. Countries have different customs. Chair throwing might be a friendly gesture some places. Maybe it was a dignified post-game ritual. “You play well,” the player might be trying to say. “I honor and respect you. Please accept this chair which I humbly throw in your face.”
That interpretation is incorrect.
“It was a wild scene,” said Sherrod, who returned home to Wichita a week ago. “It was unbelievable.”
Sherrod remembered the Taiwan player only as “No. 15.” No 15, like all the other numbers on the Taiwan team, had been getting frustrated during the game.
It wasn’t because the game was close, the tournament championship on the line. The Americans were romping. And the game was the tournament opener.
To try to stop the rampaging Americans, Taiwan changed its defensive strategy. The new defense was based on the theory that an American’s progress to the hoop can be dramatically impeded if you trip him.
Play got rough. With a minute left in the game, Sherrod recalled, Taiwan called a timeout. It was trailing by 41 points.
A team trailing by 41 points in the last minute doesn’t call a timeout to draw up a game-winning in-bounds play. “We had the feeling something was going on,” Sherrod said.
When play resumed, an American player took a charging foul. The physical contact stirred emotions. Both benches emptied, but it was mostly snarl and not much bite. The game continued.
With 14 seconds to go, Sherrod said, No. 15 had the basketball when UCLA’s Stuart Gray came out to guard him. Gray is 7 feet tall. No. 15, Sherrod estimated, was about 6-3. No. 15 stopped in the middle of the court, directly in front of the U.S. team bench, and stood there dribbling the basketball.
Now I can kind of picture what must have been going on in ol’ No. 15’s mind. The game is lost, my team is being destroyed, I’m angry, I’m tired, time is running out, and suddenly there’s this huge American all over me. I’m not sure I would’ve done what No. 15 did, but the thought might have occurred to me.
No. 15 threw an elbow at Gray.
Gray then hit No. 15 in the back of the head.
The benches emptied again. But this time the Taiwan players brought their bench with them. “They came at us with chairs,” Sherrod said. “So we went back to get our chairs and protect ourselves.”
The teams began flinging chairs at each other, giving new meaning to the phrase “bench-clearing brawl.” Soon some of the fans even joined in. “We were all scared,” Sherrod said. “We were twelve guys halfway around the world.”
The U.S. players were whisked to a room to hide out. They didn’t return to the court for nearly an hour. When they did, there wasn’t much interest in finishing the game. “I looked up at the clock and saw 18 seconds were left,” said Sherrod. “I said, no way. They might start something again.”
Others agreed. The game was stopped, and the teams shook hands. Without incident.
The game’s final statistics showed three Taiwan players, including No. 15, suffering minor injuries. No American player was hurt.
For the rest of the tournament, the U.S. team endured a few boos especially Michael Brown, whose picture had run in papers there, too, but the reaction wasn’t all that bad, Sherrod said. Still, wherever the Americans walked in the city, they were asked about the fight.
The U.S. team won the tournament. It won a Korean tournament before that, and went undefeated on the three-week trip.
Mostly people cheered the U.S. players wherever they went. Fans couldn’t get over the exhibition of slam dunking most of the games turned into. “They hadn’t seen too much of that over there,” said Sherrod.
Sherrod, who was on the team last year, enjoyed seeing foreign lands, but because he’d been there before he usually chose to rest in his hotel room, trying to adjust to the time changes.
Accommodations were excellent, he said, but he lost weight in Korea by avoiding the food. “It looked too funny for me,” he said. “I tried it last year, and I couldn’t deal with it. The chicken soup comes in a bowl with leaves floating in it. I said, no, I can’t eat anything I can’t see before.”
Sherrod was pleased with his consistent play. He didn’t keep track of his statistics, but he remembers a few games where he went on his patented shooting streaks.
He figures that two years of international experience will look good on his resume when players are invited to try out for the Olympic team.
He also knows the experience will come in handy against Shockers opponents this season. “I’ll be prepared,” Sherrod said. “I’ll have more confidence.”
Especially if the other team starts throwing chairs at him.