U.S. stars receive special clearance

Times Staff Writer

BEIJING -- Whether they know it or not, talk about a place that knows how to treat superstars!

I was on the USA Basketball staff’s bus going back to the hotel after Tuesday night’s exhibition against Australia in Shanghai, trailing the team’s bus -- which had police cars with flashers in front of it and behind it . . . and more cops along the way, sealing off all the traffic on on-ramps so our guys could breeze down the highway.

“This is common in China,” a Chinese journalist said. “They do it for VIPs like high party officials.”

If no one else has mentioned it this is also the land of hospitality and security.


Flying out of Shanghai Wednesday, a security woman went through my luggage item by item. She patted down some packets of instant oatmeal I had brought (Hey, what if all they have is, like, octopus for breakfast?).

Then she sniffed a bottle of shampoo. Then she examined my battery-operated toothbrush (I’m from the West, we have such things) and asked, “Please open.”

“It doesn’t open,” I said.

“Please open,” she repeated.


“It doesn’t open,” I repeated.

She looked skeptical, continuing to turn it over in her hand. I thought she was going to pry it apart and hand it back to me in pieces but she decided it was OK, smiled and told me to have a nice day.

This is also the land of the nonsmoking sign, as in, what a joke.

A certain five-star hotel I just stayed in with the U.S. team -- where everyone couldn’t have been nicer -- gave me a nonsmoking room that must have been converted from smoking, like last week.


The men’s room at the Qhizong Tennis Center had a nonsmoking sign posted -- and reeked of smoke, bad enough to knock you down. A USA Basketball staffer told me he was sneaking into the ladies room.

Sight gag of the day: a “Please conserve paper” sign on the paper towel dispenser in the Beijing airport. Then you go outside and push your way through the air.

They should rename these the Al Gore Games. Even if you weren’t an environmentalist before you got here, you are now.