Nankai, Chief Sealth face off in showdown

By Zachariah Bryan
Northwest Asian Weekly

The Nankai team in warm up suits before the game. (Photo by Zachariah Bryan/NWAW)

China can play basketball.

That’s what the girls varsity team at the Chief Sealth International School learned on Saturday, Jan. 12, when they played a friendly exhibition match with their sister school, Nankai High School, from Seattle’s sister city, Chongqing.

The story-turned-myth goes like this. Last March, the mayor visited Chongqing and got into a pick-up game with the Nankai girls. It’s no secret that McGinn is a basketball fan and is not afraid of a little scrimmage match, having before gone toe to toe with NBA star-turned-mayor of Sacramento, Kevin Johnson.

So, after the game at Nankai, McGinn decided to invite the girls for a game back in Seattle.

“From my understanding, you have a pretty swell jumpshot and a nice hook,” said Sealth Principal Chris Kinsey, when he introduced McGinn.

As if to prove that point, the mayor took up a basketball, which was signed by both teams, and spun it perfectly on the tip of his finger.

This game was more than about showing off which country was better at basketball, however. It was an exchange of culture, skill, and friendship.

“There’s a big world out there,” McGinn said, addressing the Sealth girls. “We’re bringing a little bit of it to you tonight. And we’re trying to give you opportunities to go out there.”

Scott Heinlein, president of the Seattle-Chongqing Sister City Association, spoke passionately about being more globally minded.

“Anyone who thinks it’s too complicated, too difficult to learn a foreign language,” Heinlein said, “I challenge you to imagine how much more complicated our world would be if we couldn’t communicate beyond our borders.”

Chongqing has been one of Seattle’s 21 sister cities for nearly 30 years. An industrial and commercial hub in southwest China, the city is home to 4,400,000 people. According to Seattle’s sister city website, the two cities have conducted over 200 exchanges in education, the arts, government, trade, medicine, and science. The Chief Sealth and Nankai high schools, which have been sister schools for 10 years now, have an environmental exchange program.

And on Saturday, the two schools demonstrated their skills in basketball in what became the first sports matchup between the two schools.

Before the game, no one knew how the two teams would stack up against each other.

“I have no idea how they’ll match up,” said McGinn, who attended many of his daughter’s basketball games last year when she played on the varsity team at Nathan Hale High School. “The Chinese are crazy about basketball. They play a lot of basketball over there … but I know girls in Seattle take basketball very seriously.”

Coach Katie Jo Maris of Chief Sealth showed some hesitation before the game.

“We’re totally blind,” she said. “We just know that they’re ranked top five in China, so we know they’re tough.”

Still, she said she was honored to host the visiting Chinese team.

“We’re very excited and grateful for the opportunity. We don’t get very many opportunities of this magnitude for this program.”

In the first quarter, the two teams kept the score tight, exchanging points. It looked as if it would be a close game. By the end of the first quarter, Sealth was down just one point, 11–10.

However, it wasn’t long before the Nankai team pulled ahead and stayed ahead, with team members consistently sinking three pointers and keeping up a strong passing game. They led 21–14 at half time and 42–24 by the end of the third quarter.

At the end, with a strong last rally from the Sealth girls, Nankai won, 57–40. But there were no sore losers in the room. Smiles were common on both teams.

After it was all over, McGinn and his wife could still be seen in the crowd, enjoying the game and showing that they didn’t just pop in for a quick photo-op.

James Donaldsen, a former NBA star for the Seattle SuperSonics and other franchises (also unsuccessful 2009 mayoral candidate), was spotted in the crowd, smiling the entire time. He said he helped lead a training session earlier in the day for the Nankai team, along with fellow former NBA star Eldridge Recasner. Around the third quarter, Donaldsen had nothing but good things to say about the players.

“It’s been fun … there have been a lot of great shots, great passion, and they’re playing as a team,” he said. “But most importantly, they’re having fun. That’s what it’s all about.” (end)

Zachariah Bryan can be reached at

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