Georgia Tech brought quite the posse to its basketball game in Shanghai, a delegation of state officials who cheered from private box seats until an ill-fated three-pointer rimmed out, squelching the Yellow Jackets’ chance at an overtime victory.
During the annual PAC-12 China game presented by e-commerce giant Alibaba, the university also encountered some star power on the Chinese side: Before the game, the group mingled with Yao Ming, the seven-foot athletics ambassador whose career in the NBA helped cement the league’s impressive rise in China.
But it also turns out that Georgia had quite a presence in Shanghai already, through the teachers, students, professionals and executives who came out to root on a team that gave them a taste of home — even if it wasn’t their alma mater.
While some were underwhelmed with Tech’s performance on the court, “small-world” moments abounded in the relatively intimate Baoshan Arena, which sits just past port facilities and steel production plants near the Yangtze River’s end.
Global Atlanta ran into Jeff Sweeney, vice president of East West Manufacturing in Atlanta, who happened to be traveling through China to review factories in Changzhou and Guangzhou, where the company makes motors and works with suppliers to source parts for the robots that prowl Amazon fulfillment centers.
Mr. Sweeney made time in between those visits to cheer on his alma mater, where his daughter is currently a junior. She’s already availed herself of Georgia Tech’s overseas campus in Lorraine, France. A brand new one will soon open in in Shenzhen, China, where East West has its China base.
“It’s fantastic to see Tech developing campuses around the world,” Mr. Sweeney said.
Peter Long blended in toward the upper deck as he sat with employees from IMD, a Shanghai-based medical-device company.
His group, though, stood out: Dr. Long, who lives in Atlanta and sits on the board of Georgia Tech’s alumni foundation for Asia, had brought his entire staff and decked them out with white Georgia Tech T-shirts, each emblazoned with a red star.
“Georgia Tech is not known in China as much as MIT and CalTech,” he said. “So over the last few years we’ve been doing a lot of things to really promote Georgia Tech.”
The same is true for Atlanta and Georgia, he said.
“I think most people don’t know much about Atlanta except from the Olympics, and I think great things that can be promoted,” he said, noting that he raised his children there. “Georgia is a great place. I love Georgia.
Even a few University of Georgia alumni were intermingled with the crowd, which got loud at times but was eerily quiet at others, lacking the raucous student section that raises the decibel level back home.
One UGA grad, David, has been in Shanghai since graduation in 2009. He watched the halftime dances intently. The film studies major said he would have studied drama if he could do it all over again: Now, he uses the art of performance to teach Shanghai kindergartners English.
“I don’t really care about the outcome of the game,” he said. “I just wanted to watch some good basketball.”
Apriel Powell and Alicia Moore didn’t think that’s what they were seeing — especially on the Georgia Tech side. They had been invited by someone involved in the game to support their home state.
“How often do you get to see Georgia in China?” Ms. Moore said.
Both Georgia Southern graduates who came to China separately years ago, they said China had been fertile ground for their careers.
“You can move up the ladder faster in China,” said Ms. Moore, an English curriculum coordinator for a private international school who hails from Blackshear, Ga. She even found her husband in Shanghai and will soon move with him to Paris.
Ms. Powell, a Columbus, Ga., native (who shared some friends and contacts with this reporter) said she came as an actress and now owns a theater company.
Many Chinese people know Georgia, they both said, but they too often equate it with just Atlanta. “Some of them start singing ‘Georgia on My Mind,’” Ms. Moore said.
Both were disappointed that there wasn’t more of an Atlanta flavor to the halftime routine, suggesting there should have been songs more representative of Atlanta’s hiphop scene, like something from Ludacris or Outkast’s “Bombs over Baghdad.”
“That’s an automatic dance song,” Ms. Powell said, shaking her head.
In between dances, the women heckled cheerleaders and players (on both sides). A friend nearby wore an Arizona shirt, waving a pink sign lobbying the PAC-12 conference to choose her favorite school for next year’s game.
Another Georgia Tech alum, Stephon Marbury, is famous in China, where he played professionally after the NBA and has also manufactured affordable shoes. He now owns a Chinese arena football team.
During a halftime video on the big screen, Mr. Marbury gave a greeting that surprised even some Tech alums who had forgotten about his engagement with China, or maybe never knew he played for Tech in the mid-1990s.
Georgia Tech could have used him, especially in the early part of the second half when nothing seemed to be falling despite many good looks at the basket.
UCLA had kept a lead most of the game that sat just on the edge of comfortable. It looked like the Bruins would easily pull away for good, but they were only five points up as the contest entered that crucial last minute, which can sometimes feel like an eternity in basketball.
A long three nailed by Jose Alvarado cut the lead to two. Georgia Tech had a shot at tying it up when its final possession started with 20 seconds left on the clock.
But what the three-pointer giveth, it taketh away: With time running out, Alvarado again broke through UCLA’s stout defense, but his jumper clanked against the back of the rim just as the buzzer rang.
Jorge Fernandez, the Metro Atlanta Chamber’s vice president for global commerce, winced as Tech’s moment passed.
“I thought we were going to pull a Dublin,” Mr. Fernandez said, reminiscing about Tech’s last overseas athletic contest.
Accompanied by a large delegation that included Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed and Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal, the Tech football team pulled out a late victory against Boston College in Ireland.
Georgia Tech’s president, G.P. “Bud” Peterson, told Global Atlanta earlier in the week that this trip was about more than basketball.
The presence of so many Georgians seems to have proven Dr. Peterson right, but the game was pretty thrilling too, ending an arguably more adventurous week.
UCLA managed to pull out the victory short three players, who were held in China on suspicion of shoplifting. Georgia Tech players were questioned in connection with the case but were quickly released.