When Al Fredette’s son told him he had landed a job in the Far East last summer, Al mentioned he would be happy to come over and keep him company.
That’s what good dads do.
Especially when your son’s wife is pregnant with their first child and she won’t be able to travel.
Al’s son is a professional basketball player. You may have heard of him — Jimmer Fredette — and if you haven’t, you need to get out of the house more.
Jimmer Fredette signed a $1.1 million contract to play basketball for the Shanghai Sharks in the Chinese Basketball League last summer, but the timing wasn’t the best.
His wife, Whitney, had just found out she was pregnant, and while she made the initial trip to Shanghai for four weeks, her doctor insisted she not make the long trek back after the team played an exhibition game in Houston.
Jimmer went back to China and did not see his wife again for four months.
“I remember talking to my wife after Whitney came back,” Al said. “I told her, `I think I should go over.’”
“Yes you should,” she responded.
As a dad, I can appreciate why Al would jump at the opportunity to see his son perform again.
After all, it was Al who groomed young Jimmer in the fundamentals, and then coached him in AAU basketball. He was there every step of the way in high school as Glens Falls went to the state championship game and Jimmer became Section II’s all-time leading scorer. When Jimmer went to Utah to play for Brigham Young, Al and his wife often spent 4 to 6 weeks at a time there as he become the best college player in the country.
It had to be like turning back the clock for Al.
“I told him, I would love to see some of your games,” Al said.
Jimmer sent him a first-class plane ticket.
Now, that’s a good son.
In China, father and son explored a new world, culture and cuisine — boiled bullfrog and chicken beaks — in a clean, modern city that is three times larger than New York City.
“I would go to practice with him and all the games,” Al said. “When he would come home, we would get on the subway and go somewhere for dinner. It was really a great experience. Got to spend a lot of father-son time.”
It was the best of times and the worst of times for Jimmer.
While Jimmer was often on the phone with Whitney three and four times a day, he was taking Shanghai by storm with his playing.
It turns out that professional basketball — especially NBA ball — is extremely popular in China. Kobe Bryant is one of the most popular athletes in the country, and Yao Ming, who was the first Chinese player in the NBA, was the owner of the Shanghai team. He helped lure Jimmer to the Far East.
Each Chinese team is allowed two imported players from a foreign country. They usually are the stars and expected to carry the team.
It was one of the things that attracted Jimmer to China.
Frustrated by few opportunities in the NBA, Jimmer wanted that chance to just play basketball and help a team win.
A year earlier, the Shanghai team would be lucky to draw 1,000 fans to a game.
But with Jimmer averaging more than 35 points a game with a dazzling combination of spinning moves to the basket and long-range bombs, Shanghai rarely lost. The games quickly became sellouts in an arena just a little bit larger than the Glens Falls Civic Center.
Jimmer became a star — again.
People would stop Jimmer and Al in the street and ask for selfies.
You couldn’t get a ticket to Shanghai games.
Near the end of the season, Jimmer scored 73 points in one game and was named the league’s most valuable player.
None of it seems to have impressed the NBA, which is something that still rankles Al. He can cite you chapter and verse on a wide variety of statistics that show Jimmer could be a force in the NBA.
If anyone would know, it would be Al.
A couple teams offered Jimmer 10-day contracts when he returned, but Jimmer was content to stay home with Whitney and their new daughter, Wesley. Mother and daughter are doing fine.
Al says Shanghai wants Jimmer back to play next year, but it would probably have to improve on the $1.1 million salary from this year. Incidentally, that was after the team paid the taxes. Jimmer also got a three-year endorsement deal from a Chinese sneaker company for $345,000 and another $300,000 in bonuses.
Beijing has already made an offer for next year.
But it is a long way from home in many ways.
Jimmer became so popular on Chinese Twitter and Facebook — the Communist government does not allow a free flow of information from the western world — that he received a visit from a couple of Communist party officials who were concerned he might use his popularity politically.
Jimmer assured them he was not political and just wanted to play basketball. At the end of the interview, he signed autographs for them.
Right now, Jimmer may be bigger in China than he is in Glens Falls.