Hoops legends come along for the slide

Mourning, Mutombo discover there’s more to curling than meets the eye as they sample Olympic preparations in Beijing

Two former NBA All Stars found sliding stones a lot more difficult than shooting hoops as they endeavored to get to grips with the sport of curling in Beijing last Friday.

Alonzo Mourning and Dikembe Mutombo were renowned for extending themselves to grab rebounds and block shots in their prime, but stooping down to glide stones across the ice proved a stretch too far for the towering duo.

And that was even with the help of China’s 2009 world champion team skipper Wang Bingyu.

Despite their wayward efforts, the crash course piqued the basketball greats’ interest in the sport.

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“I think that’s one of the best experiences that will stay in my memory for the rest of my life,” Mutombo, a Hall of Famer who played on six NBA teams before retiring in 2009, told China Daily at 2022 Winter Olympics venue Shougang Industrial Park on Friday.

“We appreciate Wang, who tried to teach me the game and the fundamentals and gave me all the advice she can.

“For me to be able to become a champion student is always a good experience,” added the 7-foot-2 Congolese-American, who won NBA Defensive Player of the Year four times (1995, ’97,’98 and 2001).

Mourning and Mutombo were guests at Shougang’s National Winter Sports Training Center, where they observed Chinese curlers train and learned the rules from Wang. Later, they struggled to keep their balance as they fired stones toward the target area, or the “house”-which is about five times longer than the distance between the basket and the NBA 3-point line.

Mourning, a seven-time All Star, said that Wang’s hands-on tutelage had sparked his interest in the sport.

“She is a world champion and an amazing host. She made me and Dikembe feel very welcome,” said the 49-year-old, who was on the Miami Heat’s 2005-06 NBA championship-winning team.

“Curling is pretty fun and it’s much tougher to play than it seems.”

As China’s most recognized curling star, Wang shot to prominence in 2009 by leading the nation to glory at the women’s world championship in South Korea, before skippering the squad to a bronze medal at the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics.

The 35-year-old, known as “Betty” in the curling community, retired from competition after the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang and is now busy in her new role as the sport’s program director for the Beijing 2022 Games.

“It’s my pleasure to introduce curling to two such famous basketball stars, who are probably the most unexpected visitors to this facility so far,” said Wang.

“It’s really a fun interaction and hopefully more people can get to know the sport through what they’ve experienced.”

Curling is contested between two teams of four players (or two in mixed doubles) who take turns sliding heavy, polished granite stones across sheets of ice toward the house with the aim of placing their rocks as close to the mark as possible.

After their curling experience, Mutombo and Mourning visited the Beijing 2022 organizing committee’s headquarters at Shougang Industrial Park to learn more about the logistics and venues of the Games before hanging out with fans at a basketball game played by committee staff.

Leaving the park impressed by its transformation from an old steel mill into a winter sports hub, both Mutombo and Mourning put a return to the Chinese capital as Winter Olympics spectators on their to-do lists.

“Just going to the simulation center, where I got a chance to see where the city, the highway and all the resorts will be, it made me become more interested in Beijing 2022,” said Mutombo.

“Maybe I will bring my wife and kids to visit the Games. I am not going to participate because they don’t have the shoe size of 22 for me to fill it! But I would love to come and see it.”

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