Playing Basketball Against Clients in Tokyo
“Let them steal the ball sometimes.”
and the nail in the coffin:
“Let them win…”
These were the simple pieces of etiquette suggested to me before playing basketball last weekend. You see, I work for an advertising agency, and we were playing with and against people from a corporation, aka THE CLIENT. Apparently this is the game you’re supposed to play.
I was told that letting clients win at sports (golf especially) is a core component of keeping the client happy.
I opted for a slightly more American approach….
Meaning, I took every opportunity to send lay-ups ricocheting off the back wall.
I never let my opponent get a hand on the ball. I drove to the lane, I posted up, I boxed out. I initiated contact. My team won games 34-6, 20-10, 24-12.
You get the point.
I’m competitive, and apparently I like to brag on the internet about how I play.
(pause to consider the implications of being that kind of person…)
My coworkers seemed embarrassed by my ‘antics,’ while the guys from the corporation seemed pretty down with it all. Coming up to me and saying ‘Man, you were on fire.’ or ‘You are really good at basketball.’
I felt a kinship through domination.
My so called antics, or lapse of etiquette, or overly Western approach seemed not to ostracize me from the client side, but rather pull me into somewhat of an inner circle.
One guy invited me to a family barbeque the next weekend. Another guy asked if I would be his English tutor to teach him ‘cool English.’ We ended up joking around and telling stories for the next three hours in the basement of this Chinese joint in Akasaka.
One of the guys I blocked revealed to me at the meal that he created the video game ‘Tecmo Super Bowl.’ He asked me if I had ever heard of it… I assured him that I had heard of it, as well as everyone I knew, and that it was undisputedly one of the most legendary games of all time. He said that he didn’t understand American football. Ironic coming from the creator of one of the most iconic interpretations of the sport. He thanked me for my words and we ordered another round of fried gyoza.
The life lesson I learned from this experience is that a robust shot block on the basketball court is better for business relations than a handshake OR bowing and exchanging business cards.
We even joked around about how agency people are usually supposed to let clients win. And everyone agreed that because I was foreign, I was exempt from that behavior. I thought maybe they were just being polite, but I just received an emailing inviting me to join their corporate game next weekend.
This time they know exactly what they will be getting.
Hard-nosed basketball with a side of English.