BEIJING -- The Los Angeles Lakers already hit the wall and their season hasn't even started.
It wasn't a bad thing for them. It came with a dose of culture.
The Lakers went to the Great Wall on Sunday afternoon, a two-hour trek on a charter bus that started on the bustling streets of China's capital, continued along a narrow two-way road near a quaint Chinese village with farmers pushing wheelbarrows, and ended at the Mutianyu portion of the Wall.
Two days before their exhibition game here, the Lakers didn't go to the more popular Badaling or Juyongguan sections of the historic site, eschewing the crowds and amusement park-like environments for more solitude. Or so they thought.
Crowds immediately formed as they disembarked from their shuttle buses. Players were shepherded along by a dozen guards wearing black hats, white gloves and "RISK CONTROL" on their shirt sleeves.
Then the Lakers went up a thin pockmarked path that wound through a hundred kiosks and overzealous vendors. Scores of passersby thrust out scraps of paper and begged players to take photos.
An elderly vendor yelled "Paulo, Paulo," and proclaimed, "Big, big size" as he held out an extra-large T-shirt to Pau Gasol that said, "I climbed the Great Wall."
"This is intense," Gasol said. "The fans are very forward here. Everything is a little different. But it's nice to be appreciated and see this much emotion and excitement. It's pretty crazy."
"Nashie!" someone yelled at Steve Nash, holding up a camera.
The players rarely stopped. They were told to keep walking. Security issue. If they stopped, they'd be flooded with people.
"It'd be alarming to someone who's never been here," said Nash, on his fifth NBA-mandated trip to China.
The players got about two hours on the actual Wall. Some walked with spouses or girlfriends. Others walked alone or with a teammate. Jordan Farmar briefly hopped on a camel near a vendors' kiosk.
"It's a lot of walking. A lot of hiking," Gasol said. "It's nice to do it with the team. Take advantage of the trip."
Lakers staffers were also recognized.
"What are you doing here?" an English-speaking man asked assistant coach Kurt Rambis.
"Walking downhill," Rambis answered dryly.
Lakers scout Tom Bialaszewski was stopped twice within a 50-foot section of the Wall to sign a basketball and pad of paper.
"You wear the official Laker stuff, people look at you differently and wonder who you are," he said.
Even a journalist who regularly covers the team was surrounded by a dozen autograph-seekers and picture-takers before boarding a shuttle to the Wall.
The team started the day with a practice at MasterCard Center, which sounds like it could just as easily be in New York, Chicago or Los Angeles.
It was in Beijing, though, the first step of the Lakers' NBA-mandated weeklong trip away from home.
The time change is 15 hours, their charter flight Saturday out of Los Angeles was almost 13 hours, and, good morning, they were on the court at 9 a.m. Sunday to force themselves to acclimate to the time change.
Immediately after that, they headed to the Wall, akin to their visit as a team to the Tower Bridge in London three years ago, the Lakers' last trip outside the U.S.
Not all the Lakers went to the Wall. It was mandatory for their opponent Tuesday, the Golden State Warriors, but not the Lakers.
In a few days, they'll head to Shanghai for a rematch at Mercedes-Benz Arena on Friday.
Then they'll return home and be a little more than a week away from the start of the real games, Oct. 29 against the Los Angeles Clippers.
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