On Mercer Island—that’s east of Seattle across Lake Washington—“the parishioners of Emmanuel Episcopal Church decided they were going to sponsor a Vietnamese family.” So they picked the Buis. Why them? Because Lam Bui and his wife had nine children—six daughters (ages 8-21) and three sons (ages 12-22)—and, as the family had decided to stick together, they seemed “less likely to find a sponsor” than other arrivals. And what a five-bedroom furnished house the parishioners rented for them in the fall of 1975—it had a ping-pong table (perfect for already experienced players Khoa, 16, and Quang, 12) plus a TV, two stereos, and a closet full of toys. “We are deeply moved,” said Lam.
An Army man and a writer-journalist who’d authored five political and military books, Lam spoke excellent English. His credentials were impressive. He was former Chief of the Enemy Deception Section, Special Operation Group. And he was President of the Table Tennis Federation of South Vietnam and Secretary General of the Table Tennis Association of Army Republic, Vietnam. The family left Saigon on the last U.S. Navy ship out, and Quang, then 10, remembers hearing bombs explode in the distance.
Was settling into life in the U.S. a difficult adjustment for Quang? “No,” he said. “When you’re young it’s easy to start new things. Begin a new life.” And of course not all things were new to him. He began playing at a Seattle table tennis club and began quickly to hone his game. So much so that within two years he paired with Dean Doyle to win the U.S. Open U-17 Doubles—upsetting the strong teams of Rutledge Barry/Scott Boggan and Perry Schwartzberg/Mike Lardon.
At 14, Bui came of age. He won the 1977 Western International over Canada’s Peter Joe. From now on he would improve rapidly—and in becoming the best player in the Northwest into his career-ending mid-20’s, he would along the way have many notable wins, including a straight-game one at the Northwest Open over five-time U.S. Champion Dan Seemiller.
In 1978, after training five weeks in Japan at Senshu University (helped there, and on his returns in future years, by World Champions Itoh and Hasegawa), Quang won the Benihana Open—beat the strong Canadian Zoltan Pataky (from down 2-0), then Doyle. And in the final he rallied from down 2-0 and down 20-16 in the fifth to stun Eddie Lo, who’d later win the Pan Am Singles. It’s nice to win of course, but even nicer to get Dr. Michael Scott’s encomium. “Quang,” said Dr. Scott, “is not only a talented player who excels under tournament pressure, but is an unspoiled, well-liked, well-behaved, well-mannered, non-conceited young man who would be an excellent representative of the U.S. in international play.”
Quang’s father, Lam, was ambitious for his son, and always supportive. He wrote me early in 1978, saying, “I always pray your sons and my sons become outstanding players in the world, because you and I, we are the same. I admire you very much….I hope that you will help my son Quang with your best efforts so that he is able to go to Sweden with your son Eric.”
At the U.S. Closed that year, it took the Seemiller brothers, perennial winners, to stop Quang and Dean in the final of the Men’s Doubles.
At the March, 1979 Eastern’s, Bui advanced with a five-game upset of Insook Bhushan, the U.S.’s #1 Women’s player. Quang had been practicing three hours a day, seven days a week, but his ultra-dedicated sparring partner Bob Mandel was only a 1900 player. Still, though Bob wasn’t getting better, Quang was. Key to his win over Insook was what he’d learned from Itoh and Hasegawa. As he readied himself for a loop, he’d let the ball come close to his body. “Know what I mean?” he says to me. Then he draws me a little diagram. “You slow loop here and here,” he says pointing, “but not here and here. That’s what I did against Insook. I moved the ball and looked very carefully for the best shot to kill.”
In 1979, Bui represented the U.S. at the Pan Am Games, and though we lost the Men’s Team matches 5-4 to the strong Dominicans—Alvarez, Fermin, and Vila—Quang beat all three. Then, one of the favorites to win the Singles, he lost an 18, -20, -19 heartbreaker to Vila.
Back home, Portland Coach Jim Scott praised Bui for both his “absolute dedication to win every point with a devastating all-out loop attack, and for a consistency that I’d never seen in his game before.” Perry Schwartzberg, who’d later play on a runner-up team in the USOTC’s with Quang, said, “As a result of his training in Japan, Quang never plays down to his opponent—not even to try to win. You never want to do that, you know—never want to hit a soft shot, no matter who you play, no matter what the score. Sometimes, though he knows better, even Danny does it. But Quang doesn’t. I can see it in his eyes, what they’ve told him in Japan. They’ve told him they don’t care if he wins, so long as he plays purely.” Quang’s fifth-place finish at the U.S. Team Tryouts and his continued success qualified him for trips to Ecuador, South Korea/Taiwan, and, after he’d enrolled at Brigham Young University on a scholarship, Cuba. There he had a big win over the Cuban #1 Raul Betancourt to help the U.S. take the Men’s Team event.
At the 1982 U.S. Open, after three games, total point score was Bui 60, U.S. Open Champion Mikael Appelgren 58. Quang might have won three straight, but, oh, 15, -20, -19, -15 lost in four.
Now a couple more might-have-beens. At the 1982 National Sports Festival, he was Singles runner-up to Scott Boggan. And at the U.S. World Team Tryouts he must have suffered a real psychic blow—up 2-0 and 11-1 in the third against Ricky Seemiller he somehow lost the match. How could it happen!
But six months later, he’d recovered nicely. At the U.S. Open International Club final he and Sean O’Neill 3-2 defeated South Korea’s world-class stars, Lee Soo Ja and Kim Kyung Ja, the Open Women’s finalists, both of whom Quang beat.
In 1984, back in Cuba again, Bui was a member of the winning U.S. Men’s Team, and he and Brian Masters were finalists in Men’s Doubles.
And finalists again in Men’s Doubles at the U.S. Closed. Only this time Quang scored in Singles—won the U.S. Men’s Amateur over Former U.S. World Team member Mike Bush who for several years had been playing strong matches in Germany.
Still again, at the 1985 Closed, Bui and Masters paired up in Doubles—and this time they won, downing O’Neill and Eric Boggan, then the Butler brothers. In the U.S. Team Trials Quang finished 3rd. He was now beginning to play the best table tennis of his life.
In 1986 he and Ardith Lonnon won the Mixed at the National Sports Festival. Then, after another summer in Japan, he came back to win the ‘86 National Men’s Amateur over O’Neill, and to again finish 3rd in the U.S. Team Trials. That finish entitled him to play in the upcoming New Delhi World’s.
1987 was both a climactic and last hurrah year in Quang’s calendar of accomplishments. At the Northern California Open Team Matches, Quang and Khoa Nguyen came second to the Seemiller brothers; and in the Singles Quang came second to Khoa, but with a straight-game win over Danny and a 24-22 in the third squeaker over Ricky. Next up: the Pan Am Trials: on beating Sean and Khoa, Quang qualified #2 behind #1 Scott Butler. Then the U.S. Olympic Trials: Quang finished #1—he was halfway there…but, no, he couldn’t make it to Seoul.
However, he did play in the Polish Open. A comedown, true. “But,” he said, “I’m glad I went. I need a lot of international experience, just like everyone else who’s serious about the game and wants to get good.” On returning from Poland, Quang did finish the year, and more or less his career, with another National Championship. Again he and trusty partner Brian Masters took the Men’s Doubles—first over O’Neill and Chartchai “Hank” Teekaveerakit, then over the Seemiller brothers.
By the end of 1987, Quang was a junior in Civil Engineering at Seattle University—still young. And perhaps still finding it easy to start new things—begin a new life. “Any idea where you might be headed?” an interviewer asked him. “I like bridges and highways,” he said. “I love to see new bridges, their designs.”
Well, with table tennis behind him, he by now has surely crossed a bridge or two to somewhere. Ladies and Gentlemen, though he can’t be with us tonight, some deserving applause, please, for Quang Bui….
Accepting for Quang will be his friend Dave Sakai.