On Monday of this week, USA Basketball announced the 12-man team it would send to the Beijing Olympics. On Thursday night in New York (Friday morning in Beijing), NBA teams picked their 2008-09 rookies in the annual NBA draft.
The second off-season week was a big one in the NBA, and China, where basketball and the U.S. league are hugely popular, was watching. Hours before the draft began, Guangdong-born forward Yi Jianlian was traded to the New Jersey Nets in a deal that sends Richard Jefferson to Milwaukee.
The trade looks good for Yi—he never wanted to go to Milwaukee in the first place and though the official line was that he had settled in happily, rumor had it that the rookie never got very comfortable in Wisconsin. On the other end, the Nets’ new general manager Kiki Vandeweghe has been a vocal Yi fan.
When he was drafted last year, Yi initially demanded a trade, citing the lack of a Chinese community in Milwaukee. The New Jersey Nets play in the shadow of New York City, and in two years, the team is scheduled to change its name and move into a new arena in Brooklyn. New York City as a whole is home to 374,321 Chinese-Americans and the Chinese population in Brooklyn alone is 100 times that of Milwaukee’s. The Nets’ new arena is an easy subway ride across the East River from a Chinatown that the city’s government claims is the nation’s biggest. There doesn’t seem to be much for Yi to complain about this time around.
But Chinese NBA fans’ interest extends beyond their countrymen. To get some answers about what the draft and the Team USA announcement mean here, China Sports Today caught up with Xia Song in Beijing. Xia Song is president of sports marketing firm Starway Sports, one-time agent to former NBA players Wang Zhizhi and Mengke Bateer, and a jack-of-all-trades veteran of the China basketball scene.
CST: Of this draft class, who do you think has good China marketing potential?
Xia: Because of the relationship between Memphis and China, Derrick Rose[number one pick from University of Memphis] can be big here right away. No doubt he is going to be a star. And he’s going to the Chicago Bulls which was the team that lit up the way for the NBA into China 15-20 years ago.
Another kid in this lottery is Joe Alexander [Milwaukee Bucks, number eight pick from West Virginia University], who played in Beijing. I knew him back in ’99 when he was 13. His team, the International School of Beijing, was invited by Nike to play in the Beijing High School league [sponsored by Nike]. He was not supposed to play because he was too young, but they made an exception for him.
CST:How is his Mandarin?
Xia: As I remember, not bad. He was real smart and a real hard working kid.
CST: Given that he’s going to a small market and now won’t be playing with Yi, does that hurt his marketing prospects in China?
Xia: There’s going to be an effect, but Milwaukee has become a popular team in China. Even without Yi, it’s still going to be a popular team in China. And if they have a player with a connection to China, that player is going to get attention here.
CST: Without a lottery pick, what can the Houston Rockets do to improve the supporting cast around Yao Ming and Tracy McGrady?
Xia: I don’t think there was a rookie who could really help them. I think the key is to find a player who really wants to play with them as a team to win a championship.
CST: Let’s talk Olympics for a minute. Does the USA’s selection of a smaller team improve China’s chances against them? [China plays the United States in the first game of the Olympic tournament.]
Xia:All of the USA’s opponents are going to take that advantage of that. I think the small lineup is better for China to play. In China’s group, everybody has a chance to get to the second round. I don’t think the USA has a clear advantage to win the gold.
CST: Can US players on the Olympic team up their China marketing value during the games?
Xia: No, not really. That’s a USA team. If they want to build their image, people will watch their regular season and playoffs performances more than the Olympics.
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Tags: basketball, Chicago Bulls, Derrick Rose, Joe Alexander, marketing, Memphis, Milwaukee Bucks, New Jersey Nets, Team USA, Xia Song, Yi Jianlian