Yi Jianlian coming home to play for Guangdong

Tuesday, 11th October 2011 ~ Maggie ~ Link ~ Comments (0)

He's got nothing on Yao, but among active Chinese players, Yi is still in a class of his own.
He's got nothing on Yao, but among active Chinese players, Yi is still in a class of his own.
Well, here's one NBA player who should have no trouble making the cultural adjustment to life in the Chinese Basketball Association: Yi Jianlian has reportedly signed to play with his old club, the Guangdong Southern Tigers, league champions the last four seasons in a row. Free agent Yi has played for three different NBA teams in tk years in the league, most recently the Washington Wizards. He comes off of a strong performance at this year's FIBA Asia Championship, where he helped China secure a berth in the 2012 Olympics.

Yi joins Kenyon Martin, J.R. Smith and Wilson Chandler in making the move to China, but he's a lot more likely than those three to stick around. Earl Clark already left Zhejiang for personal reasons. Complications with his girlfriend's pregnancy is the official reason; not liking the food is a rumored reason; finding the whole situation of life in China and the CBA too much to handle is my amorphous theory.

With the NBA failing to take steps toward preserving the 2011-12 season yesterday, more agents might looking at China and hoping for something like the $3 million that J.R. Smith is getting from the Zhejiang Golden Bulls. That would be some consolation to distressed Chinese fans who want their NBA, and would definitely promise them some ridiculous plays for the highlight reels.

For much, much more on the CBA and Chinese basketball in general, check in with Jon Pastuszek at Niubball.com.

Tags: basketball, CBA, Earl Clark, Guangdong Southern Tigers, Kenyon Martin, NBA, Yi Jianlian

Yao's solemn exit leaves a big void in the NBA and Chinese sports

Wednesday, 20th July 2011 ~ Maggie ~ Link ~ Comments (0)

In a press conference that's been anticipated by the Chinese sports world for the last two weeks, Yao Ming announced his retirement from basketball this afternoon in Shanghai. The press conference was broadcast all over China, playing live on TV, online, even on the screens in Beijing's subway cars.

The press conference was hosted by Xu Jicheng, a veteran basketball journalist and commentator who now works for Xinhua. In addition to the nation's top basketball media, Yao had invited to the press conference a cast of the characters from his career — his parents; his old rival Wang Zhizhi, the first player in the NBA; one of his first agents, Lu Hao; Colin Pine, his translator and cultural guide during his first season in Houston. Even David Stern made an appearance, in the form of a taped statement which he can make now that Yao is no longer an NBA employee.

"Today I am retiring. One door is closed, but others will open," he said to a crowd bigger than I've seen at some CBA games. "Although I am finished with competitive sports, I can't leave basketball. Running the Shanghai Sharks is my next focus. I hope to use all I've learned to better manage this club."

While a little bit of sadness is part of any retirement press conference, today's affair in Shanghai seemed particularly somber. Although CCTV-5's broadcast played highlights of his career, there didn't seem to be anything like that in the ballroom where Yao made his announcement. The overall tone was almost funereal, lightened only by a couple of weak jokes from Yao and by the presence of his adorable one-year-old daughter.
Yao Ming with father (Yao Zhiyuan), mother (Fang Fengdi), wife (Ye Li) and daughter (Yao Qinle). wife and daughter
Yao Ming with father (Yao Zhiyuan), mother (Fang Fengdi), wife (Ye Li) and daughter (Yao Qinle). wife and daughter

It could be that I am missing some important cultural background on Chinese press conferences or retirement announcements. But it's also true that Yao's remarkable career is tainted by the disappointment of the injury-riddled last six years. When a Sina.com poll indicated that 57% of Chinese fans said they would stop watching basketball after Yao retired, I wondered who they had been watching since 2007 (or '06 or '05 even). He played just enough to show that he had the physical gifts and the drive to become one of the league's great centers, but his body kept him from ever truly getting there.

Yao Ming was born into a basketball career, the son of two retired basketball stars in a country where sports training is often tied to family legacy. But when the Houston Rockets selected him with the first pick in the 2002 NBA Draft, he stepped into territory that no one could tell him how to navigate. In the now-common sports media practice of crowning athletes before they prove themselves, he bore the burden of expectations to become one of the league's great centers — not to mention the burden of becoming China's face to the world.

Yao met the expectations on the court, but his career was hobbled and eventually cut short by injuries. Off the court, he exceeded expectations, growing from a shy teenager into a graceful ambassador. These past 10 years, China and the United States have been closer than ever, but the relationship is complicated by misunderstanding, competition and often conflicting agendas. Through those years, Yao has represented China just how it would like to be represented — with a reputation for humble strength, hard work and respect for country and family. And his humor has showed the world a friendly, self-deprecating side of China.

This isn't exactly a convenient time for Yao to make his exit. You can say that he leaves the NBA without a Chinese player who belongs in a starting lineup, or that he leaves China without a big-time player in its favorite sport — from both perspectives, it's a large vacuum. And Chinese sports fans don't have much else to cheer about right now. Tennis player Li Na has a great story and sense of humor to go with her backhand, but she faces difficult odds to repeat her French Open feat. Liu Xiang is Asian champion again, but he has two more races that matter between now and next summer in London. And Yi Jianlian will be back for more in the NBA, but the clock is running out on his most frequently lauded trait—"potential."

If Yao's press conference seemed sadder than an 8-time All Star's should be, it might not only be because his career was truncated by his uncooperative body, but also because he has no one to pass the torch to, and he can't tell his fans in Houston or Shanghai who, or what, is next.

Yao speech image: Sports.qq.com
Yao family photo: Xinhua

Tags: basketball, CBA, NBA, Shanghai Sharks, Wang Zhizhi, Yao Ming

Zhang chooses CBA over Cal

Friday, 29th October 2010 ~ Maggie ~ Link ~ Comments (0)

Max Zhang (Zhang Zhaoxu, 张兆旭) is leaving the NCAA for the CBA, according to has opted not to finish his last two years on the UC-Berkeley basketball team, according to reports from Sina.com (in Chinese) and Oakland Tribune reporter Jeff Faraudo, writing at Bear Talk, which follows Cal sports. Instead of returning to the Golden Bears, where he was set to be the first big man off the bench, Zhang has reportedly signed a contract with the Shanghai Sharks of the Chinese Basketball Association.

The Sharks are owned by Yao Ming and coached by Bob Donewald, who also coaches the Chinese National Team. Zhang has been in China for a couple of months playing for Donewald in warm-ups for the Asian Games, and was recently selected to the country's Asian Games squad. No reports have come out about his salary with the Sharks, but Sina reported that the Xinjiang Snow Leopards, one of the league's best teams in the past few years, offered him 2 million RMB, or about $294,000.

It's hard to see how this is a good decision for Max Zhang. He averaged 3.1 points and 2.4 rebounds at Cal last year. The 7-foot 2-inch center clearly still has a lot to learn, and the competition and training he would get in the NCAA would make him a better player. And Zhang's earning potential as a basketball player is limited, so turning his back on a free education from a top American university seems like a bad idea.

According to Faraudo's report, Zhang's coach at Cal is very disappointed:
"He signed, he's done," Cal coach Mike Montgomery said after the team's open practice Wednesday night. "We were getting unclear messages. It's really unfortunate, but that's water under the bridge. This is our team."

Max Zhang image: Baidu

Tags: basketball, CBA, Max Zhang, NCAA, Zhang Zhaoxu

China-Brazil brawl raises questions about basketball program

Sunday, 17th October 2010 ~ Maggie ~ Link ~ Comments (1)

Zhu Fangyu (right) was one of two Chinese players fined 30,000 yuan
Zhu Fangyu (right) was one of two Chinese players fined 30,000 yuan

What is it with China's national men's basketball team? After its throwdown with the Brazilian national team last week, the team has now been involved in three of the worst fights in international basketball this decade. There was China-Lebanon in 2001, China-Puerto Rico in 2005 (video), and now China-Brazil in 2010.

The latest came in an exhibition game in Xuchang (Henan province) to prepare the China for November's Asian Games. Here's a YouTube video of the fight, and here is a Youku video. The YouTube one captures the tantrum that China's head coach throws before the fight, and the Youku one shows the foul that set him off.

The Chinese Basketball Association has levied 290,000 yuan ($43,660) in penalties to 15 people for the melee (Chinese report). It fined head coach Bob Donewald, an American who has coached a season in the CBA, 50,000 yuan ($7,530), and suspended him from practice. Three players—Zhu Fangyu, Ding Jinhui and Su Wei—were each fined 30,000 yuan, and six other players drew 20,000-yuan fines. Team official Zhang Xiong also was suspended, and fine 30,000 yuan.

The CBA should not just be investigating this incident, but also looking for answers as to why China is building up an ugly history of fights in international play. The fact that Donewald, a former Bobby Knight protégé, blew his top, contributed to the China-Brazil mess, but this isn't out of form for China. The throwdowns with Lebanon and Puerto Rico were already some of the worst in FIBA-sanctioned play. And the domestic league, the CBA, also sees its share of fights (witness: Charles Gaines-Du Feng, 2010) often with fans getting involved by throwing objects on the court. Do officials need to learn how to keep the players and crowd under control? Is the Chinese style of play actually not physical enough, leading to frustration and anger when players come up against a little more contact? Does China's tendency toward soccer-style faking and flopping raise the level of tension? Does alleged match-fixing rob players of an outlet for their competitive emotions? Or are these guys all too roided up?

Whatever the answer, the CBA needs to be searching for it, because these incidents make China look thuggish and amateur.

In case you haven't seen the brawl:
Numerous videos posted online indicate that emotions got hot when coach Bob Donewald lost his temper at officials for a missed moving screen call in the first minute of the game. Donewald cursed and screamed at referees, pounded his fist on the scorer's table, and was removed from the game with two technical fouls. The team claims that guard Zhang Qingpeng, who received the screen, suffered a concussion from it, although it certainly didn't look like Zhang's head hit anything. Media reports show Zhang in a neck brace.

After another 30 seconds of very physical play, Chinese veteran guard and one-time CBA MVP Zhu Fangyu blatantly hip-checked to the floor a Brazilian who was already bent over and getting his footing. What followed was a bench-clearing brawl that made the Malice at the Palace look mild—Brazilian players threw some punches, but for the most part, they were trying to get out of the way, while Chinese players were taking cheap shots and kicking their opponents while they were down.

As for the Chinese players with substantial playing experience in the United States, Wang Zhizhi (Dallas Mavericks, LA Clippers, Miami Heat) seems to have stayed out of the brawl; Sun Yue (LA Lakers) got some cheap kicks in; and Max Zhang (Cal-Berkeley) threw and received some punches.

Image: Chinasmack

Tags: basketball, Bob Donewald, CBA, Max Zhang, Sun Yue, Wang Zhizhi, Zhu Fangyu

This Week in China Sports: NFL Draft, new CBA champion, Olympic gymnasts stripped of Sydney medal

Friday, 30th April 2010 ~ Maggie ~ Link ~ Comments (0)

Ed Wang was, indeed, picked up in the NFL draft. He went to the Buffalo Bills with the 140th pick, becoming the first Chinese-American drafted by an NFL team. Titan Sports News, China's top sports newspaper, featured Wang on its front page.

The Guangdong Southern Tigers beat the Xinjiang Flying Tigers 103-94, winning their sixth Chinese Basketball Association title. Guangdong took the series 4-1. Only the Bayi Rockets, the Chinese army team, have won more titles (8), and Guangdong has been the CBA champion all but one of the last seven years. (Xinhua)

Bob Donewald, coach of the Yao Ming-owned Shanghai Sharks of the CBA, was tapped to coach the Chinese men's national basketball team through the end of the year (Washington Post). Donewald coached NCAA basketball at several different Midwestern universities throughout the 80s and 90s. He will lead a Yao-less team at the world championships in August and the Asian Games in November.

The International Olympic Committee stripped China of its bronze medal in the gymnastics team competition in the 2000 Olympics in Sydney, after Dong Fangxiao was ruled to have been underage. The bronze now goes to the United States team. Ironically, Dong was outed by her accreditation papers for working as an official at the 2008 Olympics in Beijing. That paperwork has her birth date as January 23, 1986, and not January 20, 1983, as she had declared in Sydney. Olympic gymnasts must turn 16 in the year they compete in an Olympics, per restrictions set by the Federation Internationale Gymnastique (AP via ESPN).

Kenny Huang is NOT denying rumors published in the Sunday Mirror that he is in talks to buy Liverpool Football Club. He only denies speaking to a reporter from the paper, and said he would not comment on the rumor.

China may not have a team in the FIFA World Cup, but they do have a presence. Many of the South African flags currently selling well in the host country, are made in China and apparently the imports were not quite printed right (Mail & Guardian)

Tags: basketball, Bob Donewald, CBA, FIFA World Cup, Guangdong Tigers, gymnastics, IOC, Kenny Huang, NFL, Olympics, Shanghai Sharks, Xinjiang Tigers, 黄建华

Fines, no suspensions in the CBA's "Slapgate" Finals

Wednesday, 21st April 2010 ~ Maggie ~ Link ~ Comments (1)

Du Feng covered in towels, courtside
Du Feng covered in towels, courtside
The Chinese Basketball Association has fined both the Xinjiang and Guangdong teams, but not suspended players, in response to an ugly incident that took place at the end of Guangdong's home court win in Game 2 of the CBA finals (report of decision in Chinese).

Charles Gaines, an American who plays for Xinjiang, got into an altercation with Du Feng of Guangdong under the basket, and threw a knockout smack that put the forward on his back. As this video shows, trainers covered Du head-to-toe in towels (extra airtime for CBA uniform sponsor Anta!), confusing fans about how seriously he was hurt. He was then moved to a back room and put on oxygen support.

A phalanx of cops escorted Gaines and the Xinjiang team out of the arena. Incidentally, in a league where emotions frequently boil over into player and fan violence, the Guangdong team recently had to be ushered from the Shanghai Sharks' arena after a playoff game. Angry about a (completely justified) foul call in the final seconds, fans threw objects on the court and directed their anger at the officials (Yao Ming's fans punch referee). To see that foul and get an idea what an arena full of angry CBA fans looks like, cue this video.

The CBA handed down its judgment on the incident this morning, fining both teams 50,000 yuan (about $7,000) and clearing the players for Game 3 in Urumqi.

The Du-Gaines incident is being called "Slapgate" (掌击门) by the Chinese media (hard to believe that American "-gate" suffix has found its way into the Chinese media lexicon, but there it is). Despite being frequently referred to as a punch, Gaines's blow appears to have been delivered with an open hand. That and the way that Du goes down—holding his head up, saying something to Gaines—makes me wonder if Gaines actually KO'd him, or if Du didn't ham it up a bit to extract the maximum penalty for Gaines.

While hitting an opponent like that is unsportsmanlike and never justified, all of the different TV reports I watched only played Gaines's smack over and over again; none of them rewound further to look into what might have set him off, or called attention to the fact that Du raised a closed fist in Gaines's face and gave him a small headbutt to the forehead before getting drilled. Nor did anyone seem to seek out Du or Gaines for a comment on the incident.

Game 3 of the Chinese Basketball Association finals has been moved from tonight to Thursday night, in observation of China's national day of mourning for victims of the earthquake in Qinghai province.

Image: Xinmin.cn

Tags: basketball, CBA, Du Feng, violence

Around the Web: A basketball MVP, a tennis upset, and an unpopular proposal for soccer

Saturday, 20th March 2010 ~ Maggie ~ Link ~ Comments (0)

Mengke Bateer who, unbeknownst to many a casual fan, was the first Chinese player to win an NBA championship, was selected as this season's MVP for the Chinese Basketball Association. The big guy averaged 13.8 points, 9.6 rebounds, 4 assists and 1.2 blocks per game. It looks to me like this is a chance to honor one of China's most historically important players who will probably retire soon (Bateer is 35) than it does like a recognition of a stellar 2009-10 season. Bateer's Xinjiang Guanghui are in second place in league standings, with league playoffs starting next Wednesday. All-Star Weekend is March 20-21 at Wukesong Arena in Beijing.

China's Zheng Jie (seeded 18th) beat Maria Sharapova (seeded 10th) at the BNP Paribas Open, 6-2, 2-6, 6-3. Sharapova was battling injuries in the match at Indian Wells.

Wei Di, the new chief of the Chinese Football Association, has introduced the apparently unpopular idea of entering China's under-21 national team as the 17th side in the Chinese Soccer League, to give those young players more time playing together. He hopes the plan will help him reach his self-imposed goal of qualifying a team for the FIFA World Cup in 2014, without dismantling the centrally planned football development system. The CSL begins play next week.

Gold medal-winning speed skater Zhou Yang angered some sports officials when she thanked her real mother and not Mother China (Reuters). David Yang at China Sports Review argues that the state has a point.

Tags: basketball, CBA, football, Mengke Bateer, soccer, tennis, Wei Di, Zheng Jie

Marbury's debut: Angry fans and a blown save

Sunday, 31st January 2010 ~ Maggie ~ Link ~ Comments (4)

UPDATE: The "journalist friend" mentioned below is Anthony Tao, who was in Taiyuan on assignment for Deadspin. He wrote and reported The Lone Wolf in China, along with a photo gallery.

Stephon Marbury just finished his first game in the Chinese Basketball Association (CBA). Here are a few quick observations:

+ According to a journalist friend who was at the game, Shanxi fans were not happy with the referees, and not shy about showing their disgust. They threw lighters and shouted "Hei shao" (black whistle), accusing the officials of taking bribes.

+ Was the refereeing actually bad? I wouldn't know because only the last few minutes of the game were broadcast on CCTV-5. The national sports channel stuck to its regularly scheduled programming, a home game for the Bayi Rockets, the People's Liberation Army team led by Wang Zhizhi (first Chinese player in the NBA). You don't mess with the PLA's airtime.

+ Marbury clearly was not informed of his role on the team. With 22 seconds to go and down one point, he dished the ball from the top of the key to a man just above the baseline who didn't have much of a scoring opportunity. The play ended up in free throws, which the Shanxi shooter split to tie the game. A Marbury foul at the other end, followed by a made free throw, put Dongguan New Century up 102-101. With 5 seconds left and down one point, Marbury brought the ball up and dished to forward Maurice Taylor for... wait for it... the three! Psst: Stephon, your job was just to drive and score or get fouled. And Mr. Taylor, you had no excuse for being so far from the basket.

+ Shanxi team huddles during timeouts looked chaotic. Coaches spent more time talking to, and apparently arguing with, each other than they did talking to the players.

+ I've never seen a CBA gymnasium so packed. Less than 50 percent attendance seems to be the norm, but Taiyuan had a full house for Marbury's debut.

+ Apparently, even with a sellout crowd, Chinese gyms are still uncomfortably cold. Most fans wore heavy winter coats.

+ The bottom line: Marbury played 28 minutes, had 15 points, 8 assists, 4 rebounds, 4 steals, 2 turnovers and 5 fouls, plus two blown chances to be the savior in a 1-point loss.

Tags: CBA, Maurice Taylor, NBA, Shanxi Zhongyu, Stephon Marbury, Taiyuan


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