Yi-haw: Texas, the NBA's most Chinese state

Wednesday, 11th January 2012 ~ Maggie ~ Link ~ Comments (0)

Yi Jianlian becomes the fourth Chinese player to join a Texas NBA squad.
Yi Jianlian becomes the fourth Chinese player to join a Texas NBA squad.
After a pair of strong performances with the Dallas Mavericks' D-League team, Yi Jianlian has been called back up to play with the big boys. Yi posted double-doubles (17 points, 11 rebounds; 29 points, 13 rebounds).

The defending champion Mavs are Yi's fourth NBA team in five seasons. He shines in international play, but has never developed into a strong contributor on an NBA team.

Most stories about the Mavs picking up Yi have rightly pointed out that Del Harris, the coach of D-League squad Texas Legends, coached Yi at the 2004 Olympics in Athens. However, they don't normally point out that Harris played a big role in getting then-16-year-old (cough, cough, okay, 18) Yi on the team and making him a starter –even though he was not yet a starter in the CBA. Harris' success as the national team coach in 2004 has helped make him more famous in China than he is in the United States.
Wang Zhizhi (left) became the first Chinese player in the NBA when the Dallas Mavericks drafted him 36th in 1999, but the Chinese army team kept him out of the NBA for two years; the Houston Rockets selected Yao Ming with the first pick in the 2002 draft.
Wang Zhizhi (left) became the first Chinese player in the NBA when the Dallas Mavericks drafted him 36th in 1999, but the Chinese army team kept him out of the NBA for two years; the Houston Rockets selected Yao Ming with the first pick in the 2002 draft.

With Yi's arrival on the Mavs, Texas officially and firmly becomes the state with the strongest NBA-China connection. All but one of the five Chinese players who have played in the league have come through Texas (only Sun Yue, Lakers and Knicks, has not). The first (Wang Zhizhi, Dallas Mavericks), the most famous (Yao Ming, Houston Rockets), and the first champion (Mengke Bateer, San Antonio Spurs) all balled in Texas. The only other state to host more than one is California, with brief quiet stints for Sun on the Lakers and Wang on the Clippers.

Bateer didn't get much playing time, but he was the first from his country to get a ring, with the 2002-03 San Antonio Spurs
Bateer didn't get much playing time, but he was the first from his country to get a ring, with the 2002-03 San Antonio Spurs

Yi in Mavs jersey image: JWB.com.cn

Tags: basketball, Dallas Mavericks, Del Harris, Mengke Bateer, NBA, Sun Yue, Wang Zhizhi, Yao Ming, Yi Jianlian

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

Around the Web: Football fail, Yao retirement countdown, Action sports in China

Thursday, 23rd June 2011 ~ Maggie ~ Link ~ Comments (0)

Football Fail

Life isn't getting any easier for Chinese football fans. Despite playing in Shanghai against a team whose country's population is less than a fifth of Shanghai's, China's men's Olympic team lost its London 2012 qualifier to Oman, 1-0. (Oman humiliates China in Shanghai — China Daily) The Chinese team gets another shot Thursday, this time in the scorching summer sun of Oman. China's women's team is usually a bright spot in the country's football program, but they failed to qualify for the 2011 Women's World Cup, which starts next week in Germany.

Yao Ming: "I do not dare say I am optimistic right now."

After saying a few weeks ago that he badly wants his daughter to see him play in the NBA, Yao Ming seems to be preparing his fans and his team for the likelihood that his playing days are over. Speculation about the big man's retirement has been building since after the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, when he managed to recover from a foot fracture to compete. Despite Houston's strategy last season of limiting his playing time to less than half of each game, he didn't even make it through November. Yao's contract expires June 30 – don't be surprised if you see the Houston Rockets select a center with the 12th pich in the NBA Draft Thursday night in Newark.

Action sports' prospects in China

We're a little late to share this with you, but it's still relevant. Thoughtful China, a new weekly online show from branded content creator Thoughtful Media dedicated to analysis of Chinese business news and trends, recently did a piece on action sports. Coming on the heel of the Kia XGames Asia, held in Shanghai for the fifth time, the show looks at the growth of these sports here, through the eyes of some figures in China's sports business world. Appearing on the show are Harvey Davis, ESPN's vice president of event management; Chien Hwang, executive creative director at TBWA China; and Eric Lai, sports marketing manager, China at Converse. Perhaps the best observation on the show comes from Hwang, who notes that brands that help foster the growth of a sport in China will see a much bigger return than those that wait for a sport to catch on before investing in it.

To watch from inside China, here's the GFW-friendly link
To watch from outside China, here's the Youtube-friendly link

Tags: action sports, football, Kia XGames, NBA, soccer, Yao Ming

Quick Hits: Gymnastics, boxing, beach volleyball, NBA

Wednesday, 27th October 2010 ~ Maggie ~ Link ~ Comments (0)

China's men's gymnastics, 2010 World Champions
China's men's gymnastics, 2010 World Champions

Gold for Chinese men at gymnastics worlds

China's men's gymnastics team won gold at last week's Artistic Gymnastics World Championship in Rotterdam, Netherlands, barely beating out runner-up Japan, and setting up a big showdown with their rivals at November's Asian Games. The Chinese team consisted of: Chen Yibing (rings, vault), Feng Zhe (vault, parallel bars, uneven bars), Teng Haibin (pommel horse, parallel bars, uneven bars), Yan Mingyong (pommel horse, rings), Lu Bo (floor, pommel horse, rings, vault, parallel bars) and Zhang Chenglong (floor, uneven bars). Click here for complete results.

The women weren't quite as successful as the men, taking third in the team competition, behind Russia and the United States. On the team were Jiang Yuyuan (vault uneven bars, beam, floor), He Kexin (uneven bars), Sui Lu (beam, floor), Huang Qiushuang (vault, uneven bars, floor), Deng Linlin (beam) and Yang Yilin (vault). Click here for complete results.

China was the top medal winner overall at the championships, with 4 gold medals, 4 silvers and 1 bronze.

World Series of Boxing's Beijing team

The new World Series of Boxing, launched by the International Boxing Association (AIBA) and set to begin November 19, includes a Chinese team, the Beijing Dragons. The team is owned by the Yeland Boxing Club, a subsidiary of a real estate company called the Yeland Group. The team is coached by Wu Xiaosong, and features 13 Chinese boxers and three internationals, from Brazil, Senegal and Ghana.

The series is divided into three conferences—Asia, Americas and Europe. Beijing's home fights take place November 27, December 18, January 15, January 29, February 19, and March 12 (schedule). The post-season runs from April through a final on May 11.

Rockets-Lakers opener

The Houston Rockets and Los Angeles Lakers will open the season against each other in LA tonight (Tuesday, October 26, 7:30 p.m. LA time; October 27, 10:30 a.m. Beijing time). It's a great matchup for the Chinese market, which has plenty of fans of both teams, and is eager to see how Yao looks after a season off rehabbing after a broken foot (Houston Chronicle: Rockets look to steal show in opener against Lakers)

Two golds for China in beach volleyball championship

China dominated the Asian Volleyball Confederation Beach Volleyball Championship in Haikou last week. Zhang Xi and Xue Chen won the women's gold (http://www.asianvolleyball.org/beach/2010-10-25/333115.html), easily beating a pair from Kazakhstan. The Chinese men had two duos in the medals—Wu Penggen and Xu Linyin won the gold, and Gao Peng and Li Jian took bronze. The next competition for Asia's beach volleyball stars is the Asian Games in Guangzhou, with the early rounds starting November 15, women's finals on the 23rd, and men's finals on the 24th.

China men's gymnastics team image: News.cnnb.com

Tags: beach volleyball, boxing, Gymnastics, Houston Rockets, Los Angeles Lakers, NBA

NJ Nets big in China? Show me the game plan

Friday, 22nd October 2010 ~ Maggie ~ Link ~ Comments (2)

The New Jersey Nets are going to be big in China—just ask the New Jersey Nets. Judging from his comments in a recent New York Times piece inspired by the Nets' trip to Russia and China, Nets CEO Brett Yormark believes the Nets are destined to build a huge fan base in China. The story is called For the Nets, a Journey Toward Becoming a Global Brand Has Just Begun

Michael Wines writes:

"Brett Yormark is talking about the incredible global marketing potential of the New Jersey Nets, a concept — New Jersey, the Nets and global marketing potential — that might seem unlikely until you hear his pitch, and remember that two years from now, they will probably be the New York Nets.

Or the New York-London Nets. Or maybe the Newyorkmoscowlondonbeijing Nets."

Yes, the Nets have had the most international pre-season of any NBA team, with visits to Russia and China. And next spring, they will take on the Toronto Raptors in the first NBA regualr season games to be played outside of North America. And their new owner, Mikhail Prokhorov, is a Russian billionaire. But when it comes to China, despite a year with a Chinese player on their roster, the Nets lack a strong following.
Like the Milwaukee Bucks before them, the Nets traded away their best link to China
Like the Milwaukee Bucks before them, the Nets traded away their best link to China

I can't comment as to the Nets' situation in the UK or Russia. But after an historically bad season in 2009-10, they traded away their best link to China, when they sent Yi Jianlian to the Washington Wizards in May. Dropping Yi will mean the team loses much of its media exposure on the mainland, where having a Chinese player on your roster means free air time—magazine features on him and his teammates, regular columns and sections in the sports newspapers dedicated to your franchise, highlights on the evening news every time he's in a game, and a higher percentage of your games broadcast. That all goes to the Washington Wizards, whose rookie John Wall is sure to sell lots of jerseys in Yi's home province, Guangdong.

The Yi trade was largely considered a move to create cap space for then-soon-to-be free agent Lebron James, which would have helped address the team's second problem in China, which is also a problem in the United States—the fact that they have never won an NBA championship.

But apparently Nets CEO Yormark thinks that the team has a unique appeal that will translate to international success. Wines quotes Yormark:

"I've been in the business now for 20-plus years, and I don't think there's a franchise in any sport right now that has the type of clarity and 'runway,' as I call it, over the course of the next couple of years, as we do."

Prokhorov not only predicts a playoff appearance this year, and a title within five. He also says: "This will be the first truly global team in the NBA, with exceptional international exposure no other team can reach." (NJ.com)

In actuality, the Nets are far from a big hit in China, and the team has revealed no plans that are likely to change that. If a visit to Beijing translated into a new fan base, you would see a lot more Nuggets and Pacers jerseys around the city (those two teams played the NBA China Games in the 2009 preseason).

The teams that are big in China, according to three years of informal polling by yours truly, are the Los Angeles Lakers (recent championship, one of the best two players in the league), Houston Rockets (Yao Ming) and Chicago Bulls (Michael Jordan, 90s run of championships). The Boston Celtics (recent championship) and San Antonio Spurs (recent championships, first Chinese player to win an NBA championship) are on the second tier. Even the Dallas Mavericks seem to have faded in popularity, despite being the first NBA team to welcome a Chinese player, drafting Wang Zhizhi in 1999.

In sports, as in other business, there seems to be an over exuberant belief in what a visit to China can do for your brand. Fans can be forgiven for thinking that all China needs is to see their team up close, and they'll fall in love. It's not that simple—the trip is only a first step, and will amount to nothing without a strategic, long-term approach.

If the Nets want to boost their image in China, they'll need to put the right spin on their upcoming move. I love Brooklyn, but most Chinese people do not. Every conversation I have had with Chinese friends about the borough indicates that most regard it as dirty and dangerous. It's not an image that can be changed with an ad campaign or a flashy new arena. The New York Nets would be much more palatable to Beijingers, but while you're changing the name, why not take advantage of the opportunity to call yourself something more exciting? Would Dragons or Tigers be a pathetically obvious overture to China?

Yi Jianlian Nets image: fjsen.com

Tags: Mikhail Prokhorov, NBA, New Jersey Nets, Yi Jianlian

Yao's trip to China for Rockets-Nets preseason series

Tuesday, 19th October 2010 ~ Maggie ~ Link ~ Comments (0)

This year's annual NBA China Games was supposed to be NBA China's dream matchup—seven-time all-star Yao Ming of the Houston Rockets facing Yi Jianlian on their home soil. But after Yi was traded to the Washington Wizards, the games became all about Yao and the Rockets.

Game 1 was in Beijing, and Houston won, 91-81. Yao played 19 minutes, scored 9 points, and grabbed 4 rebounds. The Rockets also took Game 2 in Guangzhou, and Yao notched 10 points and 5 rebounds, again in 19 minutes.

Here's a look at some of the stories about Yao and the games:

Long-time Rockets writer Jonathan Feigen at the Houston Chronicle takes a quick look at the arc of Yao's career, that the 14-year-old who watched the NBA's first live broadcast in China grew up play a key role in the league's progress and popularity in China. Some interesting facts from Feigen's piece:

Between 3 and 5 percent of NBA revenue comes from China, according to David Stern.
Rockets games average more than 30 million viewers, says Rockets CEO Tad Brown.
Most seasons, about 7 of the Rockets 85 sponsors are Chinese brands, representing 5 percent of sponsorship revenue.

Sports Illustrated Yao's struggle to return to playing form after his May 2009 foot injury, and speculates about the impact that the center, reportedly on a 24-minutes-per-game plan for the coming season, can make.

CBS Sports says Yao looked as good as could be expected in his limited minutes in Beijing

The Houston Chronicle reminds us that Yao's teammates and the Rockets franchise enjoy a share of his spoils in the Chinese market. Shane Battier, Luis Scola and Kyle Lowry all have sneaker contracts with Chinese brands. (Rockets enjoy Chinese endorsement deals due to Yao)

Tags: Houston Rockets, NBA, NBA China Games, New Jersey Nets, Yao Ming

China Sports Update: Huang, Yi Jianlian, MLB, Starbury

Tuesday, 31st August 2010 ~ Maggie ~ Link ~ Comments (0)

Yi Jianlian, Washington Wizard, in a Washington Bullets jersey
Yi Jianlian, Washington Wizard, in a Washington Bullets jersey

Sometimes we get a little bit behind at keeping you up to date here at CST. Sorry about that, but below are a few of the top recent stories:

Huang and QSL never made a formal bid for Liverpool FC

Kenny Huang, Marc Ganis and their company QSL are completely out of the Liverpool FC buying discussion. And accoring to a recent report in the Telegraph, they never made a formal bid. QSL seems to be blaming the deal's evaporation on all the publicity, claiming it caused their key investor to walk away. Hmm… A Chinese investor thought it was going to quietly buy an English Premier League team? Huang's now 0-2 on these big-league bids, and he was confident enough about the first one to name his company after it (QSL stands for Qishi Lianmeng, Cavalier Group, a name chosen while the company was hoping to buy a stake in the NBA's Cleveland Cavaliers). With these high-profile fails in two of the globe's biggest sports leagues, he's sure to be viewed more skeptically in the future.

Yi Jianlian eludes NBA China's grasp, again

Every October, two NBA teams come to play exhibition games in a few Chinese cities. Last year, the Denver Nuggets played the Indiana Pacers. In 2008, the Milwaukee Bucks played the Golden State Warriors—a matchup that would have brought Yi Jianlian back home to play, if he hadn't been traded to the New Jersey Nets on the eve of the 2008 NBA Draft.

Yi's slipped through the NBA marketing department's fingers yet again. This spring, the NBA scheduled the Houston Rockets to play the New Jersey Nets, in what would have been an historic opportunity to see China's two current NBA players go head-to-head in Beijing and Guangzhou. But the Nets sent Yi to the Washington Wizards, so Yao Ming, if he's actually back on the court by then, will be the only Chinese national in the game.

Right now, Yi's busy in Turkey, where he's leading the Chinese national team at the FIBA World Championships. China is 1-1 with a loss to Greece and a win over Cote d'Ivoire (who are sponsored by Chinese basketball apparel brand Peak). He's averaging 26 and 11. In the next game, August 31, China faces Puerto Rico and Yi has a chance to avenge his dismal 3-for-15, 11-point performance against them at Madison Square Garden two weeks ago.

MLB still swingin'

Despite its sport being dropped from the Olympics, Major League Baseball has not given up on China. The Washington Post just ran a great update (with some nice photos) on the MLB's China activities, which are largely focused on a training academy in Wuxi, where players learn the game under the direction of Rick Dell, who has been key to MLB's Asia efforts for years now. Interesting takeaway from this piece: It implies that the teenagers training in Wuxi now are being groomed with the hopes not that they will make the big leauges, but that they will train the players from the next generation who will.

Starbury to return, with more shoes

Stephon Marbury's coming back to Taiyuan this year, to play for the CBA's Shanxi Zhongyu, with whom he's signed a two-year contract with an option for a third. This time, Marbury's taking a more strategic approach to marketing his Starbury shoes in China, reports the Wall Street Journal.

Yi Jianlian in a Bullets jersey image: Hi.baidu.com

Tags: English Premier League, FIBA World Championships, Huang Jianhua, Kenny Huang, Liverpool FC, MLB, NBA, QSL, Stephon Marbury, Yi Jianlian


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