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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

Men's national basketball team cruise to East Asia semis in Nanjing

Tuesday, 14th June 2011 ~ Maggie ~ Link ~ Comments (0)

Retired national team veteran Li Nan is on the bench for China at East Asian Championships
Retired national team veteran Li Nan is on the bench for China at East Asian Championships
China's men's basketball team has cruised into the semifinals at the East Asian Championships in Nanjing, with wins over Hong Kong and Korea. They face Japan tonight at 7:30 Beijing time.

China romped over Hong Kong 104-43, allowing only 16 points in the first half. Then they rode their height advantage and South Korea's foul trouble to a 61-54 win Sunday. Three-point shooting was dismal for both teams — China shot 3 for 16, and South Korea 1 for 18.

The tournament, in Nanjing, is a qualifier for the FIBA Asia Championship September 15 to 25 in Wuhan. As host, China qualifies automatically. The team has an unfamiliar look right now, with several national team regulars resting and three players on the roster serving out a FIBA suspension. Zhu Fangyu (three games), Sun Yue and Zhang Bo (one game each) all were issued suspensions by FIBA for their parts in a bench-clearing brawl in a game against a Brazilian team last fall. Wang Zhizhi, Yi Jianlian, Liu Wei, Wang Shipeng, Ding Jinhui and Zhang Qingpeng are all being rested, leaving some younger players with the chance to get some more international playing experience.

As pointed out by Jon Pastuszek at Niubball.com, the chance for its starts to serve their suspensions with no real consequence for the team might be the best thing about this tournament for Team China.

Li Nan image: Osports.cn via Sohu.com

Tags: basketball, FIBA, Li Nan, Nanjing, Sun Yue, Zhang Bo, Zhu Fangyu

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

"Young" China team ousted from World Championships

Wednesday, 8th September 2010 ~ Maggie ~ Link ~ Comments (0)

After a 1-4 start set them up to face one of the tournament's top teams in the knockout round, China made its exit from the FIBA World Championships (basketball) last night, losing to Lithuania, 78-67.

The highlight of the tournament for Team China was the play of Yi Jianlian, who averaged 20 points and 10 rebounds, and took it to the competition with some aggressive play inside. His performance has Washington Wizards bloggers buzzing about what he might bring to their team this year—but playing well in international tournaments has never been Yi's problem. It's when he goes up against NBA bodies that he seems to wither. And he's already a little banged up, sitting on the bench for China's game against Turkey with a sore Achilles tendon.

The low point of the tournament for Team China was a 47-point loss to Turkey. With Yi out of the lineup, China only managed to scrounge up an anemic 40 points—and just 6 and 7 in the first two quarters. Not surprisingly, the loss led to some questions in Chinese sports media as to whether new coach Bob Donewald is the right man for the job.

As he starts facing more scrutiny from Chinese media. Donewald is benefiting from a misguided "young and inexperienced" label placed on China by lots of sports media. It's true that they are playing without veteran centers Yao Ming and Mengke Bateer, and elder statesman Li Nan has finally traded his jersey for an assistant coach's polo shirt, but the average age for the starting lineup is over 27. And that's before you take into account the rampant downward adjustment of ages that goes on in Chinese basketball. All of the starters played in the 2008 Olympics, and four of them—Yi, Wang Zhizhi, Liu Wei and Sun Yue—have NBA experience (point guard Liu only played in some pre-season games, but the rest al signed with teams for the regular season). Despite all of that, most Chinese media describe the team as young—a convenient excuse for its 1-5 record in Turkey.

Next up for China is the Asian Games in Guangzhou this November. Yi will stay with the team through then, before returning to the Wizards.

Tags: basketball, Bob Donewald, FIBA, Li Nan, Liu Wei, Sun Yue, Wang Shipeng, Wang Zhizhi, Yi Jianlian

Looking back: China's top 10 sports stories in 2009

Monday, 21st December 2009 ~ Maggie ~ Link ~ Comments (0)

The Bird's Nest is just one of a growing number of white elephants in China. Jinan's Olympic Stadium, above, was built for this year's National Games.
The Bird's Nest is just one of a growing number of white elephants in China. Jinan's Olympic Stadium, above, was built for this year's National Games.
Back in January, we speculated about what sports headlines would make the biggest impact this year. While many of the things we predicted came to pass (Beijing Guo'an won the national soccer championship, Liu Xiang's return was watched by millions), China's sports world had plenty of surprises in 2009. Here are the 10 we think mattered the most:

1. Chinese soccer league match fixing
Bribery, match fixing, betting—the Chinese Soccer League has long been tainted with some of sport's worst scourges. In November, police arrested 16 players, coaches and officials in an attempt to clean up the league. But observers say that a lot more still needs to be done.

2.Chinese swimming makes a splash in Rome
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When Zhang Lin became China's first male swimming world champ in Rome this summer--winning the 800-meter freestyle in world record time--media quickly crowned him the Liu Xiang of the pool. But unlike Liu, Zhang had some backup from his teammates, as China put in its best ever performance at the world meet. With 4 golds and 10 medals, China was behind only the United States and Germany. Though Zhang Lin dominated the headlines, it was the women—led by Liu Zige and Zhao Jing--who were responsible for China's breakout. Female swimmers accounted for all but two of China's medals, and three of the four golds.

3. Diving judging scandal

China's national games diving competition was shaken up when one judge quit late in the competition, and then leveled accusations that results were fixed and that Zhou Jihong, head of the Chinese diving federation, calls all the shots.

4. Sports official spills secrets
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Former national volleyball coach and long-time senior sports administration leader Yuan Weimin published his memoir, "Yuan Weimin: Storms of the Chinese Sports World" in October. Among the stories in Yuan's memoir that are making sports officials squirm is the tale of a shady vote-trading arrangement that put Belgium's Jacques Rogge at the head of the International Olympic Committee and brought the 2008 games to Beijing.

4. Empty Nest

The Beijing Olympics' iconic building, Beijing National Stadium--aka the Bird's Nest, aka a $400 million project that takes $70 million to maintain annually, aka a venue that required the relocation of thousands of families—has hosted only four events since the games ended 16 months ago (including an opera and a martial arts show that couldn't have possibly turned a profit). The situation is so bad that in the fall, the state took back operating control of the venue from its private owners.

5. Liu Xiang's return

A grimacing Liu Xiang limping around the Bird's Nest track was one of the most potent images of the 2008 Olympics in Beijing. The former Olympic and world record holder in the 110-meter hurdles, an athlete who rivals Yao Ming in prominence in China, was unable to run because of an injury to his Achilles tendon. More than a year later, he put doubts to rest about whether his career was finished, returning to competition in the Shanghai Golden Grand Prix, where he finished second in a 13.15-second photo finish.

6. China win's women's curling worlds

Curling? On a top 10 list? Stick with me here… When China's women's curling team won world championships last year, skipper Wang Bingyu and her teammates became instant media stars on the mainland. The current team is China's first generation of curlers, and if Canada doesn't figure out how to beat them at the 2010 Winter Olympics, curling will become only the second team sport in which China has won an Olympic gold medal (women's volleyball being the other, in 1984 and 2004).

7. Dealmaker Kenny Huang

Last May, news broke that a Chinese investor was nearing a deal to purchase a 15 percent stake in the Cleveland Cavaliers NBA franchise. That investor was Huang Jianhua, or Kenny Huang, who subsequently made a deal to promote youth baseball with the Chinese Baseball Association and to purchase a team in the Chinese Basketball Association. Last week, reports indicated that the Cavs purchase might go through before the end of the year. The lead on the deal is now Albert Hung, but Huang's still very much involved and seems to have dreams of a Chinese sports empire--keep an eye on this guy.

9. HSBC Champions

Shanghai's HSBC Champions golf tournament was elevated this year to World Golf Championship status, with $7 million in prize money. Phil Mickelson and Ernie Els finished first and second, and China got its last look at a squeaky clean Tiger Woods, who finished sixth. In his reporting on the event for ESPN, Shanghaiist editor Dan Washburn wrote that the event was well timed, as the inclusion of golf in the Olympics could provide a boost to the sport's popularity and official support here. HSBC Champions returns to Shanghai next year, which means it will take place alongside the Shanghai World Expo.

10. China disappears from the NBA

While Huang buys his way into the NBA, Chinese players are limping out. Yao Ming is missing the current season with a foot fracture, and the Nets' Yi Jianlian played just four games before sitting out at least the next 24 with injuries. The next great hope, Sun Yue, was dropped by the Lakers, then picked up and dropped by the New York Knicks. The NBA could really use another once-in-a-lifetime athlete like Yao right about now.

Related:
Zhang Lin, China's first male swimming champ

China Daily: Enthusiasm fades for Bird's Nest

LA Times on Yuan Weimin

ESPN.go.com: Olympics makes China major player in golf

Tags: Bird's Nest, curling, Dan Washburn, football, HSBC Champions, Huang Jianhua, Kenny Huang, Liu Xiang, Liu Zige, NBA, soccer, Sun Yue, Yi Jianlian, Yuan Weimin, Zhang Lin

Giants of Chinese basketball play tonight

Wednesday, 21st October 2009 ~ Maggie ~ Link ~ Comments (0)

Quick, who was the first Chinese guy to play in the NBA?

A. Yao Ming
B. Wang Zhizhi
C. Ma Jian
D. Mengke Bateer

If you guessed Yao Ming, I can't blame you, but you're wrong. Wang Zhizhi was drafted by the Dallas Mavericks in 1999, and suited up two years later. He didn't join the team until the professional season in China was over in the spring of 2001. He went on to play five seasons in the league, with a career average of 9 minutes and 4 points per game.

Okay, I'll give you another chance. Who was the first Chinese player to win an NBA championship?

A. Sun Yue
B. Wang Zhizhi
C. Mengke Bateer
D. Kobe Bryant

Sun Yue got a ring as a Los Angeles Laker last season, despite being relegated to the D-League before the playoffs. But he wasn't the first Chinese player on a championship team. That honor goes to Mengke Bateer, a 6'11" Mongolian who was traded to the San Antonio Spurs in his second season, in time to share in their 2003 championship.

Now that you know who they are, if you're in China, you can watch them play tonight. Wang and Bateer, two aging giants of Chinese basketball, will face each other in the preliminaries of the Chinese National Games tournament. The game comes on at 7 p.m. on CCTV-5.

Wang Zhizhi (left) and Mengke Bateer pose together in 2002.
Wang Zhizhi (left) and Mengke Bateer pose together in 2002.


Wang/Bateer image: Sohu.com

Tags: basketball, Mengke Bateer, national games, NBA, Sun Yue, Wang Zhizhi, Yao Ming

Good News, Bad News in Chinese Sports World

Tuesday, 15th September 2009 ~ Maggie ~ Link ~ Comments (0)

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Bad news in volleyball: China loses Asian Championship

When China loses to tiny countries in most team sports, it comes as no surprise. But women's volleyball is supposed to be the exception, the team sport that brought China its first team sport gold medal in 1984 and produced one of its most successful sports exports, Jenny Lang Ping, until recently head coach of the U.S. women's team. That history just adds to the sting of China's 3-1 loss to Thailand at the Asian championships over the weekend. Thailand was seeded third in the tournament, so they didn't exactly come out of nowhere, but they have never won an Asian championship before and didn't even qualify for the 2008 Olympics, where China won bronze against a tough field. Xinhua called the final "thrilling,", but Thailand won each of the last two sets by a margin of 25-19.

Image: English.cri.cn

Good news in track and field: Liu Xiang's return

Liu Xiang will compete at next week's Shanghai Golden Grand Prix (September 20), lacing up his racing shoes for the first time since he limped and winced his way out of competition at last year's summer Olympics. Liu, one-time world record holder, world champion and Olympic champion in the 110-meter hurdles, is the only Chinese man to ever win Olympic gold in a track event and by far the country's most visible athlete product endorser. Liu's camp is managing expectations, according to this report from the Wall Street Journal. Liu made his announcement after it became clear that the event's reigning Olympic champ and world record holder, Cuba's Dayron Robles, wouldn't be making the trip to Shanghai. Robles pulled out of World Championships in Berlin last month due to a hamstring injury. The new world champ is Ryan Brathwaite, a 21-year-old Barbadian who ran a 13.14 in Berlin. World runner-up, American Terrence Trammell, is also considered a threat to Liu.

Bad news in track and field: A Bolt-less Grand Prix in Shanghai

Usain Bolt, the hottest name in track and field, won't compete in Shanghai next week, and is also skipping an upcoming competition in South Korea. The Jamaican sprinter says he's suffering from fatigue—too many chicken nuggets? It's disappointing news for Chinese fans, and a little puzzling given that returning to China to compete should only help him sell more Puma shoes here.

Good news in basketball: Sun Yue gets a break

The New York Knicks have signed Chinese guard Sun Yue to a non-guaranteed contract, according to multiple media reports. Sun's had a rough NBA run, though we suspect it's been a smoothed a bit by the fact that he garners a little more attention in China for any team that gets involved with him. The Lakers drafted him in 2007, but he didn't get a contract until after the Beijing Olympics. He played in 10 games for the Los Angeles Lakers last year in his rookie season, averaging less than one point, and was relegated to the D-League in March.

Tags: athletics, basketball, Liu Xiang, Shanghai Golden Grand Prix, Sun Yue, track and field, Usain Bolt, volleyball

FIBA Asia Tournament: Tonight's the night to start watching

Tuesday, 11th August 2009 ~ Maggie ~ Link ~ Comments (0)

Yi Jianlian and Team China face tougher opponents starting tonight.
Yi Jianlian and Team China face tougher opponents starting tonight.
If you've caught any of CCTV-5's broadcasts of the FIBA Asia Championships from Tianjin, you might be wondering when, if ever, this tournament will give you the chance to see some decent basketball.

So far, it's been pretty ugly. China's got a record of 4-0 in the tournament, with an average 36-point margin of victory, including a 121-49 win over India. And that wasn't even the most lopsided contest of the tournament. That honor goes to the Japan-Sri Lanka game, which Japan won, 148-45.

The men-against-boys part of the tournament is coming to a close, though. China's games should get better tonight against Lebanon (7 p.m. Beijing time, CCTV-5) and tomorrow night against Jordan (7 p.m.). For China's fans, coming out of this tournament with anything less than first place will be looked on as a failure. The path to the top of the medal stand would most likely require victories over South Korea and Iran, the reigning FIBA Asia champion. Iran has the best answer to China's strength inside--Hamed Ehadadi, a 7-foot-2-inch center who had a quiet rookie season with the NBA's Memphis Grizzlies but is leading all players at the Tianjin tournament in rebounds (11.6) and blocks (4.2) per game.

Tomorrow night's China-Jordan game will be followed directly by a good matchup between South Korea and Iran. For a full schedule and results, go to FIBA.com. Another good site for information on the tournament, and on Asian basketball in general, is Asia-basket.com.

Yi Jianlian Image: Xinhua

Tags: basketball, FIBA, Sun Yue, Yi Jianlian

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