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

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

Yao Ming gets in on Shanghai Auto Show hype

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

Yao Ming made a surprise appearance at the 14th Shanghai International Automobile Industry Exhibition yesterday, to shill BMW's new models. Pictures and a brief account of Yao's appearance can be found in this Detroit Free Press blog post by Chrissie Thompson. Thompson, a Free Press business reporter and apparently a frequent visitor to auto shows, has an interesting perspective on one difference between shows in China and elsewhere in the world—a strong preference for hoopla in the form of celebrities, dancing girls and pop music:

Western reporters often view too much hoopla or production during auto show reveals as distraction from good product. Just let us see the car, maybe after unveiling it in a short, dramatic fashion. Don't put a rock star in front of it. One set of dancers might be acceptable. More than one dance? We might start wondering whether the automaker is compensating for a lack of product.

Not in China. Here, automakers say, reporters and bystanders alike expect a show – and the bigger, the better."

Read the rest of Thompson's post and see her photos here.

Tags: cars, Shanghai, sports marketing, Yao Ming

The Next Yao Ming?

Thursday, 17th February 2011 ~ Maggie ~ Link ~ Comments (5)

Zhou Qi, carrying a championship cup and huge new expectations back to China.
Zhou Qi, carrying a championship cup and huge new expectations back to China.
That's what Chinese sports media are calling Zhou Qi (周琦), after he carried China's U16 basketball team to the championship at a youth tournament in Turkey earlier this week. Zhou's breakout performance was in the semifinal against Germany – the 2.15-meter (7-foot) center poured in 41 points, grabbed 28 rebounds and swatted away 15 shots. Zhou had a little extra time to produce in that game, which went into three overtimes before China won, 94-90. He posted 30 points and 17 rebounds in a one-point win over Turkey in the final, and averaged 21 points, 10 rebounds and 5.4 blocks over the course of the seven-game tournament.

"Why hasn't China produced an NBA star since Yao Ming?" is one of the questions I get asked a lot. It's usually a rhetorical question, followed up with a tally of all the flaws of Chinese basketball. It's also a question that carries a greater sense of urgency now that Yao's career is fading fast thanks to injuries.

Basketball writer Yang Yi of Titan Sports News is urging a little restraint ("Next Yao Ming" is a mistake), pointing out that the tournament was an invitational, not a marquee international event, and not a good gauge of how Zhou stacks up against the world's best in his age group (assuming he is even really under 16). Yang also shares some less impressive Zhou statistics: He weighs 83 kilos (183 pounds) and can bench press a wimpy 40.5 (89 pounds).
Put some meat on those bones.
Put some meat on those bones.

See some Zhou highlights here (the Germany game) and here (the Turkey game).

Zhou Qi in the airport image: CQnews.com
Zhou in Turkey game image: sinaimag.cn

Tags: basketball, Yao Ming, Zhou Qi

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 basketball update

Thursday, 7th January 2010 ~ Maggie ~ Link ~ Comments (0)

The NBA is in full swing, and China's domestic league, the Chinese Basketball Association, started play a couple of weeks ago. Here are the top stories in the Chinese basketball world:

Yao Ming's wife Ye Li is having a baby. Good thing we haven't done our "Top Sports Stories of 2010" yet. This child has been talked about since Yao married his sports school sweetheart, the 6'3" Ye Li. Chinese chat rooms are abuzz with speculation: How tall will the baby be? Will she be the first woman to play in the NBA? Will he be an NBA All-Star like Daddy? And can Chinese Internet users please, please be allowed to vote on a name? Here's a Xinhua article on the pregnancy news, along with some great suggestions for names (Yao'Neal is my personal favorite). Yao's been spending some time in China recently, which seems to be good news for the CBA team he is now a part owner of. The Shanghai Sharks are 6-2 and in fourth place in the league.

Yi Jianlian is back and beginning to show some of that potential Kiki Vandeweghe is always talking about. Since returning to the New Jersey Nets' lineup December 23, he has scored at least 22 points in four out of six games. He still needs to rebound more consistently, and the Nets still need to do some more winning, but he's proving that when healthy he is a valuable contributor to the worst team in the league.

The NBA's All-Star voting process is again at risk of an international incident, and China's at the center of it. The NBA declared Yi Jianlian ineligible for the game, knowing that despite barely playing this fall, he might still get enough votes from Chinese fans to make the starting lineup. But David Stern forgot to do the same for Houston Rocket Tracy McGrady, who is now cornering the China vote. Fans of more deserving players (aka, every starting guard in the Western conference) are understandably miffed at the Chinese voting bloc, and calls have been made for McGrady—who has only played in six games this season—to withdraw his name from consideration for the fan-picked starting lineup on the Western All-Star team.

A post is coming soon about the foreigners playing in China's domestic league this year. But two weeks in, the league already seems to be producing its usual bizarre personnel sagas. On Shanxi Zhongyu, the team that brought on Bonzi Wells for a short unhappy stint in the CBA, is reportedly bringing in NBA veteran Jerry Stackhouse to replace a player who supposedly had a fight with team "boss" Wang Xingjiang (Xinhua)

In Changchun, the Jilin Northeast Tigers (purchased this fall by Kenny Huang, a financier involved in buying a stake in the NBA's Cleveland Cavaliers) ditched the disappointing Samaki Walker. Walker wasn't earning his keep, averaging 11 points and 11 points over seven games. His replacement, DeAngelo Collins, had 23 points and 16 rebounds in his first game, a loss to the Shanghai Sharks. According to a recent report in Xinhua, Collins has a history in the CBA, albeit a rocky one: "Collins left the CBA after he abused then head coach Wang Fei and was thrashed by his Chinese teammates during the 2007/2008 season in Zhejiang." Looks all's been forgiven, for now.

Tags: DAngelo Collins, Jiliin Northeast Tigers, NBA, Shanghai Sharks, Shanxi Zhongyu, Tracy McGrady, Yao Ming, Yao Ming baby, Ye Li, Yi Jianlian

China-Cavs deal finally going through?

Wednesday, 16th December 2009 ~ Maggie ~ Link ~ Comments (0)

Huang Jianhua (Kenny Huang, left) in Beijing, June 2009
Huang Jianhua (Kenny Huang, left) in Beijing, June 2009
Remember Kenny Huang (Huang Jianhua, or 黄健华)? Last May, he launched a bid to buy a 15 percent stake in the Cleveland Cavaliers NBA franchise, immediately spurring speculation that he might bring Yao Ming and Lebron together. Huang kept a low media profile at the time. A few weeks later, he showed up in Beijing announcing sketchy plans to launch a youth baseball league. And this fall, he picked up a CBA (Chinese Basketball Association) franchise, the Jilin Northeast Tigers, for an undisclosed amount.

Yesterday, Reuters reported that Huang's deal fell through and that another group, led by another Chinese investor, one Albert Hung, is now buying that stake from Camelot Venture Group and David Katzman, former Cavs vice chairman.

But apparently Huang is not out of the picture. "Mr. Kenny Huang and Mr. Albert Hung are partners in the same company," a spokesperson for Huang told China Sports Today Tuesday. "Kenny will focus more with his investment in China while Mr. Hung will deal more with the Cavs matters going forward."

It would have been pretty embarrassing for Huang if he'd been completely squeezed out of the deal. When he made the baseball announcement in Beijing, he was calling his company QSL Sports, short for Qishi Lianmeng (骑士联盟), or Cavalier Alliance.

According to Reuters, Hung and company are paying cash and the deal should be finalized by the end of the year. According to the Cleveland Plain Dealer, the Cavaliers and Quicken Loans Arena have already signed a multi-year sponsorship deal with Tsing Tsao, China's ubiquitous domestic beer brand. The story doesn't explain what role Huang had in that deal, saying only that the parties signed it "With Huang standing over their shoulders."

The Cavs purchase is interesting and the other moves that Huang has made in Chinese sports—the baseball program, the CBA team–suggest his involvement with the Cavs is just meant to be one piece in a future sports empire.

In the above-mentioned Plain Dealer story, Brian Windhorst is clearly a big-time believer in Huang. The story opens: "Kenny Huang is a man who understands." The next paragraph lists Huang's Trans-Pacific credentials, followed by this:

"When he sees the Cavaliers and LeBron James he thinks big, grand long-term ideas. Then he executes them."

Slurp, slurp. What big, grand long-term ideas have been executed here? Windhorst finds Huang impressive that he cites him as a source for gauging the relative popularity of NBA teams in China:

"Huang said interest in the Cavs has exploded in China and they have surpassed the Houston Rockets, who have Chinese national hero Yao Ming, in popularity."

We're not saying that Huang Jianhua isn't likely to have interesting things up his sleeve, and big-time plans for the Chinese sports market. And we're not saying that the Plain Dealer hasn't done some decent reporting on Huang (witness this article from last May). But it's a little early to crown him MVP of Sino-U.S. deal-making.

Chinese investors buying stake in Cavs
Huang bets on baseball
NBA.com: Cavs new part owners interested in signing Yao
QSL's China baseball partnership still in very early planning stages

Tags: Albert Hung, baseball, basketball, Huang Jianhua, Kenny Huang, Lebron James, NBA, QSL, Yao Ming


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