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

RELIEF: China's men's basketball team win Asian Championships, qualify for London

Wednesday, 28th September 2011 ~ Maggie ~ Link ~ Comments (0)

China's men's basketball team avoided the fate of the country's much-maligned football team by winning the FIBA Asia Championship, which qualifies them for the 2012 Olympics in London.

After beating Jordan 70-69, China now has nearly a year to prepare for the Olympics — a loss against Jordan would have sent them to the FIBA Olympic Qualifying Tournament next July to compete for the three remaining spots with 11 other teams including Puerto Rico, Angola and Asian runner-up Jordan.

The team's undefeated performance in Wuhan was in stark contrast to its winless showing in a test event in London this summer. There, China showed it has a lot of work to do to compete with the best in the West, with losses to Australia, Serbia, France, Britain and Croatia.

Yi Jianlian proved once again that, despite a lackluster NBA career so far, he can make a huge impact for China in international play. He was the tournament MVP and notched 25 points, 16 rebounds and six blocks in the final — and he made the crucial free throw that gave China the 70-69 win over Jordan in the gold medal game. No doubt once the NBA is back in business, Yi's FIBA performance will catch the eye of the next poor owner to get excited about the "23"-year-old's "upside."

Asian Championships were the best remaining chance for China to qualify for London, and mainland fans were fully aware. According to FIBA, China's semifinal against Korea beat out the French Open women's final to become the year's most-watched sporting event on CCTV-5, with 81 million people tuning in. The game peaked at 35 million viewers —compare that to a peak of 30.5 million watching NBC's broadcast of the NFL season opener, a rematch between last season's Super Bowl contenders.

For more on the highlights of the tournament, check out this report from Jon Pastuszek at Niubball, written just before the quarterfinals. He's got some Wang Zhizhi highlights, brief analysis of Yao's color commentary, and the goods on some of the tournament's politics, including the Koreans' complaints about practice time and Qatar's "We're-all-fouling-out-so-there" protest of a FIBA ruling.

Image of Chinese men's national basketball team: Sina.comp=2#

Tags: 2012 Olympics, basketball, Wuhan, Yi Jianlian

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

"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

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

Zero Tolerance for Sloppiness: China's Age-faking problem

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

China is taking a zero-tolerance stance and adopting new measures to ensure its athletes meet age requirements for international competition, said Cai Zhenhua, vice president of the State General Administration of Sport, according to this report in China Daily. Cai says that the new approach starts with the upcoming Youth Olympics August 14 to 26 in Singapore. Athletes have been asked to furnish six different forms of ID, listed by China Daily as: "birth certificates, ID cards, passports, domestic athlete registration cards and domestic and international authentication for competitions."
Yi Jianlian's high school ID, listing him as born in 1984
Yi Jianlian's high school ID, listing him as born in 1984

The article adds that "athletes under 16 have also undergone bone-age checks through nuclear magnetic resonance." China Daily not explain why athletes who claim to be over 16 aren't required to take the tests.

But how much can these new regulations really do to solve China's age-faking problem? The country's national teams aren't generally thought to be the source of the practice. It begins much earlier in athletes' careers, when they are competing for their provinces. Leaders of those teams receive bonuses tied to performance in national and international competition. These bonuses can represent a major portion of their pay, so there is a strong incentive to shave a couple of years off (in sports like basketball and soccer, so players can enter youth competition for longer) or tack a couple on (in sports like diving and gymnastics, where young girls' flexible bodies are an advantage).

No doubt China wants to avoid future embarrassment like it experienced when the International Olympic Committee stripped its 2000 Olympic women's gymnastics team of a bronze medal after determining Dong Fangxiao had competed under a falsified age.

But I have a hard time believing that sports administration officials really care whether athletes are telling the truth about their age—they just want them to stop getting caught.

Dong was busted because of her own careless mistake. When she applied to be an official at the 2008 Olympics, she provided her real birth year, 1986, instead of the 1983 date that she had used to register for the Sydney Olympics. Others have been caught with a secondary form of ID that carries their real age. In 1999, Wang Zhizhi was picked up by the Dallas Mavericks despite his reported birth date making him too young to be drafted by an NBA team. The Mavericks had access to the center's military ID, with correct age (two years older), thanks to a Beijing-–based Nike employee. Yi Jianlian, who plays for the NBA's Washington Wizards, is widely thought to be two years older than his official birth year of 1987 indicates; two years ago, Chinese reporters dug up an old high school ID that listed his birth date as 1984. In all of these cases, a more careful scrubbing of history would have kept the athletes' secrets buried deeper.

Whether the administration really wants to make sure that its teams are compliant, I can't say for sure. But I am willing to bet that what lower-ranking and provincial sports officials will hear is this: "If you want to fake ages, you'd better start covering your tracks."

Yi Jianlian high school ID image: Sohu.com

Tags: age faking, cheating, Dong Fangxiao, gymnastics, sports administration, Wang Zhizhi, Yi Jianlian

Yi traded to Washington

Saturday, 3rd July 2010 ~ Maggie ~ Link ~ Comments (1)

Yi Jianlian will start his fourth NBA season playing with his third team, after being traded by the New Jersey Nets to the Washington Wizards earlier this week.

The Nets acquire Quinton Ross, who has a $1.2 million contract, in the trade, and get rid of Yi's $4.5 million salary. That will leave them with about $30 million in salary cap space to try and lure some of this summer's top free agents. Lebron James, Dwayne Wade, Chris Bosh and David Lee are some of the players still up for grabs.

Yi, who averaged 12 points and 7 rebounds this season, joins number one draft pick John Wall at Washington (Wizards' roster), as well as late-round pick Hamady Ndiaye from Senegal via Rutgers University, and like Yi, 7 feet tall. Any team that picks up Yi is taking on a project—the forward is still unpolished, and missed more than a third of this season due to various injuries.

Tags: basketball, NBA, New Jersey Nets, Washington Wizards, Yi Jianlian


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