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

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

Harlem Globetrotters Flying Through China

Wednesday, 6th July 2011 ~ Maggie ~ Link ~ Comments (0)

Hammer Harrison, Scooter Christensen and Bull Bullard (L to R, with this website's shy editor in the mix)
Hammer Harrison, Scooter Christensen and Bull Bullard (L to R, with this website's shy editor in the mix)
Tonight is the first night of a 15-day, 10-city China tour for the Harlem Globetrotters, who have entertained around the world for more than 80 years. Their one-of-a-kind combination of slapstick comedy, basketball skills, tricks and showmanship is where sports meets family-friendly vaudeville show. The Globetrotters were one of the acts brought in to fete Deng Xiaoping on his 1979 visit to the United States.

A few of the Globetrotters stopped in Beijing earlier in the week. Scooter Christensen, Hammer Harrison and Bull Bullard entertained a small audience of local American families before heading off to their fist stop, Liaoyuan. The company is increasing its China efforts, hoping that demand for family-oriented live shows will grow in the coming years. They have opened a small office in Beijing, and retained SEA Sports & Entertainment Asia for help with event execution and marketing. They plan to return in December, probably visiting some bigger markets on that tour. Their work-in-progress Chinese website is here.

This time around they will be stopping in these cities:

July 6: Liaoyuan
July 7: Liaoyuan
July 10: Dezhou
July 13: Pingguo
July 15: Luohe
July 16: Nanyang
July 17: Xuchang
July 19: Nanning
July 20: Nanning
July 21: Chongqing (TBD)

Tags: basketball, Harlem Globetrotters

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

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?), 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

Zhang chooses CBA over Cal

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

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

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

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

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

Max Zhang image: Baidu

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


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