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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

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)

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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

Liu Xiang's got jokes!

Tuesday, 6th September 2011 ~ Maggie ~ Link ~ Comments (0)

What a cute couple. Liu Xiang and Dayron Robles,
What a cute couple. Liu Xiang and Dayron Robles, "hand in hand."
The biggest surprise to come from last week's 110m hurdles event at IAAF World Championships wasn't the disqualification of the Olympic champion and world record holder, or the performance of upstart 19-year-old American Jason Richardson—it was the discovery that Liu Xiang might actually be sort of a funny guy.

If you follow Chinese sports, you already know how Liu's race went in Daegu, Korea. He crossed the finish line third, but was upgraded to second after Dayron Robles was disqualified for jostling Liu as the two cleared the last few hurdles. The DQ decision came after the Chinese delegation complained, and although Robles might have been on to something when he told the AP, "If I were from another country that had more power, that wouldn't have happened," it's pretty clear that Robles affected Liu's finish (video at Universal Sports).

On returning home to Beijing, Liu joked about the controversial race, saying: "Setting a new world record is one of my goals. And the current world record is held by the guy with whom I ran hand-in-hand."

Okay, so he's no Jackie Chan or even Yao Ming, but this is the funniest thing I can recall Liu ever saying. Between this and that misguided hairstyle he tried out last year, I'm sure the guy has more personality than we know:

Liu
Liu "Rockabilly" Xiang. This really happened.

Liu's comeback is one of few bright spots in athletics for China, which finished a quiet 7th in the medal standings with one gold and four overall medals.

The lone gold medalist was Li Yanfeng, women's discus champion.

Image: Sohu.com

Tags: athletics, Dayron Robles, IAAF, Liu Xiang

Just a little brawl between friends

Friday, 19th August 2011 ~ Maggie ~ Link ~ Comments (0)

Some very quick thoughts on the fight in Thursday's game between the Bayi Rockets of the CBA and the Georgetown Hoyas of the NCAA:

+ This sync of two perspectives on the fight from SportsGrid is the best video I've seen of it yet.

+ The security was appalling. Fans got on the court, and the Georgetown team walked out of the gym with no escort. In fact, it seemed that the security were actually moving AWAY from the fight, not toward it.

+ I find it very easy to believe the referees were taking home-team favoritism to an extreme. Bayi is the army team, and enjoys a special status among CBA teams, and I am sure there were lots of people who didn't want to see Bayi lose to a college team in Beijing. Georgetown beat Shanxi Zhongyu in its first friendly of the trip.

+ American universities come on these trips to promote their schools, and the coaches do it hoping that one day they will land a big recruit. For the players, it's an exciting new experience. When I have seen NCAA teams here in the past, the emphasis really is placed on having a good time, learning lessons off the court, bonding as a team, and representing their school and their country with class. I doubt they were under huge pressure from John Thompson III to come away with wins.

+ This is a sad incident that will affect how university teams plan future China trips. They will have to know that the agent in China who sets it all up for them understands how they expect to be taken care of and looks after their security in the gym.

Tags:

FINA Worlds: China improving in swimming, water polo

Friday, 5th August 2011 ~ Maggie ~ Link ~ Comments (0)

Sun Yang
Sun Yang

China finished aquatics world championships on a high note last weekend, with 19-year-old Sun Yang snagging the host country's fifth swimming gold and setting a world record in the men's 1,500-meter freestyle. Sun, who also won the 800-meter freestyle event and took silver in the 400, finished in 14:34.14, beating Grant Hackett's 10-year-old record.

Sun has taken over the spotlight from teammate Zhang Lin, who became China's first male swimming champion when he won the men's 800-meter freestyle in world record time in Rome in 2009.

China was second in the gold medal count at the FINA championships, hosted in Shanghai in three spectacular brand-new venues at Shanghai Oriental Sports Center. The host took 15 golds to the United States' 17, but had the most overall — 36 medals to the United States' 32. China strengthened its command of the diving, sneaked past Australia for the No. 2 spot in swimming, and were surprise silver-medal winners in women's water polo.

Here's a quick sport-by-sport tally of China's performance:

Diving
China swept all 10 gold medals in the diving competition, showing to no one's surprise that they have plenty more talent to extend their domination of the sport at the 2012 Olympics in London. China also won four silvers, for 14 total diving medals.

Water Polo
China's women's team were a Cinderella this year, making it all the way to the final before losing to Greece, 9-8. Granted, it was an unusual year in the women's tournament, with none of the quarterfinal games going to the favored team — 2009 champion United States and runner-up Canada were bounced in that round, as were 2008 Olympic champions Netherlands and perennial contender Australia. The Chinese team's second-place finish raises hopes that they can boost the country's low team-sport medal count in the next Olympics. The men's team missed the playoffs after losing all of their games in group play.

Swimming
China was second in both the gold medal (5) and total medal (14) counts, surpassing frequent runner-up Australia but still a far cry from the United States, which had 16 gold medals. Two Chinese swimmers who won gold and set world records at the 2009 championships in Rome, Zhang Lin and Liu Zige, were much quieter this year. Zhang only competed in relays, and Liu took bronze in the women's 200 butterfly, losing to teammate Jiao Liuyang.

China's gold medalists:

Women's 200-meter IM: Ye Shiwen, 2:08.90
Women's 100-meter backstroke: Zhao Jing, 59.05
Men's 800-meter freestyle: Sun Yang, 7:38.57
Women's 200-meter butterfly: Jiao Liuyang 2:05.55
Men's 1,500-meter freestyle: Sun Yang, 14:34.14 (WR)

Open water swimming and synchronized swimming
Yes, I know, these two have nothing in common with each other. But China failed to win any gold medals in either. Russia swept the synchro competition with seven golds.

Sun Yang image: Titan Sportsphoto#

Tags: diving, FINA, Sun Yang, swimming, water polo, Zhang Lin

Yao's solemn exit leaves a big void in the NBA and Chinese sports

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

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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

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