Quick Thoughts

1.    What’re Yi Doing?: The least shocking news of the day was the announcement of Yi Jianlian’s Chinese team the Beijing Tigers that it would not permit him to sign with the Bucks.  According to Beijing’s owner Chen Haitao: “This is not — as media reports have said — because Milwaukee, as a city with very few Chinese people, is not good for Yi’s commercial development.  Rather we want to find a team suitable for Yi’s growth. That’s the root of the problem.”  It’s not quite clear what that means.  Chen supposedly is concerned that Yi won’t play with Andrew Bogut and Charlie Villanueva in tow.

So now we have heard three different rationales of Yi’s refusal to play in Milwaukee:

(1) Not enough of an Asian population

(2) Too small a market

(3) Not enough room for Yi to develop

Do any of these reasons reflect Yi’s camp’s reluctance to come to Milwaukee?  It’s hard to really know but lets play with them and see what at least sounds most plausible.

(1) Not enough of an Asian population

(2) Too small a market

I suppose reasons one and two could theoretically be intertwined.  The fact that the Asian population is smaller seems could imply (a) that Yi might not comfortable being in a small minority or (b) that Yi’s arrival wouldn’t energize the fan base (and, in turn, advertising and marketing opportunities) the way it might elsewhere.  In fact the 2000 Census found that over half of all Asian or Asian Americans in the United States lived in California, New York, and Hawaii, with California leading the way with 19% of this demographic.  Wisconsin, on the other hand, is in the middle of the low end as 1.1% of Wisconsin’s population was Asian (52,000 out of 4.9 million people).  So, the jury is out on both these rationales.

(3)  Not enough room for Yi to develop

This seems a little silly.  Larry Harris and the Bucks have gone out of their way to guarantee Yi playing time that few other draft picks have ever gotten.  It is theoretically possible that Yi’s people have questioned that coaching staff and management will not nurture in develop Yi and that some other coach/team might do better.  Larry Krsytkowiak doesn’t have a reputation either way for developing players and the Bucks have gone through coaches frequently but there are no glaring problems either.

I’m a tad cynical about the whole process.  To get into my thinking you have to accept the premise that Yi is probably being totally controlled by Chinese basketball officials and that they will have an interest in his earnings on some level or are owed some kind of buyout.   I have seen little evidence at all of Chinese concerns for its player’s adjustment or team prior to Yi.  What do we learn for the other three other Chinese NBA players and how they were dealt with?

Yao Ming: Yao ended up in a pretty large Asian market in Houston.  Interestingly, Chicago and Golden State had the next two picks and probably would’ve been even more ideal destinations.  Memphis had the fourth pick and that could’ve caused some issues.

Mengke Bateer: I didn’t know this until looking at his Wikipedia page but, the big Mongolian actually had a very interesting career.  Bateer was frequently suspended in the early 1990s for leaving the Chinese National Team to be with his family.  Bateer ended up briefly in Denver, San Antonio, and Toronto and there really was no public concern about his NBA career.

Wang Zhizhi: Wang did end up on in a large market of Dallas.  But Wang was drafted by Dallas without his even having him declared eligible to be drafted.  This was more a result of Don Nelson ingenuity.  Wang’s Chinese team was unhappy and it took two years of negotiations to get Wang stateside.  Once he was in the NBA, Wang was expected to make the Chinese National Team his priority.  Wang declined to return to China to prepare for the Olympics after the 2001-02 season, instead stating that he wanted to work on improving his NBA prospects.  As a result, Wang was ostracized and wasn’t allowed to play in China for the next four years.  It wasn’t until Wang’s NBA career wound down that he reconciled with the Chinese officials in 2006.

To get a sense of the emotions and or control involved in this whole situation, here are the direct quotes attributed to the Chinese officials and Wang upon reconciliation.  First the Chinese league:

“We have always placed importance on and cherished talent.  The door of the national team has always been open to those excellent athletes willing to pay back the motherland.”

Now Wang’s perspective:

“At the time I was young and immature.  Because of this, I made a very wrong decision.  Through these years of painful reflection and with the help of leaders of the army and the [Chinese Basketball Association], I have deeper recognition of the mistakes I’ve made in the past.”

There is no word as to whether Wang was fitted with some sort electronic monitoring device in conjunction with this deal.

What does this all mean for Yi?  Well we don’t know for sure if the guys handling Yi are the same that handled Wang or Yao but it seems reasonably fair to assume that the Chinese owners view their prospects as chattel to control.  It is possible that Yi has complete autonomy and just truly doesn’t like Milwaukee.  But it is hard for me to view any negotiation with the Chinese league at this point as anything but difficult and that the stances they’ve taken on Yi are probably not related to his best interests–except to the extent that it suits their interests.  In this case, all signs point to the officials wanting Yi in a major market and the census data would seem to back them up on that point too.

2.    China Ball: While were on the subject of Chinese basketball, I thought we’d take a look at the current Chinese League.  This year, Wang’s Chinese team Bayi Army won the title over Yi’s Guandong Southern Tigers.  The league has 16 teams and plays a 30 game schedule.  There are very few imports in the league and it is clear that the international competition trumps the professional leagues.  Despite the 16 teams, there were only a total of about 22 imports by my count, 19 of whom were Americans.

The stats that leaders that I could find were broken down into overall stat leaders and “domestic player” leaders, which probably also reflects the reluctance to import players.  But imports dominated the stats, with the top two scorers (Anthony Myles and Gabe Muoneke) and top five rebounders from the West (Brandon Crump, Babakar Camara, Soumaila Samake, Chris Porter, and Herve Lamizana).  As for locals, 7’1 big man Tang Zhengdong led the league in scoring and Yi was tops in boarding.

Here’s the rundown of familiar names in the league:

Herve Lamizana: :Lamizana was a potential draft prospect in 2004 and was in camp with the Sixers in 2005.

Soumalia Samake: Samake is remembered for his time with the Nets, where he was a tall, thin shot blocker with no discernable offensive skills.  He also had a brief stint with the Lakers were he was surprisingly suspended for using perfomance enhancers (insert punch line).

Chris Porter: Porter was a star for Auburn, as a low budget Charles Barkley.  Porter was fairly good as a rookie for Golden State in 2000-01 but he had legal and personality issues in the summer of 2001 (he was late to camp and had an arrest) and never stuck in the NBA.  As you can imagine, his power style works pretty well internationally.

Gabe Muoneke: Muoneke never played a game in the NBA but he is remembered for being a monster dunker out of Texas in the late-1990s.  I’m not sure he still has the old hops but his style of play, like Porter, translates well to foreign leagues.  He’s since left China and moved over to Iran of all places.

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