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Tag Archives: 2011 NBA Lockout

Mid-Autumn Festival Moon Cakes

September 12, 2011


Today is Mid-Autumn Festival, which means as a foreigner, you’ve probably already gotten lots of well-wishing mass texts from Chinese friends/friends of friends/random people who somehow have your number. And of course, you’ve probably had your fair share of moon cakes, thick, heavy tasting pastries that are as indispensable to the holiday as turkey is to Thanksgiving. So if you haven’t gotten your hook-up today, or if you’re just hungry for more, munch on some of these moon cake links. Hopefully they’ll taste better than the ones with the seeds in the middle.
  • Even after one of China’s longtime favorite players, Carmelo Anthony, left for the Knicks, Chinese hoops still seems to have a big thing for the Nuggets. On Friday, the Denver Post reported that Nuggets veteran free-agent forward, Kenyon Martin, is receiving “serious interest” from two teams, each of whom are prepared to make him the highest paid player in league history. Martin joins Wilson Chandler, who signed with Zhejiang Guanghsa in August, and J.R. Smith, who is rumored with a move to Shanxi Zhongyu, on the Rocky Top-to-Middle Kingdom movers list. Over the weekend,’s Marc Stein wrote that one of those two teams interest in K-Mart is none other than the Xinjiang Flying Tigers. The development isn’t a surprise to us in the least. Xinjiang has come up short in the CBA Finals each of the last three years, despite the efforts of its mega-rich owner to buy the best talent available to him. This summer, he’s taken it to a new level though, spending unprecedented amounts of money on foreign imports, coaches, and domestic players.
  • And Martin isn’t the only one getting serious in China. Shavlik Randolph, who played five years in the NBA from 2005-10, is in “advanced talks” with a Chinese team and should make a decision “within the week,” according to Ben Golliver at Blazer’s Edge.
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Agent: Thaddeus Young receiving ‘serious interest’ from Chinese teams

August 31, 2011


With Earl Clark and Wilson Chandler having signed in China over the past two weeks, the NBA free-agent exodus looks to be just heating up. From Jorge Sierra over at Hoopshype:

Count free agent forward Thaddeus Young among those who could potentially end up playing in China. Agent Jim Tanner told HoopsHype Young has been drawing plenty of attention from several clubs in the CBA.

“I have been contacted by multiple teams in China expressing very serious interest in having Thaddeus Young play in their league this season,” Tanner said. “I have discussed this with Thad and he is intrigued by the possibility of playing in China if the lockout continues and has asked me to further explore these opportunities. At this point, our conversations with the teams have been preliminary but we are continuing to talk and to do our due diligence on each option.”

Like Chandler, Thaddeus is a restricted free-agent heading into his fifth year. He averaged 12.7 ppg and 5.3 rpg last year for the Philadelphia 76ers.

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Wilson Chandler signs with Zhejiang Guangsha

August 30, 2011


Denver Nuggets forward, Wilson Chandler, is heading over to Hangzhou. From

Wilson Chandler said he has signed a contract with the Zhejiang Guangsha of the Chinese Basketball Association, a move that would essentially preclude him from participating in the 2011-12 NBA season if the lockout ends and the games begin.

…Chandler’s agent, Chris Luchey, did not specify the amount of the one-year contract with the Guangsha, or Lions, but said it was worth less than the $3.1 million qualifying offer the Nuggets made in order to retain their rights to Chandler, and more than the $1.7 million offer that has been reported elsewhere.

On one hand, this isn’t a total shock. Chandler had been linked with a big money deal in China a couple of weeks ago, although the team mentioned was last year’s league runner-up, Xinjiang Guanghui. And Guangsha has been one of the summer’s most active teams in trying to sign locked-out NBA players for the upcoming season. Way before Guangsha had reportedly offered Dwyane Wade a big money month-to-month deal, and way way before the Chinese Basketball Association unceremoniously squashed that rumor by passing a rule barring all players with active NBA contracts from playing here this season, the team hired longtime NBA assistant, Jim Cleamons, who served under Phil Jackson in Chicago and Los Angeles, as its head coach. To us, getting Cleamons on the bench was a clear sign that the team was going to do some serious work to recruit NBA players to Zhejiang. Before netting Chandler, Guangsha had signed former Phoenix Suns and Orlando Magic forward, Earl Clark.

Not surprisingly, playing under Cleamons was one of the reasons why he decided to sign.

“If there’s a lockout and we lose the season, I’ll be over there playing, playing for Coach Cleamons,” Chandler said to “I never had a close relationship with one of my coaches before. Maybe I can learn how to be a leader.”

Plus Chandler was obviously very serious about heading overseas as he came very close to signing with Italian club, Olympia Milano.

So yeah, we can understand how this happened.But that still doesn’t hide the fact that at the end of the day, this kind of is a total shock.

Chandler enjoyed a very good year last season with the New York Knicks, averaging 16.4 points, 5.9 rebounds and 1.7 assists per game over 51 games before he was sent over to the Nuggets as part of the Carmelo Anthony blockbuster. In Denver, Chandler blended in nicely with his new team, helping them get into the playoffs while putting up 12.5 points and 5 rebounds in 21 games. Whether it was with Denver or another team, Chandler was due for a multi-year deal whenever the lockout ended. Coming here and risking injury, to us at least, seems like an odd move.

“It’s a huge concern,” Chandler said of the injury risk. “But as long as I take care of my body, I’ll be fine. We’ve got insurance.”

There’s also the CBA’s policy on opt-out clauses to consider. To prevent the league from becoming a convenient lockout haven where NBAers can come and go whenever their American paychecks start up again, the league passed a rule barring escape clauses that would allow players to return to the NBA whenever the lockout ended. Based totally on this rule, Chandler will be in China in March at the earliest and April at the latest, which means he’s going to miss a huge chunk of the year whenever the lockout ends.

Chandler is clearly cool with all of that, though. And he’s also cool with the idea of playing three games a week, which according to the report was another reason why he ended up signing. It’s interesting that he feels that way — a lot of players say that one of the biggest challenges playing in China is adjusting to the busy schedule and the brutal travel that comes with it. Chinese teams don’t fly unless the distance absolutely requires it, so most trips to away games are spent on long bus rides. With games being played on Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays, entire off days can be spent travelling. Make sure you charge that iPod.

Last year, Guangsha finished the regular season in sixth place at 18-14. They lost in the first round of the playoffs to DongGuan New Century.

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CBA bars players with active NBA contracts from playing in China

August 19, 2011


For the last two months, a long list of out-of-work NBA players have been looking across the Pacific Ocean towards China as a possible lockout destination. And after two months of silence, the Chinese Basketball Association finally sent back a message to all of those players.

Look somewhere else.

According to Sina Sports, the CBA has passed two rules that will kill any chance of an NBA superstar from playing in China this season. First, any player with an active NBA contract will not be allowed to sign with a CBA team. Second, players who do sign with a CBA team will not be able to include an opt-out clause that would allow them to go back to the NBA whenever the lockout ends.

Though the league’s decision on opt-out clauses was expected, the rule barring players currently under contract comes as more of a surprise. Sources speaking to NiuBBall said that the rule had gained momentum in the last couple of weeks due to an increasing belief from the CBA that teams were not going to be fazed by the league’s ruling on out-clauses, and that they were going to to find other ways bring superstars to China.

But now, teams will have no way — legal or under-the-table — to bring a superstar to China this year. Under the new rules, the only NBA players that are eligible to sign deals are the 108 free-agents who are not currently under contract with any NBA team.

Yesterday, Sohu Sports released a story sourcing information from Shanxi Zhongyu team president Wang Xingjiang that the team had signed Kobe Bryant to a contract, and that the player had agreed to report to training camp on October 1st. A source close to the situation speaking anonymously to denied the story shortly after.

With no way to play in China’s domestic league, the only way for players to potentially cash in by playing basketball here will be through exhibition tours. But even those have their fair share of obstacles, as they require government approvals.

The ruling is a big hit to players. Not only are they missing out on a chance to make considerable salaries in China while simultaneously playing in the world’s second biggest basketball market, they’re also losing out on leverage in NBA lockout negotiations.

Follow Jon Pastuszek on Twitter @NiuBBall or on Sina Weibo @NiuBBall

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CBA to meet on Thursday and Friday, will rule on opt-out clauses

August 17, 2011


The Chinese Basketball Association will have its long awaited policy meeting tomorrow and Friday in Shenzhen, Guangdong province, to determine several important rules for the upcoming 2011-12 season, including a much anticipated decision on back-to-the-NBA opt-out clauses.

In addition, the league will also decide on new playing time rules for imports, when the new season will start and whether or not the league will be expanded into 18 teams.

But, all of that is considered secondary to the one thing that teams, agents, players and fans have all been waiting for: A CBA ruling over whether active NBA players will be allowed to sign out-clauses that will allow them to return back to the NBA whenever the lockout ends.

In truth though, there isn’t much doubt as to what the end result will be. Multiple Chinese sources who are connected to the CBA have told that the rule is a near certainty to be passed.

“It’s 99% happening,” said one source.

Still, with Chinese teams willing and able to throw millions of dollars at players, superstars remain interested at the idea of playing here. According to Adrian Wojnarowski at Yahoo! Sports, Kobe Bryant and Tony Parker have both received substantial offers from Chinese teams this summer, with Bryant having been offered $1.5 million per month by Shanxi Zhongyu. As reported in the story, sources say Bryant would sign if it weren’t for the soon-to-be implemented rule that will ban the signing of opt-out clauses.

Parker told yesterday that if he plays abroad this season, he will play in his home country of France.

Why the CBA would prevent what would be a major boost in revenue to the league is puzzling to some. But the logic behind this decision for the government-run CBA remains in line with an overall policy that has remained in place for years: Putting the interests of Chinese basketball, namely the success of the national team, above all other interests, even ahead of potentially lucrative commercial ones. In their eyes, allowing a group of megastars to come to China as a lockout refuge to make a quick buck only to leave in the middle of the year would hurt the long-term development of its players and put teams, who would find themselves suddenly without an import player mid-season, in a tough situation.

Last Sunday in China, the Modern Express (via NetEase) published a report quoting an anonymous source directly connected to the CBA, who further elaborated on the CBA’s thinking.

“From the very beginning, the CBA wasn’t interested in attracting superstars,” said the source. “First, they’re tough to manage. Second, we have no idea when the lockout is going to end. And when it does end, they’re definitely going to go back to the NBA. That would destroy our league. From out understanding, most teams don’t want big name players either. So, I think its going to be impossible for a superstar to come here and play this season.”

Another very important aspect to take into account in this ongoing saga is the quickly approaching 2012 Olympics in London. As the biggest international sports stage in the world, the CBA considers getting the national team ready for the Olympics as its top priority for the next two years. A good showing would do well to promote China’s image abroad and boost nationalism domestically, both of which are key interests of China’s state-run government sports system.

To further make sure its players are in the best position to play their best by 2012, the CBA is also considering other rule changes besides banning out-clauses.  According to the same Modern Express report, the CBA is contemplating a rule which would limit each team’s roster of two import players to a combined five quarters of playing time. Currently, league rules stipulate that imports can play six quarters combined. Typically, teams play one import in the first quarter and the other in the second before playing them together for the entire second half. But, if this rule was passed, imports would only be allowed to play together for one quarter per game. The rule would give more opportunities for Chinese players to play during games.

“The hopes that local players will have a chance to play even more this season,” said a source in the Modern Express report. “That would really help the national team prepare for the London Olympics.”

That the CBA is thinking about even furthering limitations on foreign players’ playing time clearly illustrates that the CBA is, as always, dead serious about developing Chinese basketball — even if it comes at the expense of profits, fan interest and perhaps even its reputation among players abroad.

Regardless of the CBA’s rules, however, some teams are still intent on finding ways to get an NBA superstar to China this season. As wrote two weeks ago, teams are quite aware of the money to be made from what would be a major boost in ticket sales, merchandising and sponsorships, and are willing to bear the future consequences to cash in on it all. Furthermore, some teams feel that the rule would be too difficult to enforce and are adamant in their belief that they could find legal ways to get around it.

During the meetings, officials will also set a start date for the league, expected to be sometime in November. They will also determine if Jiangsu Tongxi, who has won the last two National Basketball Association titles, China’s second tier professional basketball league played in the summer, will join the league to make it 18 teams.

But, the attention paid to those developments will pale in comparison to the eyes that will keep a keen watch on the league’s ruling on out-clauses. Whether we’re headed for a complete shutdown of all NBA superstars-to-China rumors as players scurry away in search of more dependable offers, or for a heated standoff between the the government-headed CBA and defiant Chinese teams determined to take advantage of the unique opportunity that the NBA lockout has presented remains to be seen. One thing is for sure, however: This is the CBA. Nothing is for certain, everything is far from over and plenty has yet to unfold.

Jon Pastuszek can be followed on Twitter @NiuBBall or on Sina Weibo @NiuBBall

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Friday Afternoon Bubble Tea

August 5, 2011


It’s Beijing, it’s summer, it’s hot. So cool down with some bubble tea (with ice), chill out and take in these afternoon links.

  • As we recapped yesterday, both Titan Weekly and the Chengdu Daily reported that several CBA teams have offered deals worth over $1 million a month to superstars like Dirk Nowitzki, Kobe Bryant and Dwyane Wade. According to the Chengdu Daily, Wade was offered $2 million a month by Zhejiang Guangsha. But, according to a source speaking with NiuBBall, Chinese reports have been exaggerated. “There’s no way any CBA team is going to fork over $2 or $3 million for one player,” said the source. “With these new rules, there’s too much risk.” Guangsha’s GM, Ye Xiangyu, publicly denied the report.
  • John Lucas III, who has played the last two years in Shanghai, out-gunned some dude named Kevin Durant a couple days ago at Rucker Park. Maybe most of the domestic players aren’t anything to write home to the States about, but as we’ve maintained throughout this blog’s soon-to-be one-year existence, the imports here can ball.
  • Taiwanese-American Jeremy Lin is considering playing in Taiwan next year, according to the China Post. Why not China, you ask? Because he has an American passport, that’s why. Taiwan passport-holding players are considered as domestic players in the CBA, but since Lin would have dual-citizenship if he were to obtain his Taiwanese passport, the would be ruled as an American import player. And though Lin can ball well enough to probably warrant a spot on a roster as an import, CBA teams traditionally do not go after young players. So with little interest in China, Lin would be smart to look at his native Taiwan.
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Teams searching for ways to get NBA superstars to China

August 4, 2011


Four days after being hit with a proposed rule that would prevent teams from signing locked-out NBA superstars to month-to-month contracts this season, teams are hitting back with an announcement of their own:

We don’t care about your stinking rule.

Fixed on taking advantage of the rare opportunity of bringing an NBA superstar to China this season, teams are looking at various ways to get around the Chinese Basketball Association’s new rule that would block active NBA players from playing here this season. According to a report published yesterday by Titan Weekly, teams aren’t just moving forward with negotiations to bring superstars to China, they’re going full steam ahead.

That is substantial, because according to the Titan report, several different negotiations between teams and players had already progressed into advanced stages before Sunday’s news about a preventive rule that would disallow teams from including out-clauses in contracts with active NBA players.  Citing an anonymous source with direct knowledge of teams’ dealings, Titan is reporting that several organizations have offered per month contracts to Kobe Bryant and Dirk Nowitzki worth over $1 million. The source claims one team has put forth a $1.5 million deal to 2011 NBA Finals MVP.

And that’s not all. During Dwyane Wade and Chris Paul’s week-long Jordan Brand China Tour, which was completed Tuesday in Beijing, several teams were negotiating with the two’s agency, CAA, about a proposed $2,000,000 a month deal. Before news about the rule change was reported on Sunday, talks had become serious enough to warrant discussions about such specifics as providing personal security and arranging housing for family members, according to the source.

Today, the Chengdu Daily reported that Zhejiang Guangsha offered Wade $2 million a month while he was in the team’s home city of Hangzhou during the tour. Team general manager, Ye Xiangyu, who voiced her concern about bringing over NBA players on Sunday, denied that a contract offer had been made. But, when the world learned there would be no way for teams to write in a clause that would allow players to go back to America once the lockout ends, interest cooled considerably from the NBA side as they waited to see how things played out in China.

96 hours after the CBA’s proposed rule, things are indeed playing out. After analyzing the new landscape they’ll be working with as a result of the CBA’s propsed ruling — which is all but guaranteed to go through when officials meet for a policy meeting this month — teams have decided the positives of signing an NBA megastar far outnumber the risks and are commencing forward with negotiations.

Why? At the top of the list is money. Despite the steep price tags attached to these players, owners are confident that there are big returns to be made on their investments. With around seven home games per month for each team, an anonymous general manager told Titan that raising ticket prices alone would cover over half the cost of a $2 million a month contract. Knowing that games would sell-out easily, teams feel they can profit from signing a big name player.

“We can afford the price tag,” said the general manager. “And if you add in some more money from a sponsor, you can easily recover your investment from signing a Nowitzki or another superstar.”

Another reason why teams are unconcerned with the CBA is because many don’t feel the league can enforce their their soon-to-be instated rule. The CBA has one of the highest turnover rates for foreign players in the world. Some players don’t even last two weeks in the country after signing a contract, and its not unusual to see teams switch imports three times in a single season. That begs the question, if a team were to release an active NBA player from his contract, how would that be different than releasing any other import?

The answer is unclear, which is why teams are growing more and more convinced that they can negotiate an under-the-table agreement with players that would guarantee a return to America either after a set period of time or after the lockout ends. To remain in line with CBA policy, the team would then sign an official one-year deal consistent with the CBA’s rules prohibiting an out-clause, which would be turned in to and approved by the league office. After the player left, the team could point to the official contract and state a variety of reasons for why the player left — breach of contract, injury, inability to adapt to China, etc. — and claim no responsibility for the player’s departure. With a league approved contract on file in league headquarters, there wouldn’t be any way for the league to prove foul-play.

“Since word of the new rule got out, the common thinking to get around this has been to write up two contracts, the real one [that has been negotiated with the player] and the one that is officially filed with the CBA,” said another general manager speaking anonymously. “We feel we can absolutely get a deal done with a player privately. Once the lockout ends, we’ll just release him. Then, after he’s gone, we’ll pull up the one-year contract that is on file with the league.”

Yet, perhaps even more important in all of this is the pent up frustration teams have towards the CBA and their policies. Because the CBA is controlled and run by the government, the league is treated as a national interest. Unlike the NBA in the U.S., where profitability comes before all, the development and success of the national team is the number one priority for the CBA’s decision makers. As a result, not one team in the league is profitable currently. Bringing in a Bryant, Wade or Nowitkzi would undoubtedly change that. Plus, the idea of going down in history as the team in China who brought over an NBA superstar for China’s hundreds of millions basketball-crazed fans to enjoy is one that appeals to many owners. It also is an idea that local governments are interested in as well, who are reportedly offering their support to bring an NBA player and the attention he’d bring to their city.

An opportunity to bring players of this magnitude to China is rare, and teams feel like they should be able to take advantage of it.  Several figures inside team’s front offices were quoted as being fed up with the CBA’s handling of the entire situation.

“The NBA is locked out right now, and still every team’s regular season schedule has already come out,” said one disgruntled general manager. “But us? Our season starts in November and the league hasn’t even officially announced policy for foreign players this year. And don’t even talk about an official document either, the league doesn’t even keep in touch with us. We see all of this news on the internet, all of this ‘anonymous figure inside the CBA’ stuff. That’s how we get our information.”

“Let’s back up a step,” said a prominent member of one team’s front office. “Say a team had signed a player earlier and then the CBA came out with this rule. Who would be responsible for the break of contract?”

If there’s one thing to take away from the many complicated pieces involved in making China a lockout destination for the NBA’s best players, it’s that this thing is far from over. But, for now it appears that China is still very much on the table — good news if you’re a player looking to tap into China, and even better news if you’re a Chinese basketball fan.

Jon Pastuszek can be followed on Twitter @NiuBBall or on Sina Weibo @NiuBBall

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Monday Morning Jianbing

August 1, 2011


Starting your day right with China’s favorite street breakfast and a bunch of links… even if it’s almost 1pm. If you woke up late, enjoy your first meal of the day. If you’ve been up for a while, enjoy it as a snack. We promise it’s still really good in the afternoon.

  • Alexander Johnson, who played last season in China for Shanxi, has been charged with marijuana possession. Like Rodney White, who also played last year in China before being arrested for (much bigger) marijuana-related charge, Johnson signed on with a Korean team for next year. We don’t know what this means for both of them in terms of their futures in Korea next year, but if this Korean article is any indication (and if my Google translate is somewhat accurate, not a given), it looks like they may have to find other jobs. (H/T to Andrew Lowman over at Asia Basketball Update for passing that along.)
  • Kobe Bryant’s chances of playing in Turkey this season are “zero,” according to a Yahoo! report. That of course leads to China, where Kobe has reportedly exchanged offers with CBA teams about playing on a month-to-month basis. According to the report, he’d be allowed to go back to the Lakers at the end of the lockout, but as we learned yesterday, the Chinese Basketball Association might not be OK with the idea of their league becoming a temporary haven for locked-out NBA players.
  • How does Carmelo Anthony’s Panda-posing match-up against Kevin Durant’s? Hardwood Paroxysm breaks it down. A must read for fans of pandas and basketball. ‘Melo, along with Chris Paul and Dwyane Wade, is on the Jordan Brand Flight Tour, a four-city China tour that promotes the sport and the brand through various appearances and events. SLAMonline has pictures.
  • And speaking of Stephon Marbury… he’s being sued by a bank for $16 million for not paying back a loan his Starbury shoe company took out back in 2006.
  • In response to our report two days ago, Foshan management has publicly denied that they’ve made a $200,000 a month offer to current Memphis Grizzlies center, Hamed Haddadi. They admit, however, that there has been contact between the team and Haddadi’s agent.
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CBA won’t allow active NBA players to sign out-clauses?

July 31, 2011


Since the NBA lockout started on July 1st, a host of NBA superstars have been considering China as a potential landing spot if the work stoppage drags on past the start of the season. If only China was considering NBA players.

Earlier this afternoon, Sina Sports, quoting an anonymous figure connected to the CBA, reported that the Chinese Basketball Association  is planning to institute two special new rules for next season in response to the ever-growing list of NBA players who have declared interest towards playing in China: First, teams will not be allowed to include an out-clause into any contract with an active NBA player and second, that each team will be allowed to sign only one active NBA player.

Said the anonymous source, “The CBA isn’t the NBA’s backyard. If we didn’t make a rule about players playing here temporarily, then they’d all just leave in the middle of the season. That would affect our season greatly.”

As of yet, the CBA has not responded to the story. Any official announcement over new CBA rules is unlikely to come before the league’s committee convenes for a policy meeting in August.

If the CBA indeed goes ahead with the new rules, then its unlikely that any big stars will come here to play next season. Up to this point, all player interest has been based around signing an out-clause, a stipulation which would allow a player to return immediately to the NBA whenever the lockout ends. Any rule forcing an active NBA player to play  a full year in China would essentially kill all interest from players currently under contract.

The CBA’s reasoning behind such a rule serves as a stark reminder as to how the Chinese government views basketball within the national political framework. Whereas the NBA operates in the U.S. as an independent business, the CBA is run by the government and thus has an agenda based on other things than profitability. At the top of that agenda for the Chinese is the long-term development of basketball in China and the success of the Chinese national team. Having a national team that can compete against the best the world has to offer serves as a way for China to gain international glory while also boosting nationalism within its own borders. The relationship between raising China’s international athletic reputation and promoting national pride is a vital interest for the Chinese government, who put a strong emphasis on nationalism as a way to maintain stability.

So although welcoming an NBA superstar to China sounds good on the surface, both for NBA-crazed fans and teams’ bottom line, the impact on the long-term development of Chinese would be minimal at best. Investing lots of money in players just to see them pack up and leave would not help the CBA’s goals in any way. If a player left mid-season to back to the States, teams would be left with few options to replace him, which is a concern that some teams also have.

“I think trying to attract superstar players to the league isn’t a good thing,” said Zhejiang Guangsha general manager, Ye Xiangyu, who was also quoted in the Sina article. “Once they leave [back to the NBA], there won’t be any players left on the market. That would affect a team across all aspects.”

Last year, Guangsha signed former NBA players Javaris Crittenton and Rafer Alston to deals, only to see the both of them leave the team within two weeks of signing.

China is a considered a top destination for players during the lockout. Though the league itself isn’t very good from a talent standpoint, the money is typically better than in Europe. But, that is a relatively small incentive for established NBA players who have contracts worth far more than any Chinese team can offer. China’s biggest advantage over the rest of the world is the size of its basketball market, which is estimated to be between 300 and 400 million people. Signing a deal in China would give a player unprecedented opportunities to sign endorsement deals and engage in other profitable commercial ventures.

But, none of that can happen without first playing in a Chinese stadium. And if this new rule indeed goes through in August, then you can count all of that still just a dream.

Follow Jon Pastuszek on Twitter @NiuBBall or on Sina Weibo @NiuBBall.

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China exhibition tour’s success depends on getting China government approval

June 30, 2011


On Monday, the Sports Business Journal published a summary authored by Wasserman Media Group proposing the idea of a “China Basketball Tour” as an option for its players in the event of a lockout.  Wasserman, which represents 45 NBA players, including NBA MVP Derrick Rose, began pitching the idea in April with a plan of bringing over around 15-20 athletes for a four-team, three city tour that would last in between two and three weeks.

Obviously, with an estimated 300-400 million basketball fans, starting up an exhibition tour with NBA players in a market that is larger than the entire population of the United States is an eye-opening proposition.  Imagining a scenario where hundreds of millions of NBA-crazy Chinese could tune into live games in primetime is enough to make even the most tight lipped players, agents, media and company executives slobber all over themselves uncontrollably.

But, as is the case with doing basketball business in China, there’s more to it than just having a great idea, signing a contract and packing up your bags for a 13 hour flight.

A lot more, actually.

Matt Beyer, an Associate Director at North Head, a public affairs consultancy based in Beijing which represents several NBA athletes in China, has been working on a similar idea since the beginning of March when the potential of a NBA work stoppage turned more serious.  When discussing what he calls a “China Contingency League,” Beyer, who worked as Yi Jianlian’s personal interpreter during his rookie season with the Milwaukee Bucks in 2007-08, sees the obvious potential in bringing over a group of NBA players to play in China.

“China is a massive market for NBA basketball, so it makes sense for players and agents to look here to capitalize on a lockout situation,” says Beyer.

But Beyer, like any other foreigner with sports business experience in China, knows that simply having an idea, no matter how good of a one it is, is meaningless unless you understand the systematic differences between the U.S. and China. And in China, those differences always start with government, which controls almost all aspects of the Chinese sports system.

“As China’s sports industry is controlled strictly by the government, there are many political and regulatory differences from the United States to be aware of,” explains Beyer.  “While a great idea may sell on its merits in the United States, that may not be the case in China.”

Most of the time, it’s not the case in China.  Whereas professional teams and athletes in the U.S. are allowed to operate freely and independently under capitalistic market principles, the Chinese government values sports as a key political interest, and thus keeps the entire system under tight control.   Overseen by the General Sports Administration, China’s government body that is responsible for regulating sports nationally, the sports system is designed to produce gold medal caliber teams and athletes, which serve as a way for China to gain international glory while simultaneously boosting nationalism within its borders.  The cause-and-effect relationship between winning gold medals and promoting national pride is a vital interest for China’s government, which traditionally puts a strong emphasis on nationalism in order to maintain stability.

To ensure that this key political interest stays in line with party policy, teams and athletes are trained directly under the close watch of the General Sports Administration.  Selected and brought into government run athletic training academies from ages sometimes as young as eight years old, Chinese athletes are generally required to put winning recognition for their country in international competitions ahead of winning large endorsement deals for their bank accounts.  Though the government has taken measures to open up sports to the market — think current French Open champion, Li Na — system itself is still largely run as an instrument of the government and their national interests.

Naturally, as arguably the most popular sport in China, basketball exists as one of the government’s biggest interests, not only politically but also commercially.  With potentially the biggest market in the world, China remains cautious at the idea of simply opening up the floodgates to foreign businesses who are solely concerned with their own profits. Thus, any ideas involving a “China Basketball Tour” or a “China Contingency League” must be viewed by the government as beneficial towards the development of Chinese basketball.

“China’s sports system remains controlled tightly by the government,” says Beyer.  “The government is focused on breeding its own domestic talents and not simply importing and selling foreign sports entertainment as its political agenda.”

Thus, if the Chinese government doesn’t feel that an NBA exhibition tour will benefit the development of Chinese basketball — i.e. that it won’t bring China closer to their goal of an Olympic gold medal — then there simply won’t be an NBA exhibition tour – even if it features NBA MVP Derrick Rose.

“The General Sports Administration, the China Basketball Management Center under the General Sports Administration and the Chinese Basketball Association must all be in consensus that an idea like this is good for Chinese basketball. Any agents proposing an idea like this in China should present it to China’s sports authorities from a perspective of a means to enrich local talent and the strength of the Chinese sports industry.”

Beyer argues that any basketball tour of China must therefore feature an element that promotes and cultivates Chinese basketball, like joint training sessions with local CBA teams or coaches clinics run by American NBA coaches. Having Chinese players play side by side with NBA players in exhibition games may even be more exciting to regulators and attractive to CBA teams looking to sponsor such a venture.

“There must be a community outreach function to the trip or it will be seen as threatening to the Chinese domestic sports industry.  If it looks like foreign masterminded profiteering or an opportunistic venture, the government won’t sign off on that.”

“If the idea of an exhibition tour can be presented with Chinese interests in mind and through the mouths of prominent and credible Chinese spokespeople, it would be more likely to succeed.”

In addition to winning the approval of the Chinese government, there are many other obstacles that would potentially prevent a China exhibition tour from happening, including securing player insurance and television rights.  Unlike in the United States, television companies do not pay large amounts of money — if any — to secure television slots, which makes finding large sponsors who are willing to invest a lot of money to ensure games are television nationally a paramount priority.

“Players and agents must be willing to be flexible and ready to move quickly in unison to make such a ‘contingency league’ a viable reality,” says Beyer.  “Strong, on-the-ground counsel for government relations, club outreach, sponsorship marketing, and media relations is critical for such an effort to succeed.”

Put it all together, and you have one highly complex model for implementing this idea.  Which makes the whole idea — at least at this point in time — still in its infant stages.

Jon Pastuszek can be followed on Twitter @NiuBBall or on Sina Weibo @NiuBBall.

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