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Tracy McGrady, still the man in China

June 8, 2012

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Tracy McGrady starring in a Chinese beer commercial in 2012 might seem super random. But in China, it’s just good marketing.

McGrady, who averaged a career low 16.1 minutes off the bench for the Atlanta Hawks this season, may be well past his 13 points in 33 seconds prime from decade-past. But as one part of the Immortal Holy Duo along with Allen Iverson, the two most popular post-Michael Jordan NBAers in China of all-time, he is still largely worshipped in the Middle Kingdom. Whereas AI mesmerized China with his sick handles and short-on-height, big-on-heart game, T-Mac became an icon not just because he was arguably the most talented player in the NBA for a time, but also because of his unrivaled accessibility.

The most famous of Yao Ming’s long line of Houston Rocket teammates, McGrady achieved legendary status among Chinese because he was on television and in print the most. During Yao’s prime with Houston, the Rockets essentially became China’s home team. Beat writers from Titan Sports Weekly, Basketball Pioneers and other major Chinese publications were all sent to the States to follow the team, and almost all of their games were broadcast live on CCTV-5 in the mornings for fans to watch. The reason for all of that was Yao, but because of McGrady’s superb basketball ability and the national exposure it received in China, a lot of Chinese became more infatuated with the moves of the silky smooth 6-7 swingman than of their post-up 7-6 center.

And like Iverson, who’s throngs of obsessed fans was documented on this space last month, McGrady has is own legion of devoted followers. More times than I can count, a black basketball-playing friend of mine has been told that he looks like Maidi — McGrady — by kids as young as seven or eight to women as old as 80. He’s so popular, he was even named some sort of official ambassador to China by the Chinese government before flying over to China for what amounted to be a traveling rock tour that was sold out on every stop. Simply, everybody knows T-Mac in China. Ask someone who their favorite Houston Rocket of all-time is, and chances are you’ll hear Tracy McGrady.

So no, T-Mac selling beer at age 33 is not totally random. But, these dudes stealing his beer? That’s not only random, that’s just messed up. And it’s even more messed up considering T-Mac was nice enough to bring a variety pack, as evidenced by the one clear bottle that one guy holds up as Tracy hangs from the raised rim.

Luckily, McGrady still has the knees to land comfortably from the drop and the mellowness to still offer these tools his brew. “If you’re a brother, than drink with me!” he says at the end. If it was me, I probably just would have called them all sha bi, kicked their ball away and taken my beer away to some people who have some respect. Maybe that’s why I’m not an ambassador to China…

Meanwhile, in related past-their-prime NBA players selling beer in China, Shaquille O’Neal has one for Harbin Beer that’s been playing on CCTV throughout the NBA playoffs. Beijing Cream has a poll asking which one is better — my vote goes to McGrady because I actually think a deaf mute would do way worse than what I felt was relatively passable Mandarin (key word: relative). As for other NBA players, they already have done way worse.

(H/T The Basketball Jones and @Andrew Crawford)

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Is the NBA risking locking themselves out of the Chinese basketball market?

November 11, 2011

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Eighty million.

This represents the approximate amount of money that the NBA and the Players Association are disagreeing over, and the reason the NBA season is locked out and didn’t tip off last weekend.

Three hundred million.

This is the estimated amount of basketball players and potential NBA fans in China. It is a number that nearly equals the entire population of the United States.

While the NBA is undoubtedly worried about losing fans at home in America due to the lockout, they should also be concerned about a dwindling fan base in China.  Beyond the season starting late, if at all, Yao Ming is retired. Yi Jianlian, once hyped as a Chinese Dirk Nowitzki, has instead turned into a player Basketball-Reference.com compares to Loren Woods and Dickey Simpkins. For the first time in a decade, the NBA landscape for Chinese players is uncertain.

As a result, NBA television ratings are at all-time lows in China.  This past June, a Sina Weibo poll said that 57% of respondents would not watch the NBA after Yao retired. As longtime commentator and basketball enthusiast Xu Jicheng put it, “It is Yao Ming who makes the kids in China like basketball and it’s also Yao Ming who makes the kids know how a real professional basketball player should be.”

But, Yao wasn’t the only NBA player who Chinese fans connected with. His star teammates with the Rockets, Tracy McGrady and Steve Francis, are also wildly popular as a result of playing alongside the Chinese center. After all, it was McGrady, not Yao, who had the top-selling jersey in China during the 2006 season, at the height of the Yao era. Yet, even the T-Mac era in China has fallen. McGrady’s career has been coming to a slow, injury-riddled, painful-to-watch end for the past few seasons — last year he averaged only 8 points in 23 minutes for a pathetic Detroit Pistons team. While the Chinese may still adore him (he just completed a tour of China promoting humanitarian causes in August), it doesn’t change the fact that his best playing days are behind him and he’s no longer a marketable cash cow.

The reality for the NBA in China is clear: Casual fans who once tuned in religiously the mornings to watch Yao and the Rockets have now gone back to centering their pre-noon schedules around school and work. With Yao, the NBA had a go-to player and a go-to team for Chinese fans to watch. Now looking at an NBA without Yao, the league appears to have gone back to being more of a niche form of entertainment.

This is the background that sits behind the NBA lockout here in China. As with all work stoppages, disappointment, anger, spite, and sadness are common feelings among fans. With the NBA’s lockout getting more serious, these feelings are more than understandable. The owners and Players Association cannot agree on how to divvy up a small percentage of revenue; it’s millionaires and billionaires grappling over a few million dollars, chump change when compared with the billions of dollars that stand to be made from all this.

In America, the NBA is doing its best damage control by providing updates and development through its “Labor Central” web page that is prominently featured on the front page of NBA.com. They also have a $7.4 billion TV contract with TNT and the biggest sports news outlet, ESPN, which can conveniently spin the blame on the players.

On the other side of the world, however, Chinese NBA fans — at least officially — have been completely locked out on information about the NBA’s work stoppage. As Adam Minter writes, ”To find any Chinese-language evidence that the NBA has locked its players out of the gyms, Chinese fans must click on the news tab on the NBA China site, and then scroll through news releases to find an Oct. 11 story headlined, ‘NBA announces the cancellation of two weeks of regular season games.’” But that’s not to say that fans are completely in the dark about the lockout. Websites, television programs, newspapers and magazines all have kept close tabs on the lockout and fans, if they want to go out and look for it, have no shortage of resources for information.

It’s puzzling that the NBA would risk alienating such a large and important fan base. According to USA Today, the NBA received 4.7 billion page views from China last season. Twelve time zones away from league headquarters in New York City, fans already have to overcome an inconvenient time change just to watch games.  With no NBA to watch, the league risks losing these fans forever, as they may be losing interest in the NBA’s product to begin with.

Chinese fans might also be less inclined to follow the NBA now that the CBA’s imported players are almost all former NBA players. The days of Nigel Dixon and Donta Smith-like players are over. Now, fans can see the likes of two-time aAll-Star Stephon Marbury, trash-talking intimidator Kenyon Martin, and the unpredictable but high-scoring J.R. Smith live. They’ll also be able to see them and the rest of the league on television more frequently than ever. As the lockout persists, more high-profile players are likely to join them.

As a commissioner who is completely bent on globalizing the game of basketball, David Stern is risking more than just the U.S. market during this lockout. With most recent reports saying the players want to take the failed negotiations to the American legal system, there is no end in site to the NBA’s work stoppage.

In China, however, the CBA season is set to begin. Fans will undoubtedly be intrigued with the idea of seeing if Kenyon Martin can deliver Xinjiang a championship, to watch J.R. Smith’s electrifying athleticism, and to embrace Yi’s (temporary) return to the Middle Kingdom.

The NBA, however, is facing a reality that their locked-out league is only going to push more Chinese fans away from organizing their mornings around watching basketball.

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A long overdue post about Yao

July 16, 2011

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By now, you know the news: Yao Ming is retiring.  Though there has been no official word from Yao himself or his camp, nor has there been any official paperwork filed to the NBA, it is widely expected that he will make the announcement when he holds a press conference in his hometown of Shanghai on July 20th.

Perhaps other than Michael Jordan, who along with the Dream Team took the sport global in Barcelona in 1992, there has been no athlete who has impacted the sport internationally more than Yao Ming.  Whereas MJ’s mainstream appeal allowed David Stern and the NBA to peer into the Middle Kingdom from afar and fantasize about tapping into the largest market in the world, it was Yao who opened the door, walked through it (with his head ducked down) and left it open for the league to enter.

Talking about Yao’s impact on the NBA’s globalization, however, is tedious.  It’s already been written and talked about, and really there’s nothing left to say other than the dude put a lot of Chinese people in front of their TVs in the morning to watch Rockets games, which led to a lot of television deals, media partnerships and sponsorship arrangements. We’re not diminishing all of that, we just think it’s kind of boring to write about.

It also shortchanges Yao’s legacy.  Because Yao wasn’t just a basketball player who made a lot of people, including himself, a lot of money; Yao was an ambassador between two countries.  And not just any two countries — two countries whose relationship will largely dictate the world’s direction in the next 50 years. For China, who is concerned with its image abroad to the point of obsession, Yao was the total package.  A perennial All-Star, Yao smashed the Western stereotype that Chinese are weak and passive while remaining respectful, humble, industrious, understated and loyal, traits that are all highly emphasized in Chinese culture. And for the NBA, Yao became the distinct and marketable player David Stern had been dreaming about, the guy who could open up China to the league.

Before Yao, little was known in the United States about China.  So little in fact, that Yao’s early jerseys sold in stores had “Ming” on the back, which would be the same as putting “Kobe” on the back of Kobe Bryant’s jersey.  Now, most people still don’t have a clue about China.  But, unlike 10 years ago, most people’s understandings and impressions of the People’s Republic — no matter how primitive — involve an image of a 7-6 Shanghai born-and-raised center named Yao Ming who was the consensus best center on the planet for a short stretch of time.

Had it not been for those injuries that ultimately cost Yao his career, Yao still may be the best center today.  But, that’s the other reason why Yao was so unique.  For his entire career, Yao had to operate in two worlds, the world of Chinese basketball and the world of NBA basketball.  Option 1b of the Rockets’ offense to Tracy McGrady’s 1a, Yao was option 1a through 1z on the Chinese national team.  While his American and European co-workers could recouperate and rest in the off-season after a taxing 82-game season, Yao was called upon every summer to train and play for the national team, no matter how meaningless the competition.  But, he always played the good soldier.  He showed up to training when he was told to and he never complained, despite the fact that playing ball year-round for as long as he did ruined his career. Even back in May, when Yao was put on the national team roster, he expressed gratitude.  At the time, Yao could barely jog.

Just think if was Yi Jianlian instead of Yao in 2002.  Would the American media warmed up to a guy who exudes a personality similar to a doorknob?  Would the public have been as infatuated with a guy who has yet to show he really belongs in the league? Would Chinese have flocked to their television sets to watch Yi come off the bench for the Bucks? Would NiuBBall have been launched? JaVale McGee’s dunk contest PEAK fashion show? Kobe Bryant Sprite commercials with Taiwanese pop superstar, Jay Chou? Lockout inspired China exhibition tour proposals?

Thankfully for everyone, including us, it was Yao who came first.  And now that he’s played for the last time, we can look back and reflect on a Hall of Fame career that wasn’t so much important for his individual achievements and statistics, but more so for achieving basketball success with Chinese characteristics.

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Chuck Hayes’ China tour grabs headlines for the wrong reasons

July 10, 2011

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Every summer, lots and lots of NBA come to China, because, well, there are lots and lots of Chinese NBA fans.  An estimated 300-400 million to be exact.

Sure, superstars like Kobe, Durant, LeBron and Dwight Howard make sure to spend a bit of time in the PRC in the off-season.  But China also sees its fair share of aging veterans, solid starters, dependable role players and up and coming rookies make summertime trips over here.  This year alone, Luis Scola, Rudy Gay, Eric Gordon, Roy Hibbert, JaVale McGee and Jeremy Lin among others have traveled around various regions of China in hopes of marketing themselves and the various brands — American or Chinese — which they represent.

This week, the Houston Rockets’ Chuck Hayes is the latest NBAer to find himself flying around China.  Hayes recently penned a deal with Chinese shoe company Qiaodan, and has made stops in Shenzhen, Beijing and Shenyang among other cities as part of his promotional tour.

(A relevant side note on Qiaodan:  The Chinese, who read and write with Chinese characters and thus do not use the Western alphabet, solve the potential problem of dealing with Western names by translating them into similar sounding Chinese equivalents.  For example, “Chuck Hayes” is written as 査克·海耶斯 and is pronounced as cha-kuh  high-yeh-suh. The name Qiaodan, pronounced chee-yow dahn, is the Chinese equivalent of “Jordan,” as in “Michael Jordan.” Since MJ doesn’t have a copyright on his Chinese name, the brand is free to use it as their company name without any legal repercussions.)

Hayes, like any other typical China promotional tour, has held youth clinics, made public appearances, gone on a microblogging binge on Sina Weibo and given exclusive interviews to Chinese media.  Each element has been done a million times before on previous China tours and nothing exciting really ever happens.

The overall boring-ness surrounding everything holds particularly true during these interviews, which generally consist of a player sitting down for a super awkward one-on-one session with a Chinese journalist who has at best has a mediocre grasp on English.  Serving plates of straight up fluff sandwiches on white bread with no crust from the start, the interviews remain light and non-controversial, mostly centering on the player’s thoughts about the various Chinese cities he’s been to, the food he’s eaten and the reactions from all of his fans.  The answers are all positive; China is awesome, the fans are great and the food is interesting.

On Thursday, however, Hayes’ smooth voyage was interrupted by an enterprising Chinese journalist on the hunt for a big story.  According to a story written in the Yangtze Evening News, Hayes was asked by a journalist working for the newspaper about why his former teammate in Houston, Steve Francis, failed miserably in his attempt to resurrect his career in the CBA with the Beijing Shougang Ducks in December of last year.  According to the story, Hayes privately told the reporter that Francis’ shockingly poor play was due to a longtime battle with drugs.

When Francis’ performance wasn’t even on the level of an average [Chinese] CBA player, people wondered: Is this really Steve Francis? How is he so thin and small? Is he on drugs? Yesterday [Friday, July 7], Hayes said that Francis indeed does have a drug addiction and that is the reason why his physical state has declined so rapidly. At present, Francis has been unable to climb out of his addiction.

Like we said before, this is far from the plan that Hayes and every other NBA player who comes to China has set for them.  The main goal of a China tour is to interact with fans, promote their brand and say nice things about China so that the hundreds of millions of people here will buy their shoes.  It is not within anyone’s interest to say anything controversial that would bring negative attention to oneself or anyone else.  Which is why we’re quite skeptical as to if Hayes actually said that.

Note that nowhere in the story is he actually quoted, which suggests that there may have been some sneaky, unethical journalism going on. It’s certainly possible that the journalist did not make himself known to Hayes, and that Hayes believed he was speaking off the record and/or to someone outside the media. It’s also possible that the reporter, whose English is not very good, worded the question poorly or just flat out misunderstood Hayes’ response. Whatever the case, Hayes’ perceived comments have been published by numerous Chinese online and print sources and have created quite a reaction on message boards and comments sections.

Still, the story wreaks of bad tabloid journalism.  So much so that Sina, China’s largest web portal, released a statement below the original story shortly after they posted it online on Thursday: ”Sina has posted this article for the purpose of transferring more information,” the statement reads.  ”It does not mean we confirm the story or agree with its contents.”

Hayes has since denied the entire story (Hayes’ response, spoken in English, is in Chinese and has been re-translated back into English by NiuBBall.  It’s not exactly what he said, but its close enough):

I said Francis played poorly while he was in the CBA because he had a drug addiction? I never said that. Maybe [he didn't play well] because he was out of shape.  Maybe it was his coach.  Maybe he was playing out of position.  He’s a great player.  I absolutely did not say he had a drug addiction.

Though this is the first incident that I can recall where a touring NBA player has been in the news for an explosive story like this, its definitely not the first time that Chinese media have been questioned over their ethics.  Chinese news outlets are notorious for posting bogus stories and rumors in order to make a name for themselves.  Will players be more cautious when deciding what topics to discuss with people while in China?  I don’t know — but they should at least be aware that stuff like this goes on.

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Yao Ming: If my ankle can’t recover this summer, I’ll retire

June 13, 2011

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Since returning to his hometown of Shanghai last month, Yao Ming has been in the news for everything from suing a China-based sportswear company for illegally using his name, to speaking out against the consumption of shark-fin soup, and of course, his recovery from a fractured right ankle.

Speaking on the latter yesterday to reporters, Yao spoke more forwardly than ever about his NBA comeback chances, telling reporters that if he can’t get healthy this summer, he’ll hang it up for good.

Speaking to the Peninsula Morning News, Yao stated “It all depends on the ankle.  If I can get it healthy, then I’ll retire in two years.  Otherwise, it’ll be this summer.”

Yao played five games with the Houston Rockets last year before suffering a season-ending stress fracture in his right ankle.  With his contract with the Rockets set to expire at the end of the month, Yao will hit free-agency this summer for the first time in his nine year career.

Though Yao has missed 159 out of 164 games the last two season, the former 2002 number one overall pick has stated his desire to come back for another go.  Citing the birth of his daughter, who is with him in China for the first time in her young life, Yao has specifically expressed his determination to play in front his daughter so that she’ll have memories of her father in the NBA.

“It’s a very enticing motivation, an extremely enticing motivation,” said Yao.

But, in recent weeks, Yao has been less and less optimistic about a possible return.  Answering questions from China Daily while doing charity work in Gansu province last Friday, Yao expressed doubt over his troubled ankle’s ability to heal well enough for him to extend his career.

“My left foot fracture is the result of a previous injury and relapse last December,” said Yao.  ”Due to the set back, I am being conservative about it healing.  Actually, I do not dare say I am optimistic right now.”

“I am recovering from the injury step by step. Right now the situation is just as it was at the same period last year when I battled against the last injury.  Frankly, I can’t be too optimistic. I just remain patient.”

Last week, Yao admitted his ankle was far from where it needed to be if he were to play competitively again.

“Walking or jogging is OK for me now, but I need to get 80 percent of my strength back to play I have got only about 30 percent at most now. I also need exhibition games to assist my recovery, not only working out alone.”

Speculation about a speedy comeback from Yao started when the Chinese Basketball Association decided to include the 30 year-old’s name on its summer National Team training camp roster last April.  China is preparing to host the 2011 FIBA Asia World Championships, where they aim to win gold and qualify for the 2012 London Olympics.  Standing in their way, however, will likely be Iran, the team who humiliated China two years ago in the same tournament by dominating the Chinese in the finals.  With Rice’s Arsalan Kazemi expected to bolster a championship roster led by current Memphis Grizzlies center, Hamed Haddadi, the pressure will be on the host nation to put forth their best players in an attempt to prevent the Iranians from repeating.  With nobody even close to capable of limiting Haddadi, who torched China in the finals with his rebounding and high-post passing, China is quietly hoping that Yao will be able to return by September in time for the tournament.  But, unless something extraordinary happens in Yao’s recovery, it looks as if the Chinese will be without their star center.

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Chinese netizens react to Yao Ming’s American daughter

May 30, 2011

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Yao Ming’s one year-old daughter, Amy, came to Shanghai for the first time last week on an American passport.

Currently back in his hometown of Shanghai, Yao Ming’s annual summertime return to China has received even more attention than usual in years past.  Fresh off buying a new house in Shanghai, Yao and his wife have brought their one year-old baby daughter, Amy, to China for the first time in her young life.

The offspring of an extremely genetically appealing couple, Amy, whose Chinese name is Yao Qinlei (姚沁蕾), has piqued the interest of height-crazed media and fans, not surprisingly in regards to her prospects of some day playing for the Chinese Women’s National Team.

Though we don’t doubt she’s going to be a very tall gal one day, after reading that Amy entered China on an official American passport, we’re seriously wondering about that whole Team China idea.

Thus far, Yao has been extremly careful to avoid media.  After landing in Shanghai on Thursday, Yao managed to dodge a group of eager camera-wielding journalists who were waiting for the family to come out of the gate, and has since kept the baby out of sight from the public.

But, even though nobody has managed to snap a photo of China’s most famous baby, Amy has caused quite a stir in the press by arriving here as an American citizen.  In the months leading up to her birth, many people questioned what nationality Yao and Ye would choose for their child.  Yao responded by saying Amy would start off as an American citizen, but could choose her nationality for herself when she turned 18.

The phenomenon of famous people with money switching their nationality is not new in China.  In 2008, Chinese movie megastar, Gong Li, became a Singaporean citizen after she married her Singaporean husband.  Her decision set off massive amounts of Chinese netizens, some who agreed with the decision, others who simply labeled it as “unpatriotic.” Another high-profile movie star, Jet Li, also took Singaporean citizenship in 2009 after he tied the knot with his Singaporean wife.

In China, an extremely prideful country, Yao and Ye’s decision has also been commented on at great length.  And now that Amy is an official American passport holding inter-continental globetrotter, Chinese netizens have once again come out in force to share their opinion on the matter.  Here’s just a few of the many, many thousands that were posted on Sina.

阿克苏: Yao’s family is free to choose whatever they want, everyone just shut up!

淄博: I’m a little disappointed but I can understand.  I hope after all of this he doesn’t talk about how patriotic he is.

攀枝花: Yao Ming, are you Chinese!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

新浪广东广州手机用户: Yao Ming is only doing this so he can have a son (referring to China’s one-child policy).

新浪山东烟台手机用户: I support Yao’s sensible decision.

新浪广东广州手机用户: If China didn’t back up and support him, Yao would be like Tang Zhengdong, nobody in America would no who he is.

新浪浙江杭州手机用户: You really can’t stay in this country, if you’re rich you have to leave.

新浪广东潮州手机用户: Yao is garbage.

新浪手机用户: After she’s 18? How ridiculous is that!

tjtas: How patriotic!  What a real “national hero!”

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Monday Morning Jianbing

May 30, 2011

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Starting your day right with China’s favorite street breakfast and a bunch of links…
  • The Georgetown Hoyas are definitely coming to China in August, but as to who they will be playing against?  That’s still a mystery.  We’ve said it multiple times before and we’ll say it again: Playing anyone but the National Team will be a huge waste of time.  And since the National Team will be busy gearing up for the FIBA Asia Championships, it appears as if the Hoyas are going to be beating up on cupcake university and professional teams.
  • Speaking of mysteries, here’s more speculation from ESPN’s mysterious ”Player X,” who is saying up to 15% of NBA players will be playing overseas next year in the event of a lockout.
  • Luis Scola is in China and has been doing lots of stuff: Travelling the country, doing interviews, visiting schools, participating in promotions and doing halftime in-studio commentary during during Game 4 of the Mavs-Thunder on CCTV5.  Scola has spoken on a lot of subjects since arriving here, including a rumored move to Shanghai next year.  The Sharks’ owner, Yao Ming, wants the Argentinian to play on his hometown team next year, but has apparently told him that he’s “too expensive.”
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Yao Ming sues Chinese athletic apparel company

May 17, 2011

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Yao Ming is suing Wuhan Yunhe Sharks Sportswear Co. for putting his name on its products, including this shoe pictured above.
(Photo via Xinhuanet.com)

Whether you call them fake, bootleg, rip-off, jia de or shanzhai, getting your hands on pirated, unofficial goods in China is as easy as finding a pair of chopsticks.  Ranging from DVDs and clothing to video games and bottled alcohol, China’s booming market of unauthorized, unofficial products remains as a widespread phenomenon that tickles the core of every cost-conscious foreign tourist that sets foot inside the country, and frustrates the heck out of every major foreign brand executive.

But, after having his name ripped off by a Chinese company, Yao Ming is simply calling fake goods “illegal,” and he wants somebody to pay for it.

Last Friday, “Team Yao,” a group of Yao-minded advisors and strategists led by Yao’s Chinese agent, Lu Hao, announced that the Houston Rockets center was suing Wuhan Yunhe Sharks Sportswear Co. for illegally using Yao’s name and image to sell athletic apparel to consumers.

Lu read this statement at a press conference last Friday (via Xinhua):

Without the permission of Yao Ming, Wuhan Yunhe Sharks Sportswear Co. illegally used Yao Ming’s signature and “Yao Ming Generation” as a business logo in their production clothing line, shoes and other apparel, and sold them in nationwide specialty stores.  They also used Yao Ming’s portrait in an advertising campaign. Through websites and other media, the company launched false propaganda which mislead consumers into believing the company had a business relationship with Yao. These acts not only damaged Yao’s name and portrait, they also worked against the interests of consumers.

This is not the first time Yao has had to deal with legal issues over the use of his name.  In 2003, Yao sued Coca-Cola for one yuan (at the time around 12 cents) for improperly using his image on Coca-Cola products and promotional materials, a case which he won.  At the time, Yao was signed with PepsiCo.  In 2008, he signed with Coca-Cola for the Beijing Olympics.

In 2001, when Yao was still playing in the Chinese Basketball Association for the Shanghai Sharks, a company attempted to register the same “Yao Ming Generation” trademark, but the move was blocked once Yao and his lawyers found out.  According to the Xinhua article, similar situations occur once every two to three months, but are rarely serious cases because the companies are small.

This time however, was different.  Said Lu: “At the beginning, this company didn’t want to create a big stir, and Yao didn’t want to go to court because we were afraid the the lawsuit would only encourage copyright infringement. However, we were also considering the advice of our lawyers and were always in discussion with the company. But, the company has already started to sell these products nationwide, and they’re only selling more and more. We’ve reached the end of our patience.”

Yao is currently signed with Reebok, who he has been with since his rookie season in 2002. Though he has played only five games in the last two years for the Rockets, Yao remains extremely marketable and is featured in several ad campaigns in China.  Most recently, Yao was announced as the spokesperson for BMW’s new electric hybrid plug-in car, which will start production in 2013.

As the internet becomes more available to China’s 1.3 billion person population, the Chinese government has struggled to enforce intellectual property rights, which in turn has frustrated several Western countries.  Earlier this month, the United States put China on its annual list of countries with the worst record of preventing copyright theft, making it China’s seventh straight appearance.

The government has steadfastly maintained that they are increasing measures to enforce intellectual property rights, and that progress is being made.  Last Thursday, China’s mot popular search engine, Baidu, was ordered to pay just over $75,000 to Shanda Literature, an original content provider website, for illegally infringing upon the company’s copyrights.  Baidu, which can be used to access and download an almost unlimited amount of music, video, literature and movies at no cost, has received the brunt of critics’ ire and the case is being viewed as a landmark in the battle against intellectual property rights infringement.

Yao’s case is not expected to have much impact on the bootleg sports apparel market. Though authorities crack down occasionally on local businesses who sell cheap knockoffs, vendors are typically allowed to sell whatever they want. Fake Nike, adidas, Reebok, Air Jordan and other brands are sold for as much as 1/20th the price of authentic, in-store goods.  For a country that is still finding its middle-class, there are plenty of people who prefer to bargain for the bootleg stuff.

We’ll have an eye on the progress of Yao’s case, so make sure to check back with NiuBBall.com for updates.

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Tuesday Afternoon Tanghulu

April 26, 2011

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Sweetening up your afternoon with a stick of Beijing’s timeless sugar coated snack and some links…

  • The Super Basketball League crowned a familiar champion, the Taiwan Beer, after they overcame the Dacin Tigers 4-1 in their seven game series.  (I wonder what they drank after the game…)  But as Andrew Lowman over at Asia Basketball Update points out, there’s not too much to be celebrating here — the Beer’s best domestic players are likely to go play in China next year, where the money and exposure are all better, and obviously that’s not very good for the health of the league.
  • Stephon Marbury, who was courtside for both Games 4 and 5  of the CBA finals in Guangdong, thinks the American-Aregentinian-Chinese officiating crew is doing a good job.  And I agree.
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Yao Ming’s big summer of uncertainty

April 23, 2011

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The CBA surprised everyone a little bit a couple of weeks ago when they accounced the inclusion of Yao Ming, who is still not completely recovered after missing the majority of the lat two years with foot injuries, on the Chinese national team training camp roster.

As we wrote after the announcement, it’s more symbolic than anything.  As the face of Chinese basketball, it’s Yao’s duty (according to the CBA) to fulfill his commitment to the country that raised him into the NBA All-Star he is today. Even if he’s on the list, he’s unlikely to play.

Or is he?

In a story written on April 15th, the Yangtse Evening Post reported that the CBA is privately hoping that Yao will be ready to play for the National team this September for the 2011 FIBA Asia Championship, which will be held in Wuhan.  It’s an important tournament for China: The winner automatically qualifies for the 2012 London Olympics and averts from playing in a high stakes Olympic Qualifying Tournament in July 2012.

China’ debacle in 2009, when they lost in the same tournament to Iran in the finals, is also a huge reason why the CBA would like to see Yao in a Team China jersey again. Without Yao, who was out of the lineup with a broken left foot, China struggled to contain Iranian 7-3 big man, Hamed Haddadi, who went off in the finals for 19 points and 17 in the championship match.

Without Haddadi in November, who was in the States playing for the Memphis Grizzlies, Iran nearly beat China in the semi-finals of the Asian Games in Guangzhou.  With Haddadi and possibly Arsalan Kazemi, the first Iranian player ever to play NCAA D-1 basketball, suiting up for Iran, China will have its hands full trying to prevent their rivals from snatching their third straight Asia Championship.

Obviously, the CBA is feeling a ton of pressure to win gold, otherwise they wouldn’t even consider resorting to the drastic measure of risking Yao’s long-term health.  In Chinese sports. gold medals are considered as necessities, not luxuries.  Anything short of a gold would be a failure in the eyes China National Sports Administration, which means more pressure on the CBA.

Uncertainty around Yao’s National team future is just one of many things contributing to what is likely going to be a stressful summer.  Heading into a potential lockout with bum feet, Yao for the first time in his career is a free-agent with an uncertain future.  Though Houston has indicated they’d like to bring back Yao if he’s healthy enough, longtime Rockets head coach, Rick Adelman, was let go by the team earlier this week.

No NBA contract, no NBA head coach and no way of knowing whether he’s going to be healthy enough to play for China in September… yeah, we think Yao will have even more on his mind than usual when the weather heats up.

The media attention to Yao’s possible return has been huge, so big in fact that Yao himself responded two days ago to set the record straight about the CBA’s intentions:

The CBA truly hasn’t put any pressure on me, it’s not like they’re trying to torture me like everyone is saying. They’re attitude are completely in accordance with the interests of my health.  They just hope that if my body is up to it, I can represent the National team. I’m hoping the same thing, too.

Call us crazy, but after reading this little snippet from Yao, we think more basketball is the last thing this guy needs right now:

“I’m still in very limited workouts,” Yao said. “I still cannot walk on my full weight. I have to try on the court running up and down and then see how it is going.

“In 10 weeks I can start running up and down the court a little bit. At that time the foot will tell me how much I can get back.”

(H/T Off the Dribble)

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Monday Night Chuanr

February 7, 2011

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Nighttime links served up proper with a hearty helping of lamb on a stick.
  • Yao Ming, who was voted in by (lots of Chinese) fans as a starter for this year’s All-Star game in Los Angeles despite being declared out for the year by Houston in December, will be replaced by Minnesota’s Kevin Love.  It’s a tough call: Among the crowd of players that left us impressed after a month of League Pass viewing when we were Stateside, LaMarcus Aldridge really stood out for his improved aggressiveness and alley-ooping, but at the same time, we’re well aware of the history that Love is chasing.  If you’re a player, having all this competition for an All Star spot might be frustrating.  If you’re a fan like us though, the only maybe frustrating part is having to decide which of the many great players we want to tune into every night.
  • Kobe Bryant: 5-time NBA champion, Lakers all-time leading scorer, philanthropist for Chinese culture exchanges.  It’s funny — lots of people call Stephon Marbury “crazy” for various reasons, with his new playing career in China used as evidence by some who make that claim, but Kobe’s words about the Chinese and their “open arms” sound an awful lot what Steph was saying about his fans back in November.
  • When your Chinese animal year comes around once every 12 years, you might choose to ring the occasion by cleaning your entire house to throw away all of the bad luck from the year before, eating a big dinner with your family, lighting up some firecrackers and hanging up a bunch of fu‘s around the house.  If you’re Micheal Jordan, who was born under the Year of the Rabbit in 1963, you skip all that stuff and just release a new pair of shoes, specifically a special limited Air Jordan 2011 “Year of the Rabbit” edition.
  • The CBA has been off for the last two weeks Chinese New Year for the last two weeks, but will resume again this Wednesday.
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Monday Morning Jianbing

December 28, 2010

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Starting your day right with China’s favorite street breakfast and a bunch of links…

  • You can say that Steve Francis’ short-lived stay in Beijing was a disaster, and you’d probably be right.  But, try telling that to his wallet.  According to Beijing News Online, the Ducks have agreed to pay Francis one-third of his “guaranteed” one-year deal, which amounts to roughly $300,000.  As in, 300 large for 14 minutes of on-court action. If you don’t have a calculator handy, Francis pocketed $21,428.57 per minute.  So say all you want about the man, but I don’t think Franchise is sweating it too hard.
  • In addition for being the talk of the league for the Fu Laoda circus, Beijing is also turning heads because of their surprise 6-1 record, an early season accomplishment that is even more impressive when you consider that they’ve been winning without another American import.  So who do the Ducks go with to replace Francis? 163 Sports is speculating that they might be interested in bringing CBA veteran, Smush Parker, back to the league. Parker, who left to play in Russia after winning two championships with Guangdong in 2008-09 and 2009-10, is reportedly unhappy in his new digs and wants back to China.
  • Whoa!  The Rockets are fielding offers for Yao Ming and his mammoth expiring contract.  If Morey is bent on acquiring more assets to make a run some day for a franchise player, this would make sense, but count me as one of many who would feel completely weird with the whole idea of Yao on another NBA team, even if he’s just on the books.
  • “Max” Zhang Zhaoxu skipped his junior and senior year at Cal Berkeley to play professionally under Chinese national team head coach, Bob Donewald Jr., for the Shanghai Sharks in an attempt to get on the 2012 London Olympics roster.  So far, he hasn’t really been able to get into the team’s rotation as their main center: In seven games, he’s averaged a disappointing 17 minutes, 5 points, 4 rebounds and 1.6 blocks for the equally disappointing Sharks, who lost for the third time already this year last night away at Liaoning.  Said assistant coach Wang Qun after the loss, “He needs to solidify his fundamentals.”
  • The Chinese government is cracking down on English word and acronyms that have “diluted Chinese in recent years,” which includes the NBA. From NBC’s China blog, Behind the Wall: “While decrees like this one alarm few – such government notices are rarely followed – they do elicit bouts of pungent sarcasm. In April, TV channels were told to ban English acronyms like NBA, which translated into Chinese in as long as 10 characters: ‘Mei Guo Nan Zi Zhi Ye Lan Qiu Lian Sai.’” To reiterate, as someone who lives full time in Beijing, nobody on TV or in print follows this rule because a: its ridiculous and b: its pretty much unenforceable.  Crackdowns like these happen periodically, mostly as a result of politicians jockeying for power, and hardly anybody takes them seriously. (H/T PBT)
  • Wanna know what Chinese think about Jews?  Sure you do.  Despite having some history on the mainland, the vast majority of Chinese have never met a Jew or learned about their history in school.  Check this great piece (in Yiddish!) over at Shanghaiist and listen to what take a peep at the start of the credits for a bunch of dudes in blue jeans and crazy hair cuts balling out the only way the Chinese know how, half-court 4v4 style.
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Monday Morning Jianbing

December 6, 2010

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Starting your day right with China’s favorite street breakfast and a bunch of links…

  • As Rockets fans in both the States and China know, Yao Ming has taken a while, almost a month to be exact, to come back from a bone bruise in his left ankle.  Aaron Brooks has been out of the lineup for about a month, too with an ankle sprain.  So it should come as good news that both of them have set target dates, Yao on Tuesday against Detroit and Brooks on Friday against Milwaukee, for their return.  In Yao’s case though, setting a return date is no good if you don’t tell your head coach, or if you’re a blogger that thinks the Rockets, big guy or no big guy, are just not a very good basketball team this year.
  • Less than a week away from their season opener and Jiangsu Nangang’s key core of veterans are still holding out for better contracts.  According to the Yangtse Evening Post, the main issue involves bonus payouts.  Ownership will pay out only if the team finishes in the top three, while the players want guaranteed payments if they finish top five.  Those who are unsigned won’t play until the team first agrees with Chinese national team center, Tang Zhengdong.  Tang, upset that the team won’t write in a clause that would allow him to switch teams next year into his contract, didn’t wear his mandatory uniform to a press conference and hasn’t practiced with the team since he returned from the Asian Games in Guangzhou last week.
  • Newly signed Beijing Duck, Steve Francis, who hasn’t arrived yet in China, is expected to join up with his team soon, but won’t be ready to play in their first two games, including their home opener on the 15th.  But, that won’t mean fans won’t get a chance to get in on some fresh Franchise gear: At halftime this year, cheerleaders and mascots will be tossing Francis signed sweatshirts, hats and scarfs into the stands for fans to grab.  If you have short arms or you have trouble catching things, you can buy all that stuff in the pro-shop inside the stadium if you so choose.
  • This is kind of amazing: Jeremy Lin’s 12th appearance of the season against Phoenix last Thursday nudged him by former New York forward, Ed Smith, as Harvard’s number two all-time leader in NBA games played.  Even more amazing? Lin only needs to get on the court 32 more times to overtake Saul Mariaschin as number one.
  • hoopCHINA says that Patrick O’Bryant is very close to being released by Fujian.  According to team sources, O’Bryant is being punished inside both in practice and in pre-season games, and has become less and less willing to go inside on offense, choosing instead to stand mostly on the perimeter.  This poses various problems for the team, first and foremost being that they signed O’Bryant to play center, not guard.  A source with NiuBBall.com confirmed hoopCHINA’s report that management is looking to back Chris Porter, who played with the team last year.
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Yi vs. Yao exists only in your mind

November 12, 2010

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Whenever Yi Jianlian and Yao Ming cross paths on the basketball court, I cringe.  Not because I think they’re bad basketball players, but because of the predictable, redundant media coverage that focuses on the same few storylines:

Look at how far China has come!  Two players in the NBA!  Who would have ever thought?

These two guys are carrying the weight of 1.2 billion people!  What pressure!

You might not care in America, but in China, TV ratings for this game will exceed the Super Bowl!  Wow, they really like basketball over there!

This year, because the game is being playing in the Verizon Center, located in Washington D.C.’s Chinatown district… you can guess where the headlines went with that one.

Hopefully by now, you’re understanding what I’m getting at.  This just isn’t a big deal anymore.

Before you retort, ask yourself this: Was Pau Gasol asked a bunch of questions about playing against Spanish national team teammate, Jose Calderon, last weekend?  What about Brazilians Leandro Barbosa and Andersen Varejao?  Did people try to make a big deal about those two playing in late October?  No, because there’s nothing left to say!  The “two country mates playing against each other” story has already been covered!  There are more interesting things to report! More exclamation points!

Yet for some reason, maybe because people feel that China’s rise matters more than stuff in other countries and/or people are simply fascinated by the Middle Kingdom, Yi vs. Yao transforms into epic hyperbole that can explain everything from China’s 8% annual GDP to Liu Xiaobo’s Nobel Peace Prize.

It doesn’t matter like that.  Last night was Yi and Yao’s fifth meeting.  The only thing that matters now is what happens during the game.

Tell ‘em, Yao Ming:

“I like the game against him,” Yao said. “I just don’t like being asked, ‘Do you like the game against Yi? What does that mean for you?’ ”

And Yi:

“Nothing special, for me. Maybe a lot of people watch in China. Won’t be like the NBA Finals, but people will still watch it.”

I watched it and so did my neighbor from the floor below, whose ai yo‘s could be heard loud and clear through my screen window.  What we saw: Six minutes of Yao, who left in the first quarter after tweaking a tendon in his leg, 12 points, 7 points, 4 blocks and crunch time minutes from Yi, Gilbert Arenas bricking everything in sight, and a triple-double from your 2010-2011 Rookie of the Year John Wall.  Oh yeah, and the Wizards won 98-91.

If you’re into Kiss Cams and various Wizards trying to spell “Yi Jianlian” on the JumboTron, you can check out these pictures from the game, posted by some dude on HoopChina’s BBS.

Also John Wall is so fast, I fear that if I ever hit fast forward on my DVR during a game, my television will blow up.

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China Games Beijing: Houston 91 – New Jersey 81

October 13, 2010

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The Rockets and Nets just finished up their first of two games to be played in China at the Wukesong Arena in Beijing. Yao Ming ellicited cheers from his thousands of countrymen in the crowd every time he touched the ball, and in 19 minutes he scored nine points and grabbed three rebounds.  Kevin Martin led the Rockets with 18 and Aaron Brooks had 17.

I could care less about who won, though.  The game itself doesn’t matter; it’s pre-season.  But, the fact that the NBA is in China?  That does matter.  In fact, I feel it matters so much, it’s part of the reason why I started this blog.  So while the game itself was poorly played, the timeouts were extra long, and the incessant noise blasting through the jumbotron, through my television speakers and into my living room was super annoying, I still think it’s kind of cool that two NBA teams just played basketball in Beijing.

A few quick thoughts on the game:

  • Yao looked like Yao: He discouraged penetration on defense, hit a jump shot on a pick-and-pop, played very effectively when his man played behind him in the post, and struggled to free himself when his man fronted him.  He even fell down once.  Overall, I liked what I saw.
  • Derrick Favors did absolutely nothing to dispel reports that he has been struggling to pick up the NBA game.  I felt like throwing him a GPS he looked so lost out there.  He’s definitely a project.
  • Yu Jia, who is basically the Chinese Mike Breen, only a lot shorter and a lot less knowledgeable about the game of basketball, proclaimed that Patrick Patterson “has no use” in pick and pop situations because he missed all of his midrange attempts. Keen observation, Yu: It’s always a good idea to judge someone based on one game played on a ton of jetlag.  Delighted to get my first shot at Yu Jia in — trust me, it won’t be the last.
  • Brook Lopez had the most invisible 22 and 7 I’ve ever seen.  I saw him play against Philly two years ago in one of the worst basketball games I’ve ever witnessed, and thought the same thing when I realized he had 18 and 10. For the record, when you’re best player is a center who causes people to say, “Wow, he has a double-double?” you’re team is in trouble.  NJ’s 12 wins last year speak quite loudly to that.

Much more on the China Games tomorrow…

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