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Stephon Marbury Has Silenced His Critics This Year, Maybe For Good

April 3, 2012

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This piece was originally posted on Beijing Cream; big ups to Anthony Tao for his reads and edits.

It’s November 2010, and Stephon Marbury has locked himself inside a hotel room in Taiyuan, Shanxi province, sad, hurt and uncertain over his future in China.

Eight months earlier, after basically being told he wasn’t welcome anymore in the NBA, he had come to play for the Shanxi Brave Dragons of the Chinese Basketball Association. American media cackled at this desperate move from a desperate man, and eagerly awaited what they felt sure would be a quick return Stateside.

In China, fans saved their laughter for the team Marbury was joining. Known equally for their dirty coal-crusted home city, an obsessive-compulsive owner, Wang Xingjiang, known as Boss Wang, and a huge pile of losses over the years, the Brave Dragons were their own punch line.

But it became clear from the beginning that Marbury didn’t consider any of this a joke. Arriving in January with a one-year contract and an ambitious business plan to sell his line of Starbury sneakers, Marbury quickly ingratiated himself to fans both on and off the court. He willingly engaged the media. He patiently signed autographs. He took pictures with locals. He learned a few basic Mandarin words. He tried Chinese food. He was, genuinely, it seemed, happy.

This was in stark contrast to Shanxi’s previous expensive import, Bonzi Wells, who hated it so much in China – the food, the long travel, the cold gyms, the endless practices, the crowds, everything – that he went back to the US during the CBA’s annual Spring Festival break and never came back. He lasted 14 games. After 15 games, Marbury’s CBA career seemed to be just taking off, culminating with the MVP award in the CBA All-Star Game. Shanxi was ready to sign Marbury to a multiyear extension. In a little under half a season, he had turned the Brave Dragons into the CBA’s hottest ticket while transforming himself into the foreign darling of China.

But maybe most important of all, he’d found peace. With the Chinese either not knowing or not caring about his past, here was a rare opportunity to reinvent himself, a clean slate. He used that opportunity to show love – “love is love,” as he was fond of tweeting.

Which is why, back in the hotel just two weeks before the start of the new season, it hurts so much to realize that Shanxi no longer has love for him: Boss Wang has just informed him he isn’t wanted.

~

It’s December 2011, and Stephon Marbury and the Beijing Ducks have just won their 13th straight game to open the season, the best start in team history.

“Our goal is to win a championship,” he says.

Over a year earlier, after his separation with Shanxi, he had come to Beijing to offer his services. Boss Wang and his newly appointed general manager, Zhang Aijun, became the latest to laugh at him, adding to his desire to prove his doubters wrong.

The reasons for Marbury’s separation from Shanxi are unclear. Shanxi claimed he showed up to camp out of shape and with too many demands; Marbury says he merely wanted health insurance for his family and that he was committed to leading the team toward the playoffs. Whatever the case, Wang and Zhang proposed that Marbury stay on as an assistant, with the possibility that he would play if the team made the playoffs. Though they never said it publicly, they likely felt that he wasn’t good enough to lead their team.

Feeling cheated, Marbury declined, and after holing himself up in his room to recover and plan his next move, he boarded a plane to China’s capital. For Marbury, the timing of Shanxi’s decision could not have been worse — with the season starting soon, most teams had signed their allotment of foreign players, making his options severely limited.

One team that still had a spot was the Beijing Ducks. Marbury literally showed up at their front door. If they wanted him, he was theirs.

It turned out, though, they already had a guy lined up, another former NBA All-Star, Steve Francis. And though the deal hadn’t been finalized and Francis wasn’t in China, they said they were going through with it.

Known as Fu Lao Da (roughly translated as Don Francis, in reference to the mafia) by every Chinese who watched the Houston Rockets during Yao Ming’s first two years there, Francis was at the time one of China’s favorite NBA players. Idolized for his high-flying dunks just as much for his generosity toward Yao during his rookie season, the announcement of Francis’ contract with the Ducks was met with pinch-me-is-this-really-happening frenzy.

But the truth was, as informed fans and journalists knew, Francis was coming off major knee surgery and hadn’t played professional basketball in almost two years. And while television reports were announcing his lucrative two-year deal with clips of the old Stevie Franchise throwing down sick dunks, an old, skinny and out-of-shape retired basketball player got on a flight from the States bound for Beijing.

What followed was the most disastrous stint for a foreigner in Chinese basketball history. His 13-day, four-game stay included a 17-second debut with an ice pack around his ankle, a middle-finger, an outright refusal to practice and a grand total of 14 minutes played.

Francis would serve as the most extreme case in a season that was dominated by similarly failed jumps to China by former NBA players. Undoubtedly influenced by Marbury’s success in Shanxi, Javaris Crittenton, Ricky Davis, Mike James and Rafer Alston all at one time or another came to China with a goal to cash in on China’s big basketball market, and all left within a month.

Marbury ended up on a newly established team in Foshan, Guangdong province. His team, the Dralions – a cross between a Dragon and a Lion – had just moved from Shaanxi (not to be confused with Shanxi), where the owner had essentially gone bankrupt. As is the case with most bankrupt teams forced to relocate, Foshan stunk. At the core of the problem, their Chinese players were all very young, and they weren’t very good.

Meanwhile, not an hour away from Foshan were the Guangdong Southern Tigers, winners of seven CBA championships, and the DongGuan Leopards, an up-and-coming team with several young players who will one day play for the Chinese national team. Once the most popular player in all of China, Marbury was now barely the most popular player in his province. No matter how charming and nice he remained, people were unable to get excited about watching a losing basketball team. No longer the newest sensation in China, some in the media wondered if Marbury Mania had run its course.

He paid no mind to it, though. While players were running to US-bound planes at full sprint, Marbury remained happy with his life in China and maintained that his future rested here. As the losses mounted, he tried to stay positive by saying his goal was to develop the team’s young players.

Foshan ended the season by winning four of its last five. Still, the Dralions were 11-21, the fourth-worst team in the league. And the critics were clapping: two years in China, no playoff appearances. Some things never change, they thought.

Which is why, back in the Beijing locker room as he changes to leave the arena after starting the year 13-0, Stephon Marbury is feeling so good.

~

It’s August 2011 and Marbury has just signed a contract with the Beijing Ducks, the same team that rejected him for Steve Francis a year ago.

Reports of a decrease in Starbury’s popularity were premature, at least from a front-office standpoint. Once it became obvious that Marbury wasn’t headed back to Foshan, several teams expressed interest, including the Guangdong Southern Tigers, fresh off yet another CBA title.

In the end, he chose Beijing. As one of China’s biggest markets, it meant it would be good for his shoes. It was also, as he finds out after attending a Beijing Guo’an soccer match at Workers Stadium in the summer, a city passionate about sports. The fact that it’s a bustling metropolis rife with foreign restaurants and supermarkets doesn’t hurt, either.

“It’s exciting,” he said. “It’s my new life in China.”

~

It’s March 18, 2012, and Stephon Marbury is shredding the Shanxi Brave Dragons for 30 points and eight assists as the Beijing Ducks punch their first-ever ticket to the CBA Finals.

A week earlier, after torching his old squad for 53 points in Game 2 and 52 points in Game 3 to lead Beijing to a 2-1 series lead in the best-of-five series, Marbury was accused of striking a fan after a tense Game 4 in Taiyuan that Beijing lost. (In all likelihood, the fan made it up, as no witnesses corroborated the story and no video evidence was produced. Marbury received no punishment from the league.) Once again, American media laughed: it took more than two years, but the real Steph has come out for everyone to see. They laughed at Marbury, they laughed at his shoes, they laughed at his goal of winning a CBA championship.

But all they really did was give him more motivation.

Game 5 was delayed four days because CBA officials wanted tempers to simmer, but the game itself, in front of a packed Shougang Gymnasium on national TV, produced little by way of drama. The Ducks cruised to a 110-98 victory. Afterwards, Marbury ducked into a bathroom and sobbed with joy.

This moment, by all accounts, was portrayed as the denouement of the 2012 Stephon Marbury saga. Because the team that waited in the finals was the four-time defending champs, the Guangdong Southern Tigers, with their NBA-level imports in Aaron Brooks and James Singleton and a roster of full of National Team players. Surely the Ducks wouldn’t be able to write a happier ending than the one they just got.

Right?

It’s March 30, 2012, and Stephon Marbury is a champion. Nobody is laughing anymore.

In five games, Beijing upends Guangdong in the biggest upset in CBA history. And then, with his teammates and the coaching staff still in the locker room, Marbury emerges by himself and stands at midcourt while 18,000 – the largest crowd to ever attend a CBA game – chant his name.

Over the last season, Year Three, Marbury found his home as a Beijing ye menr – a true Beijinger, in the eyes of the people who live here. He’s not just a basketball player, he’s a fixture of the city, a daily participant in its day-to-day. He continues to go to Guo’an soccer games, he chats with fans on Sina Weibo (Chinese Twitter), he writes a weekly China Daily column and occasionally rides the subway to practice. People feel that it’s genuine.

In his own locker room, he’s Ma Dao, the undisputed leader of the team. He is lauded as an on-court coach by head coach Min Lulei. His Chinese teammates point to his positive attitude and work ethic as major reasons this year’s team came together so quickly, going from an eighth seed in last year’s playoffs to champions. Two rookies, Zhu Yanxi and Zhai Xiaochuan, both of whom played critical roles in Beijing’s success this year, were selected to the National Team training camp roster this summer; they credit Marbury with helping them achieve that.

In the CBA, he’s a spokesperson for the league and an advisor for newly arrived foreign players. He’s not just an advocate of basketball, he’s an advocate of Chinese basketball. He says he wants to help the sport, the league and its players grow. He says he wants to play in Beijing for four more years. He says he wants to stay in China until he’s old. He says he wants to coach the National Team one day.

That will come later, maybe. The only thing that matters now, though, are the fans showering him with love. He thumbs the front of his “Champions” t-shirt while fans chant, Zongguanjun – “We are champions!”

Shortly after lifting the trophy, he tweets, “I wanna thank all of the reporters who said I couldn’t play basketball anymore. I took your negative energy and turned it in positive energy.”

Love is Love. So is proving everybody wrong.

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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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Stephon Marbury officially signs with Beijing Shougang

August 26, 2011

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After a one year odyssey, Stephon Marbury is finally coming to the capital.

According to Sina Sports, Beijing Shougang and Marbury have agreed to a one-year deal. An anonymous source talking to NetEase Sports yesterday put the contract at around $1.4 million for the year. However, Beijing general manager Yuan Chao was quoted today as saying the deal worth roughly $100,000 per month (H/T hoopCHINA).

Last season Marbury played for the Foshan Dralions, where he averaged 25.2 points, 5.7 assists, 4.5 rebounds and 1.6 steals.

The announcement ends a long period of speculation that had linked Beijing and Marbury together. In June, news in China reported that the two sides had an undisclosed agreement for the upcoming season, which Marbury quickly denied.

But it always appeared likely that Beijing and Marbury would get something done as Marbury has long had his eye on the city. Before the start of last season, Marbury flew to Beijing to meet with team management after he was unexpectedly released by Shanxi Zhongyu in November. Though the team was interested in signing a high-profile former NBA player, the Ducks ultimately passed and chose to sign Steve Francis instead, who lasted with the team for less than two weeks.

Beijing should be an ideal fit for Marbury. In contrast to the two cities where he played the last two seasons, Taiyuan and Foshan, Beijing is a modern international city with a large ex-pat population and is thus a desirable spot for any foreign import to play. Furthermore, it is the home of LeTao, the online shoe retailer who is partnered with his Starbury shoe line. A casual line of his shoes have been available online since April.

Highly likely to join Marbury in Beijing is former New York Knicks and Atlanta Hawks center, Randolph Morris, who played a full season with the team last season. Though he has not officially re-signed, a deal is expected to be reached soon.

With this season’s rules on foreign players officially set, there will be a lot of activity over the next few weeks as teams look to fill out their import rosters for next season.

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Monday Morning Jianbing

July 25, 2011

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

After another long hiatus from dependable internet (basketball tournament in Yunnan, yes there’s a post in the works) NiuBBall is back in action, and this time for good. Even though we’re in the midst of a classic dirty, smoggy, hot Beijing summer, we’re not planning on going anywhere too crazy for a while. So let’s get it started back up again with  some familiar Monday morning links to munch on.
  • While U.S.-based writers have been writing about Yao’s immeasurable legacy on NBA and international basketball, Dan Levin for the New York Times uncovers the bleak post-Yao reality on the ground in China. We don’t think the National Team is a total lost cause — Donewald has done a good job starting the transition — but, with no other NBA talent outside of Yi Jianlian, the Chinese may on the way down. Here’s a pretty good recap of what’s being said in China about Yao’s retirement from over at Bloomberg. Here’s my take on the situation over at City Weekend Shanghai.
  • Dee Brown, who played last year in China with Qingdao Double Star, is off to Italy.
  • The Jordan Brand Flight Tour is set to go off in Hong Kong on Tuesday. The four-city tour will feature appearances by Dwyane Wade, Chris Paul and Carmelo Anthony. And as part of the tour, Nike will be introducing three new special China Tour kicks for Chinese sneakerheads’ shoe-buying pleasure.
  • Assuming Mamba loses, and assuming everyone’s eardrums are still intact, what would be the rubber match for the Jay Chou-Kobe Bryant competition? We suggest the two settle the score like real Chinese men: Sitting outside bareback with lots of yangrou chuanr and lots of beer. Last man standing wins.
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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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On eve of playoffs, Beijing and DongGuan making big changes

March 16, 2011

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One’s out of necessity; the other out of choice.  Yet a little more than one week before the opening game of the 2010-11 CBA playoffs, both DongGuan and Beijing are set to make major changes to their import lineup.

NetEase first reported that DongGuan, who sat firmly in second place almost the entire year before dipping into third on the last game of the year after losing to Guangdong, was releasing center Jackson Vroman because of a fractured finger that refused to heal well enough in time for the playoffs. According to the report, Vroman headed back to the States late last week to undergo surgery.

Shortly after Vroman’s release, DongGuan management indicated that they were searching for another center and according to an Asia-Basket report posted last night, that center is going to be Courtney Sims.  Ridiculous Upside, citing multiple sources within the D-League, is also reporting that Sims is headed to play for the New Century Leopards.

In 42 games for the D-League’s Iowa Energy this season, the 6-11 Sims averaged 16.7 points, 9.6 rebounds and 1.2 blocked shots on 56% from the field.  He also took took home MVP honors at the 2010-11 NBA D-League All-Star Game last February in Los Angeles.

Replacing Vroman will be a tough task.  Though Sims probably would have been called up to the League in any other season (NBA lockout, anyone?) it’s questionable as to how he’ll fit into DongGuan’s highly structured motion offense. The Lebanese-American Vroman found himself as the focal point for DongGuan, not only as a scorer but also as a high IQ distributor and was a key reason why the Leopards, who finished above all pre-season expectations at 25-7, had been the most pleasant surprise of the CBA regular season.

In 27 games, Vroman averaged 22.5 points, 10.6 rebounds, 4.9 assists, 2.8 steals and 1.6 steals over 27 games.

Sims’ success at integrating himself into a team with real finals aspirations will largely depend on how he plays alongside volume scoring combo-guard, Josh Akognon.  Playing mainly off the ball early and mid shot clock, Akognon benefited greatly from DongGuan head coach Brian Goorjian’s offense, getting most of his shots off of off-ball screens and hand-offs. Though comfortable facing up from the high post, Sims hasn’t been known up to this point for his passing and being that he will come in on extremely short notice, DongGuan’s hopes of meeting Xinjiang in the finals don’t appear to be as bright as they were two weeks ago.

Eighth seed Beijing, however, is hoping their pre-playoff import swap is going to at least make them competitive in the first round against that very same Xinjiang team.

Asia-Basket and Ridiculous Upside are both reporting that the Ducks have officially bought out Orien Greene from his contract with the Utah Flash and will sign him in time for their series opening game next week at Xinjiang.  He will be replacing Joe Crawford, who was let go by the team over the weekend.

One of just 12 Gatorade Call-Ups this year, Greene Greene averaged 17.0 points, 5.2 rebounds, 4.9 assists and 2.0 steals in 34 games this season for the Flash.

The reason for Crawford’s departure from Beijing remains somewhat of a mystery.  Though Beijing had been largely dissatisfied with his play over the last month, it appears that an incident last Wednesday was Crawford’s ultimate undoing in the capital city.

According to a report on Sina, Crawford had sustained an ankle injury during practice in the days leading up to Beijing’s regular season finale at home against Jilin.  The game was a big one: A win would have virtually clinched seventh place, which would have guaranteed avoiding heavy favorite Xinjiang in the first round, whereas a loss would have dropped them into eighth.  But, when the ankle was still not recovered on gameday, Crawford went to coach Min to tell him that he couldn’t go for the must-win match.

This is where the story gets tricky.  Midway through the game, despite knowing about the injury, Min called Crawford’s number on the bench anyway.  Crawford entered the game, but after trying to play called himself back onto the bench just 59 seconds later and refused to re-enter the game.

After the game, a disgusted Min told reporters that Crawford was faking it.

“He came to me at about 5:30pm, two hours before the start of the game, and he told me that he sprained his ankle,” said Min. “But the past few days during practice, to me it didn’t look like he was having any problems with the ankle.”

Shortly after Beijing lost 122-121 in overtime, sealing their first-round fate against Xinjiang, Min along with Beijing general manager, Yuan Chao, and other team officials, met to discuss the incident and promptly decided to cut Crawford and search for another import.

Sources with direct knowledge of the situation, however, have informed NiuBBall that Crawford remains adamant that he was hurt and is angry over the nature of his release.  During the game, teammate Randolph Morris told Min that Crawford’s ankle was in fact sprained and he shouldn’t be forced to play.  This isn’t the first time issues over player substitutions have come up — unexpected even to him, Steve Francis was inserted to the game wearing an ice pack on his ankle despite being told by Min prior the game that he wouldn’t play due to a lack of conditioning and severe jet lag.

In 16 games, Crawford averaged 24.1 minutes, 14.2 points, 1 assist and 2.5 rebounds on 40% shooting.

Known for his on ball defense, Greene will be depended upon mainly to contain arguably the best import in the league, Xinjiang’s Quincy Douby.  But, there’s a catch: Greene, who will arrive in Beijing this Friday, will not be able to practice with his team for more than a few days due to All-Star Weekend this Saturday and Sunday in Beijing.  Coach Min, Morris, Taiwainese point guard, Li Xuelin, and Chinese local, Chen Lei, will all participate in the All-Star Game; Min as an assistant and the players as reserves.

Beijing plays game one of their opening round series at home against Xinjiang next Wednesday, while DongGuan visit Guangsha on the same day.  The first-round playoff format is a best-of-five 1-2-1-1 format, with the lower seed hosting games one and four.

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Several CBA teams keeping tabs on NBA’s Wednesday cuts

January 5, 2011

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As we near the one month mark in the CBA regular season, several teams are looking towards America to remedy a host of early season ills.

With today being the final day NBA teams can waive players with partially guaranteed contracts — no extra salary payments required — several teams in China are closely monitoring the League transaction report to find out which players are going to spend the rest of the year in the States, and which players are in need of a job.

John Lucas III, freshly waived by Chicago, is one of those players who are seriously looking to China for work.

According to a source speaking anonymously with NiuBBall.com, both Shanghai and Beijing are highly interested in bringing over Lucas, who was officially let go by the Bulls yesterday.

Lucas is fielding several offers both within America and China, but at the moment it seems that Lucas prefers a return to Shanghai above all others.  Lucas played with the Sharks last year under American head coach, Bob Donewald Jr., guiding them to a 25-7 regular season record and an appearance in the semi-finals, and feels comfortable with Donewald, the city and the overall structure of the team.  Also playing a factor in his decision is Shanghai owner Yao Ming, who’s massive height may only be trumped by his well-known influence on both sides of the ocean.

In his first and only season with Shanghai last season, Lucas averaged 27.9 points, 4.9 rebounds and 4.7 assists on 48.6% shooting and 45.1% from three-point in 40 games.

Meanwhile in southern China, Guangdong, reportedly unsatisfied with the early season returns on Fred Jones, is also keeping a close watch on the NBA roster situations.  Troubled by Jones’ lack of overall explosion and athleticism, Guangdong has major concerns about his ability to handle Xinjiang’s Quincy Douby defensively, who went off on both player and team for 38 points — including 18-19 from the free throw line — in Xinjiang’s Round Five win in Guangzhou. Behind the duo of Douby and former Clippers/Mavericks/Wizards’ forward James Singleton to go along with a solid supporting cast of domestic players, Xinjiang has rolled to a 9-0 start and are considered the present odds on favorite to break Guangdong’s three year championship streak.

According to the source, Guangdong is searching for a combo guard similar in ability and build to Smush Parker, who played two years with the team in 2008-09 and 2009-10 before leaving to sign with Spartak St. Petersberg in Russia.

In nine games, Jones is averaging 14.1 points, 6.4 rebounds, 5.3 assists, 1.1 blocks and 1.1 steals for the 7-2 Southern Tigers.

Also influencing Guangdong’s January movement is the season ending injury to center David Harrison, who sustained a broken fibula on December 15th against Jilin.  To replace Harrison, Guangdong was close to signing former 2005 lottery pick, Ike Diogu, to a rest-of-the-season deal.  But, the Los Angeles Clippers stepped in at the buzzer and brought in Diogu on a tryout before eventually signing him in an effort to bolster their frontcourt.

Though Guangdong is short one import, unhappy with another and thus clearly behind Xinjiang in the CBA pecking order, the team will not rush into a deal merely for the sake of shaking things up.  Though they are keeping tabs on NBA rosters, expect them to bide their time and wait for the right player to become available with a move likely to be made by the end of next week.

Beijing, short an import themselves after the short-lived Steve Francis experiment came and went, is also weighing several options as they search for a replacement.  At an advantage over most teams because of their bottom four finish last year, the Ducks have been able to carry a third Asian import on the roster in addition to the league mandated two non-Asian import player limit.  With former New York/Atlanta center, Randolph Morris, dominating on offense and Jordan national team forward, Zaid Abbas, taking care of the dirty work on defense, Beijing has exceeded all expectations to start the year at 7-3, despite being virtually sans Francis for the whole year.

All set up front, Beijing is looking to add a scoring guard to take pressure off off of Taiwanese point-guard, Lee Hsueh-Lin, who prefers to distribute rather than shoot.

And no stranger to foreign player turnover, Shanxi Zhongyu is also interested in acquiring a new import, with former New Orleans Hornets draft pick, Cedric Simmons, as their primary target.

Follow Jon Pastuszek on Twitter @NiuBBall

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Are Chinese fans bored of Stephon Marbury?

January 5, 2011

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As someone who understands the difficulty of adapting to life China, I’m generally down with Stephon Marbury.  While an entire starting lineup of ex-NBA players have already left — some before even playing a single game — Marbury remains dedicated to playing and developing his business plans in the People’s Republic almost one year since his arrival here, even after almost being shut out of the league (under extremely shady circumstances).

While some guys were content to coast along on their name alone, Marbury has taken his on-court role more seriously and has also maintained meaningful interaction with his Chinese fans. His success last year ultimately brought along other NBA players looking for a check, but hardly any have been able to stick.

To me, that says something about Steph.  He’s doing things — playing here, living here, doing business out here and seemingly liking it all the while — that other big-name NBA players failed miserably at. I may just be a sucker for China, but I think that’s worth something.

Cool as that may be, however, Chinese fans aren’t as enamored.  This report published last week by the Metropolitan Express in Hangzhou after Marbury’s team, Foshan, lost away at Zhejiang Guangsha wonders if notoriously fickle Chinese fans have already become bored with watching Marbury play (via Sina).

Stephon Marbury came, but he’s leaving a little bit early.  In Foshan’s away game last night [December 26th] against [Zhejiang Guangsha], he was subbed off for the final 5 minutes and 45 seconds.  When he went off, the stadium also started to leave early.  With Guangsha up 30, only about half of the people stayed to see the final 115 – 80 score.

“It was the fourth quarter, I played him for six minutes, didn’t I? There was five minutes left, there’s no way we were coming back from 30 down,” said Foshan’s head coach, Jay Humphries. For [Steve] Francis’ first game in Beijing, head coach [Min Lulei] let him get into the game because the crowd was swearing at him; when Marbury left the game early, the Hangzhou crowd was instead very calm.  Because they saw him play 30 minutes,  there was no feeling of dissatisfaction… This was the so-called ‘biggest-name NBA import’s’ second time coming to Hangzhou, and it really wasn’t that great.

Last year, Marbury set the CBA on fire playing for Shanxi Zhongyu, averaging 22.9 points, 5.9 rebounds and 9.5 assists in 15 games, delighting fans in his team’s hometown of Taiyuan and selling out every arena his team went to.  And his 30 point, 10 assist MVP performance at at the CBA All-Star game was considered by many as the dopest thing to ever happen to Chinese basketball since… well, ever.

But, this year it’s been a different story.  Playing for newly relocated Foshan this year however after being released by Shanxi just before the start of the season, Steph’s production has dropped off to much more pedestrian levels of 16-5-5.  At the time of the story, Foshan was sitting 15th out of 17 teams, although they have since improved to 11th.

Besides his dip in play, there might also be another reason why Chinese fans are yawning at the prospect of paying to see Starbury play: they all saw him play last year:

Everyone knows right now the CBA only has one former NBA All-Star, but fans in Hangzhou still didn’t buy tickets for Marbury. This game’s attendance compared to last Sunday’s against DongGuan — a typical, run of the mill match — was only slightly larger. When Marbury’s Shanxi team came last year, the entire stadium was packed. Why can’t Marbury attract a crowd?  Guangsha GM, Ye Xiangyu, explained.

“One reason is that everyone saw him once last year. Seeing him was new and exciting; this year not so much, so they’re not going to come again. Second is because of the the whole Francis thing, everyone thinks that all big name NBA stars are all like that.”

As I’ve already argued, Marbury is quite different than a player like Francis, who left a mere two weeks after first showing up out of shape, then flipping the bird at a ref before finally refusing outright to practice. Of course, Ye says this after a former NBA player of his own, Javaris Crittenton, left the team because of his questionable commitment to China.

The article goes on to detail the overall mood at the game and quotes a player who thinks that Marbury’s ability may have slipped since last year:

Other than Guangsha’s die-hard fans, almost everyone came to see Marbury. Every time Marbury came onto the court or made a shot, he elicited a few cheers. Even when he went off for good earlier than expected, the audience responded with applause. But it was obvious that there were few fans who felt really excited about seeing him.

The day before the match, Marbury told the media during practice that he would play hard. In 30 minutes, you can’t say that he didn’t put forth an effort, but his performance wasn’t that far off from just a common CBA import player: 4-14 shooting for only 13 points.

Said Wang Xiaofei, one of the Guangsha players who guarded him during the game, “I learned a lot of things from him this game… When these big name players first came, I was definitely playing a little tight. Now, I’m not nervous. He’s old. I feel I can play with him.”

Should Marbury be worried? It’s never a good thing when some young cat, Chinese or not, is calling you old. China is not unlike any other basketball sneaker market. His ability to sell himself and his brand to Chinese depends on how well he and his team plays, and right now, neither are playing very well. Mixed in with China’s famously fickle fans, and Marbury’s grand ambitions for taking the Chinese shoe market by storm may not be the slam-dunk that everyone thought it’d be just a few months ago.

The article concludes by stating what is obvious to pretty much everyone: NBA players aren’t coming back to China anytime soon.

Trying to transform shaky NBA players into CBA model citizens, Marbury’s success in China is a legend never to be reduplicated again. But looking at his his gradually dropping fame and ability, it’s safe to say that the gold rush to bring NBA players to the CBA will pass.

Said Ye Xiangyu, “When we choose imports next season, there will definitely be a big change. Teams will look for players who can still play, not for players who are famous.”

Follow Jon Pastuszek on Twitter @NiuBBall

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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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Sina Sports reports that Steve Francis and Beijing split ways

December 27, 2010

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Steve Francis, revered in China since his days in Houston with Yao Ming, arrived in Beijing early in the morning on December 14th to a hero’s welcome; a homecoming of sorts for one of China’s favorite players of all time.

13 days later, Fu Laoda’s happy homecoming has turned into a messy divorce.

According to Sina Sports, the Beijing Shougang Ducks have decided to cut Francis from their roster, just six games after the three-time NBA All-Star joined up with the franchise.  Although the team has yet to formally announce the news, Francis’ agent has confirmed to the Chinese news outlet that the nine-year NBA veteran will be released by the organization shortly and will return to the United States within the next couple of days.

Since arriving with the team less than two weeks ago, Francis has played a total of 14 minutes over four games, averaging 0.5 points 0.7 rebounds.

Though Sina is reporting that the team is cutting Francis, a source speaking to NiuBBall.com indicated that the break-up was mutual and that both sides were equally ready to move on.  Francis, who was brought in on a large contract after Beijing head coach, Min Lulei, flew out to the U.S. to watch him work out in November, became quickly frustrated with Min over his lack of minutes and felt as if the team was merely using him to sell tickets and merchandise.  Francis had not played more than five minutes in a single game, and had received his second straight DNP-CD tonight against Jiangsu after not getting any action on Friday against Bayi.

“He didn’t fly all the way out to China to just sit on the bench,” the source said.

Since he’s been in uniform, attendance figures for both Beijing home and away games have risen dramatically, as fans have been eager to catch a glimpse of one of their all-time favorite NBA stars.

The Ducks, however, have also experienced their share of perceived frustrations over the last two weeks, most of which have revolved around Francis’ poor conditioning and behavior towards his coaches.

When Francis first arrived, Min indicated that the player would not be seeing major minutes during games before his conditioning improved to an acceptable level after almost three years away from the game.  Though Min came away impressed enough to sign him to a contract after he flew out to the States to see Francis practice, team management had major concerns about his ability to handle a full season of games even after the workout and up until he came to China.  After Francis joined with the team in Beijing and began practicing, it became apparent to team management that Francis’ body was too out of shape and his skills too eroded, and that it was unrealistic for them to heavily invest in a player that could not be counted on serious on-court contributions this season.

In addition to Francis’ unacceptable physical condition, Beijing also grew weary of his attitude towards practicing. The final straw appears to have been drawn yesterday on Christmas when Francis, against the wishes of coaches, skipped a morning practice to spend the holiday with his family. The vast majority of Chinese do not celebrate Christmas, and since the Chinese government does not legally recognize the day as a holiday, workers and students are not given a day off.

“Yesterday, the whole team practiced, but only [Francis] went to go spend Christmas with his family,” Coach Min said to reporters after tonight’s 104-89 win against Jiangsu, visibly angry. “This afternoon I was still speaking with him, I wanted to find him a conditioning coach to work him out for a bit.  But he said to me that he needs to play in games, not practice…”

After not playing on Friday in Beijing’s win against Bayi, Francis received his second straight DNP-CD tonight. Apparently at his wits end over not playing, Francis left the bench and halftime and did not return for the second half.

“I don’t know if other coaches would give him the minutes he wants, but the whole team has been working hard in practice. Actually, I had planned to let him play today but the first quarter we got down by too much.”

When asked by a reporter if Francis and the team were close to going their separate ways, Min nodded his head sligthly and answered, “I waited another day or two to talk to you guys [the media] again.  Right now I don’t know how Francis sees it all… Today we got a big win, but I’m in a very bad mood.”

No time was given by the Sina report as to when the team will officially break the news.

Francis’ short stay in the country’s capital can be best described as adventurous.  His debut came unexpectedly when Min substituted a clearly unprepared Francis onto the court for the final 17 seconds of Beijing’s home victory against Qingdao on December 15th after the coach publicly stated on multiple occasions that he would wait to put Francis into the lineup until he had practiced a few times with the team and acclimated himself to the 13 hour New York-Beijing time difference.  With his shoes unlaced and an ice-pack taped over his socks, Francis dribbled out the clock to deafening cheers by the supportive Beijing home crowd.

In the team’s next game against Shandong on the 17th, Francis played his first meaningful period of basketball, tallying a total of four minutes, all of which came during the second quarter.  In a chaotic sequence of events, Francis lost his balance on several occasions, slipping and falling on the floor as he ran for loose balls on his way to one rebound, two turnovers and two fouls.

In his third game on the 19th against Guangdong, Francis scored his first and only basket of his China career in a little over five minutes, but his play on the court was overshadowed by a late game incident that happened off the court. Coming down to the wire in a close game away against three-time defending champs, Guangdong, Beijing’s star import, Randolph Morris, fouled out on a questionable loose ball foul battling for a rebound under the boards. Morris, displeased with the call, walked back to the bench incredulously as the game’s television camera focused in on him. Unknowingly on camera, Francis, in the background and on the bench, extended a middle finger over his head to the ref protesting the call.  Though he went unpunished by in-game officials, he received a warning by the league for his “uncivilized behavior”, and the team was ordered to privately “criticize and educate” the player to prevent any similar acts from occurring in the future, which is a common and accepted form of punishment within the country.

Originally signed on for a one-year deal with an option for a second, Francis and Beijing have already negotiated a release sum, according to the source.

With the win over Jiangsu, Beijing has now won its last six games and stands in third place at 6-1.  At present, it is unclear who the Ducks will target to replace Francis on their import roster.

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Tuesday Afternoon Tanghulu

December 22, 2010

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

  • Finally back in the States and in front of some much missed NBA TV… but, not until after nearly 24 hours of being in airplanes and airports.  My China-America trip went something like this: A 30 minute drive from my Beijing apartment to Beijing International Capital Airport with a trilingual English-Korean-Mandarin cab driver, a spicy chicken sandwich from Burger King in Terminal 3 (a must eat for any international traveler), a 13 hour flight from Beijing to Chicago, a U.S. Immigration line that I stood in for about an hour, a two-hour layover in O’Hare that turned into three, then four hours because of weather delays, a two hour flight to Logan with crying cranky babies and toddlers, a 20 minute wait for my bags and finally a 25 minute cab ride at 12:30am to my home.  I think I wolfed down a turkey and cheese before I zonked into bed by 1:45… and yet I still woke up wide awake at 7:30 in the morning.
  • With his 19 points, 8 rebounds, 5 assists and 2 steals in a win on Sunday against Zhejiang Guangsha, Chinese national team stalwart and Yao Ming’s best ge menr, Liu Wei, became the first player in Chinese Basketball Association history to notch career totals of 6000 points, 1600 assists and 700 steals.  In 389 career games, Liu has accumulated exactly 6475 points, 1929 rebounds, 1605 assists, 701 steals and 564 inexcusably horrible passes that were either intercepted or thrown out of bounds.
  • Jilin has been fined 10,000 RMB after their fans threw water bottles and seat cushions(?) onto the court during their home loss against Fujian SBS.  Jilin is the league’s only winless team at 0-4.
  • In almost two and a half years in China, I have never seen a Chinese throw up a middle finger in any situation outside of a Ghostface Killah concert.  But, don’t think that they don’t know what it means.  Steve Francis, who flipped the bird from the bench in protest to a bogus call against teammate Randolph Morris while unknowingly on camera during Sunday’s game at Guangdong, has been “seriously warned” by the CBA for “uncivilized behavior” and “badly influencing on the league.”  Beijing shocked the three-time defending champs, beating the Southern Tigers 80-78 to end their eight year home win streak, to get to 3-1 on the year.
  • According to HoopCHINA, former Trail Blazers guard, Qyntel Woods, is looking into the possibility of playing in China.  Woods played last year in Poland for Asseco Prokrom and helped the team to win their seventh straight national championship.
  • Houston is seeking a disabled player exception for the fallen Yao Ming.  With all of the cross-continental travel hectic-ness the last week, here hasn’t been a lot — anything, actually — on this forum about Yao disastrous season (and potentially career) ending injury.  Expect a biggish catch-up piece on all of that a little later in the week.
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Thursday Afternoon Tanghulu

December 16, 2010

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

  • Jiangsu’s big man in the middle, Tang Zhendgong, ended his long holdout with management late Tuesday night after recent speculation that the seven-foot center wouldn’t play at all this year.  With Tang finally on board, the Dragons now have every one of its players under contract for this season.  The former national team center scored four points and hauled down two rebounds in his debut in last night’s win against Foshan.
  • Guangdong’s title defense looks like it just got a lot harder.  Midway through the second quarter last night, center David Harrison went up for a rebound under the basket and went down on the floor hard with the full force of Jilin’s 275 pound center, Liu Wei, crushed on his ankle.  Harrison was carried out into an ambulance on a stretcher and is in Hong Kong awaiting diagnosis.  Judging by these pictures, that diagnosis won’t be good.
  • Anyone who has flied to China from the States can relate to this: Steve Francis is very, very jetlagged.  As a veteran of cross-Pacific aerial travel, I know a few things about getting over that, the first being never, never take a long afternoon nap during the first few days, no matter how tired you are.  After a morning shootaround yesterday, an exhausted Francis went back to a hotel near the Shougang Center and… took an ill nap before the athletic trainer forced the groggy jetlagged guard out of bed at around 3pm.
  • And now for some shameless self-promotion.  I’m teaming up with City Weekend Online for a weekly CBA recap, with the first installment already up on the site here.  Like I said, its going to be a once-a-week thing, so make sure to check back every Tuesday for more.
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Surprise! Francis plays 17 seconds in Beijing debut

December 16, 2010

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Judging by the ice pack, not even Steve Francis himself knew he’d be playing tonight

Next time Min Lulei wants to make Steve Francis the center of a big surprise, he might want to give him a couple minutes warning.

Having said before tonight’s game against Qingdao on numerous occasions that Francis would not make his Beijing debut until at least Friday, coach Min unexpectedly substituted Francis into the game for the final 17 seconds of the Ducks’ 116-107 home opener victory over Qingdao Double Star.

Even  just hours before the game, Coach Min indicated to reporters that Francis would not play tonight, as both the player and organization wanted to allow more time for him to improve his conditioning and adapt to the 13 hour time Beijing-New York time difference.  But, as game became more and more out of reach in the fourth quarter, large numbers of fans started chanting obscenities towards Min in an effort to get him to change his mind.

With Francis icing his ankle on the bench clearly not expecting to be subbed in, Min inserted him into the game anyway after Beijing’s Jordanian forward, Zaid Abbas, converted on an and-one lay-up on the offensive end.  Completely unprepared to enter the game, Francis didn’t even have time to tie his shoes as he quickly shed his warm-up suit and tucked in his jersey before entering the court.  With his shoelaces loose and the ice pack around his ankle, Fu Laoda – loosely translated into English as Big Boss Francis – received a loud standing ovation and the obligatory “Fu Laoda, jiayou!” chant from the home crowd as he ran back on defense after the free throw. (In Chinese, jiayou literally means “add oil,” but translated into common English, it would mean “let’s go!” “here we go!” and/or “come on!”)  After a Charles Gaines putback for Qingdao, Francis received the inbounds pass and dribbled out the clock, despite cheers from the crowd egging him to shoot one at the buzzer.

He did not record any statistics.

Asked why he decided to against his original plan after the game, Min smiled wryly and answered, “You didn’t see all the fans yelling and swearing at me?”

Beijing center, Randolph Morris, led all scorers with 40 points on 16-23 shooting, while also finishing with 11 rebounds and 2 blocks.

The Ducks are now 1-1 on the season, and will play Shandong at home on Friday, where it is expected that Francis will play significant minutes coming off the bench.  The team has consistently stated that they will bring the nine year NBA pro along slowly as he works his way back into shape and acclimates himself to a cross-continental time zone. Though after tonight, its not a stretch to believe that a few well aimed spitballs from a fan could change Min’s thinking on that.

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Min Lulei: Francis to start season off the bench

December 8, 2010

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Don’t think that just because Beijing Shougang’s newest import happens to be a three-time NBA All-Star and a former teammate of Chinese megastar, Yao Ming, he’ll be able to walk into China on a whim and be handed the keys to the Chinese Basketball Association palace.

Steve Francis, who has yet to practice with his new Beijing teammates as he prepares to fly into China’s capital city within the next few days, will start the season off the bench whenever he is declared fit for game action by both himself and the team, as announced by head coach, Min Lulei. The 6-3 guard, who is signed up to play professional ball for the first time in over two years, has already been ruled out for the team’s first two games on December 12th and 15th as he works to get back into game shape.

“Regardless of how old the star, he still must listen to the coach’s plan,” said Coach Min . “Francis will definitely start the year off the bench.  The other players have all been practicing together for a while and they’ve also played in some warm-up games. There’s no way he can start right when he comes here.  He’ll need to start out on the sidelines to look at what we’re doing and to understand our overall strategy.”

But, would Francis, arguably the biggest name to ever play professionally in China, be willing to play off the bench on arrival? Min, who flew to the U.S. last month to personally watch the nine-year NBA veteran workout, doesn’t seem too nervous about a potential flare-up.

“Anytime a player comes to a new environment there will always be a period of adjustment.  [Coming off the bench] is for his own good.  We’ll wait for him to get used to the team and for his body to get back in shape.  When that happens, his time on the court will naturally increase.”

“Francis’ contract has some clauses, like obeying the coaches plan, not ducking out of practice, etc.  Our final hope is that he can feel at ease with and play some basketball. He’s a big name player, so we know that he won’t be willing to just sit there and not say anything.  He’s always been a player who actively tries to understand the team’s overall concepts and strategies… we have a lot of faith in him.”

In addition to any potential discord there may be when Francis is off the court, its also unclear as to how he’ll fit alongside his new teammates when he’s on the court.  With Taiwanese point guard, Lee Hsueh-lin, brought into the team to solidify the position, there is also some mystery as to how the Franchise will play alongside another ball handler.  As Francis is a natural scorer, however, Min doesn’t seem too bothered by the potential positional dilemma.

“Francis has a lot of offensive ability, so he can play the 2. Nowadays, positions are more and more blurred anyways.  I believe that the two will be able to work together very well.”

With center Randolph Morris, who played previously for the New York Knicks and the Atlanta Hawks, and Jordanian import, Zaid Abbas, flanking Francis on the team’s import roster, Beijing will sport its strongest set of foreign players in team history, which explains why Min is so focused on returning to the playoffs this year.

“We’re working hard in order to make the playoffs; there’s no turning back.”

Beijing plays its season opener on December 12th away at Xinjiang before coming home to play Qingdao on the 15th, where Francis is expected to be on hand.

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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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