Tag Archives: Wang Xingjiang

One game into the season, Boss Wang has struck again

November 27, 2012

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Only one game into the season, Boss Wang looks ready to swap coaches.

It didn’t take long, but Shanxi Brave Dragons owner, Wang Xingjiang, or “Boss Wang,” has stolen the many headlines from around the league (Arenas’ injury, McGrady’s turnover and Xinjiang’s big win being the top three). And like always, it involves matters of his team’s head coach. Who at the moment is Jesus Mateo.

Key word: At the moment.

The situation as we understand it is as follows: Mateo, who had coached previously in Spain with Malaga, became the head man in Taiyuan after last year’s coach, Yang Xuezeng, elected not to re-sign with the team in favor of signing with Zhejiang Chouzhou. Mateo arrived in late August and began to run practices, prepare for the new season and generally take over all the responsibilities that a head coach is expected to take over.

But as loyal NiuBBall readers know, the Brave Dragons are a special team, a fact that can be completely attributed to their eccentric owner, “Boss Wang” Wang Xingjiang. Known for his intense meddling, Wang — who is by all accounts completely crazy about basketball — puts his hands into every aspect of his team, from youth development, player psychology and film sessions to morning walkthroughs and even the odd in-game play diagramming. Needless to say, the team hasn’t enjoyed sustained success since he bought the team in 2003; not totally surprising when you consider the man has had no formal playing or coaching experience of any kind during his lifetime.

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The definitive NiuBBall.com CBA preview

November 22, 2012

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Stephon Marbury and the Beijing Ducks won the title last year… But will they have enough to repeat in 2012-13? (Photo: Osports)

Moreso than ever, the Chinese Basketball Association has become quite difficult to predict pre-season.

It’s hard to predict first of all because we generally stink at predictions, but more importantly that the league is as deep as its ever been top-to-bottom. There’s a more than a few reasons for that — more off-season player movement, more players going abroad to train in the summer, better coaching in-country, a commitment to strength and conditioning programs and better foreign players all round out the top of our list. But the end result of all that should be a very watchable and exciting league this season. Which is a good thing for us fans, of course.

Bad thing for NiuBBall’s annual predictions, however.

By our count, there’s 11 and possibly 12 teams (depending on how well you think Tracy McGrady is going to do in Qingdao) who have a shot at the playoffs. That’s well over half the league. If you think DongGuan is ready to make a jump (we do), then there are now four teams who could sport legitimate Finals cases. Building on Beijing’s buck-the-trend run to a championship last year, there appears to be a level of parody in the league. Pencilling in the top two, top four and top eight is no longer easy.

So as always, take what is about to come with a grain of salt and know that most likely this will all be very wrong.

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Yang Xuezeng resigns from Shanxi, possibly headed to Zhejiang

May 10, 2012

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For Yang Xuezeng, one season in Shanxi was enough. (Photo: Osports)

After leading the Shanxi Zhongyu Brave Dragons to their most successful season ever, Yang Xuezeng is calling it quits.

Yang, who steered the Brave Dragons to a third-place regular season before getting the team through to the semi-finals, has officially resigned as head coach and will not be back with the team next season. Team president and owner, Wang Xingjiang, confirmed the news yesterday to the Shanxi Evening Post.

The subject of Yang’s future with the team was brought up by reporters last night during an exhibition game in Taiyuan between the Brave Dragons and the traveling NBA Legends Team, who have been touring the country since April 27. Yang was not on the bench and when a reporter asked Wang, he said Yang had decided to part ways with the team despite several attempts from Wang to convince him to stay.

Yang has not yet publicly commented as to the reasons behind his decision.

Although Yang is unemployed at present, it doesn’t look like he will remain so for long. An anonymous source speaking to Sina is saying that Yang will likely be heading to the Zhejiang Chouzhou Golden Bulls, who is in the market for a new head coach after releasing Ding Wei in April. A Zhejiang spokesperson confirmed today that there is interest in bringing Yang to Yiwu, but stressed that there has been no official contact made between the two sides as of yet.

Zhejiang, who had J.R. Smith, went at 15-17 last season to finish in 11th place.

Before taking over at Shanxi last season, Yang had coached for six seasons with DongGuan New Century Leopards from 2004-10, the last four of which were spent as head coach. In those for years, DongGuan finished 14th, 12th, 4th and 5th.

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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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Marbury calls Game 5 win “best feeling I’ve ever had playing basketball”

March 19, 2012

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Stephon Marbury was visibly emotional after last night’s Game 5 win against Shanxi. (Photo: Osports)

New York State Mr. Basketball, McDonald’s All-American, NCAA All-American, NBA top four pick, NBA All-Star… say whatever you want about what happened between all of those accomplishments, but there’s no denying hat Stephon Marbury has a very impressive individual basketball resume.

So when he said “this is the best feeling I’ve ever had playing basketball” after last night’s Game 5 win against Shanxi, you have to take notice.

The video and pictures really say it all. Anthony Tao over at Beijing Cream has more post-Game 5 follow-up. He also live-blogged it, for anyone who’s interested.

Here’s some more stuff that we took in from last night’s game:

  • I’ve been to many CBA games over the last two years in many different cities, including the Finals last year in DongGuan between Xinjiang and Guangdong. I have never seen more security, maybe anywhere, than I saw last night. There were at least two policeman sitting in every section and one or two standing to the side of each section with 10 to 15 more standing in each corner. 15 minutes before tip, fans were lined up all the way out to the street waiting in line to go through security. At least four paddywagons were parked outside the north gate. A riot squad was outside the south gate.
  • All of that — and the fact that nobody was allowed to bring in anything throw-able — stopped anyone from having ideas of chucking stuff onto the court. It did not, however, deter anyone from yelling sha bi (stupid cunt) at the top of their lungs at: Marcus Williams, Makan, Zhang Xuewen, the referees and anything Shanxi in general. Several times, the entire stadium could be heard chanting it in unison. Even when standing policeman went over to some of the loudest sections to tell everyone to sit down and calm down, people were still standing, throwing up middle fingers and yelling obscenities.
  • And speaking of Makan, the kid did pretty well for himself considering every breath he took was met with a sha bi from nearby fans. Shanxi went away from Zhang Xuewen and used the rangy guard/forward almost exclusively to guard Marbury. He scored a career high 18 points and never once looked afraid, even when an enraged Charles Gaines was pushing him away after he rushed over to break-up an intense encounter between a referee and his American teammate during the second quarter. On a season-long loan from Xinjiang, he emerged as a key player for Shanxi during the playoffs and is reportedly working to make his move to Taiyuan permanent.
  • Chinese basketball has come a long way. Even in the three years I’ve been closely following it, the overall level of play and the individual play have all improved dramatically. But one thing that still needs work: Finishing lay-ups at the rim. Other than Chen Lei’s ridiculous one-in-a-million backwards flip lay-up, nobody Chinese could consistently make anything close to the rim in traffic. Beijing’s Ji Zhe even missed a wide-open dunk. Why that is, we still haven’t totally figured out. Now of course, all Chinese players don’t suck at finishing under pressure. Zhai Xiaochuan is actually pretty good, as are Liaoning’s Guo Ailun, Xinjiang’s Meng Duo and Jiangsu’s Yi Li. But it is a widespread problem.
  • Despite Stephon Marbury’s request, hardly anyone wore white. Tao, you know Chinese wardrobe too well.
  • Beijing’s offensive spacing is just so much better than Shanxi’s. While Marbury was finding open driving lanes and open passing lanes, Marcus Williams was finding his life to be much more congested in the three-second lane. Granted the Brave Dragons don’t have the shooters to space the floor like their opponents can, but if Boss Wang wants to find something to obsess over this summer, he should start with his team’s half-court offense.
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Shanxi: A four-year history of throwing things

March 15, 2012

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Shanxi has been fined nine times in the last four years for incidents similar to the one that went down on Sunday. (Photo: Osports)

Yesterday, to provide some context for Sunday night’s craziness, we wrote a post listing all of the times fans league-wide have thrown stuff onto the court this season. Which then got us to wondering: Exactly how many times has Shanxi chucked stuff onto the court over the last few seasons?

Today, thanks to a NetEase report published late Tuesday night, we now know that answer. Since 2008-09, Shanxi has been fined nine separate times for their fans’ behavior, eight of which are listed below.

December 3, 2008 - Round 8 vs. Beijing: Fans throw lighters onto the court in two separate incidents, causing the game to stopped. The league gives the club a strong warning, fines them 100,000 RMB.

February 11, 2009 – Round 34 vs. Guangsha: With 3:41 to go in the game, fans pelt the court with lighters and other objects and shout obscenities at the referees. Afterwards, the league publicly criticizes the team, fines the club 10,000 RMB and fines the arena 50,000 RMB.

March 15, 2009 – vs. Round 48 vs. Shandong: With 27.3 seconds to go in the fourth quarter, fans throw bottes, lighters, fruit and other objects which causes the game to be interrupted for five minutes. During that interruption, Shanxi’s owner “Boss Wang” Wang Xingjiang, gets into the referees’ face and violently kicks a courtside advertisement. The team is given a strong warning, a public criticism and is fined 100,000 RMB. The arena is fined 50,000 RMB for their failure to control the crowd.

February 5, 2010 – Round 20 vs. Guangdong: Fans throw objects onto the court during the game. The club is strongly warned and is fined 80,000 RMB, the arena is fined 30,000 RMB. On February 2nd, Shanxi was fined for a similar offense, making this the second time in the last three days that Shanxi has been penalized by the CBA.

December 22, 2010: Round 5 vs. Guangsha

Shanxi’s Shang Ping hammers Guangsha’s Javaris Crittenton and and gives out an additional elbow after the while. Guangsha’s P.J. Ramos, who is trailing the play, runs over and pushes Shang Ping down to the ground. Fans lob anything they can get their hands on, causing the game to be stopped for several minutes. Shang Ping and Ramos are suspended a game each. Both teams receive a public criticism. Shanxi is fined 10,000 RMB and Guangsha is fined 20,000 RMB.

December 23, 2011 – Round 15 vs. Liaoning: A water bottle is thrown at Liaoning’s players from behind their bench and lands on the nearside foul-line. The CBA dishes out a strong warning to both the team and the arena, and fines the team 10,000 RMB.

February 12, 2012 – Round 33 vs. Guangdong – 2012

Shanxi’s Zhang Xuewen is called for a foul on Guangdong’s Wang Zheng. Not happy with the call, Zhang punches the basket support and is called for a technical. Seconds later, fans begin to throw lighters onto the court. As Guangdong normally does in these situations, the coaching staff orders the team into the locker room. Despite orders from the game’s technical director to come back, Guangdong insists that they will do no such thin until order has been restored. Shanxi an the arena are both levied a strong warning and the team is fined 20,000 RMB.

March 13, 2012 – Semi-Finals Game 4 vs. Beijing: Fans throw water bottles and lighters towards the end of the fourth quarter after a no-call on Marcus Williams’ drive to the basket. After the game, fans block the Beijing bus while throwing things at it, and prevent it from leaving for one hour and 20 minutes. Shanxi and the arena are fined 30,000 RMB each.

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Boss Wang: I’m an assistant coach

March 10, 2012

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Basketball with Chinese characteristics is the motto of this website, and quite possibly there is no better example of someone who upholds those four words better than “Boss Wang,” the owner of the Shanxi Zhongyu Brave Dragons.

Luckily for you, Jim Yardley’s new book, Brave Dragons: A Chinese Basketball Team, an American Coach, and Two Cultures Clashing, covers Boss Wang and his basketball team in the fullest (and most entertaining) manner possible, so if you haven’t already go out and cop that. The gist is this: Super rich and super in love with basketball, Boss Wang wants nothing more than to put an NBA-modeled winning team out on the floor. He wants the best players, the best coaches and of course, the best results so that his dream of owning a championship squad can someday be realized.

Up until this year, however, he and his Brave Dragons have failed to even put together a .500 team.

There are a few reasons, but none perhaps are bigger than Boss Wang himself, who often decides to show his enthusiasm for the game by directly involving himself with the team’s day-to-day operations, acting in such positions as head coach, assistant coach, general manager, scout, strength and conditioning coach, doctor, sports psychologist and more.

This year, things have changed in Taiyuan. First, the team decided to erase one of their biggest problems over the years — the constant in-and-out of foreign players — by signing two talented CBA veterans, Marcus Williams and Charles Gaines. Together, they’ve combined to average more than 60 points a game. More importantly though, they’ve stayed with the team the whole season, building a level of chemistry and continuity with their Chinese players that had never existed before.

Then, for the first time in team history, the team brought back their head coach from the year before. Yang Xuezeng, who took over midway through last season, was re-signed in the off-season and has stayed on the bench the entire year — another first. Assisting him has been American Beau Archibald, a former assistant at the University of Connecticut who has also stayed on the entire year. Reportedly giving Yang and Archibald some freedom to coach, Boss Wang supposedly backed off from his usual meddling ways and allowed people to do their job. The result: A 20-12 regular season record, a first round series victory over Shanghai, and a semi-finals matchup against Beijing — all firsts in team history. And though he is still definitely involved with the team (he can be seen sitting on the bench during games), he’s not as involved.

Or so you thought, until you read this amazing interview he held with Titan Sports Weekly (via QQ.com), published on February 27:

“This season, I’ve kind of been like an assistant coach,” said Boss Wang to a reporter midway through Shanxi’s first round series with Shanghai. “The team has been playing well, I feel like I’ve made a bit of contribution.”

Of course technically, or at least officially, he’s not. In China, where stamped certificates that can (usually) only be obtained by completing some kind of training or course work, some kind of zigezheng are required in many different professions, basketball coaching very much included. According to the article, Boss Wang wanted one of those certificates so that he could officially place himself on the Brave Dragon’s staff as an assistant coach. But the process was too mafan or too much trouble, so he did the next best thing: Ignore all the official stuff and just declare himself assistant coach anyways.

“So what if I don’t have a coaching certificate? That means I can’t be a coach?”

According to Wang, this season’s unprecedented success is “…because I’m the one coming up with the ideas, Coach Yang lays everything out and the team goes out and implements everything.” He proves that point by bringing up a game against Bayi in where the team was down by double-digits.

“One time we were down 15, the team was following Coach Yang’s gameplan. We were running a lot of off-ball screens and getting a lot of shots from long range, but nothing was going in. I remember that at one point we had missed seven shots in a row. Once I looked at it, I knew right away we needed a change. So I told Coach Yang to call a time-out. I went into the huddle and drew some stuff up myself.”

According to the report, he told the team to abandon shooting from the outside and instead to focus on giving point guard Lu Xiaoming some freedom so that he could drive to the rim.

“Five minutes later, the game is tied up. We ended up winning that game. We were down and Lu Xiaoming was passing the ball. Lu Xiaoming is better than them. Our other domestic players aren’t as good as Bayi’s, so our offense was weak. Letting Lu Xiaoming have some offensive freedom really kick started our offense and we were better than them on that end.”

“[I told] Big Yang, you need to watch more NBA. All of the good teams rely on their point guard to ignite their offense.”

Boss Wang knows that his heavy involvement with his team has drawn a lot of opinion. All that talk, however, doesn’t concern him in the least. Because as owner, he can do whatever he wants. And he wants nothing more than to win and coach the game he loves.

“I know over the last few years I’ve been criticized by a lot of people, but I don’t care. When you have an owner and his team is winning, then his reputation is good. Wait until we’re making the Final Four every year. Even if I’m wearing rags, who will look down upon me?”

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2011-12 NiuBBall Awards

March 7, 2012

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Stephon Marbury is understandably fired up upon being awarded as the 2011-12 NiuBBall CBA Most Valuable Player. (Photo: Osports)

It’s a most wonderful time to be a basketball fan in China: While the NBA season continues post-All Star break and the NCAA’s big boys are starting up their conference tournaments, we China folk are three weeks into our own Chinese Basketball Association’s post-season. With two excellent semi-finals match-ups getting ready for Game 2 tonight, we here have plenty to look forward to in the immediate while also knowing that our TVs will be flickering with March Madness (if you don’t mind staying out or getting up at insane hours) and the NBA Playoffs very shortly.

Call it an embarrassment of riches if you want — with Slingbox DVR coming soon to the NiuBBall residence, we’re just going to call it Niu Bi.

Since we’re always in the giving mood, we’re going to share the Niu Bi feeling with the release of our second annual NiuBBall CBA Awards. Please, do comment. But know that all selections were based solely on the regular season; whatever’s already happened in the post-season had nothing to do with anything written below.

Enjoy.

Most Valuable Player: Stephon Marbury, Beijing Shougang

It was close. As in really, really close. So close in fact, that we even debated calling it a tie.

There are, of course, no ties when declaring the highly prestigious NiuBBall Most Valuable Player award, so that inner-debate didn’t last too long.  But that we even considered calling it a split speaks to how painfully difficult the decision ultimately came.

More importantly, it speaks to the consistent excellence that Marcus Williams and Stephon Marbury displayed over the course of this season.

For a while, it was easy to put the two already been-there-done-that established Chinese Basketball Association stars out of mind — after all, the entire world’s eyes were completely fixed on the league’s shiny new box of locked-out NBA players who opted to seek refuge in cash-rich China. And though you won’t get us to deny that the NBA-to-CBA exodus was the hands-down story of the year, you will hear us say this:In the year that saw Wilson Chandler, J.R. Smith, Kenyon Martin, Aaron Brooks, Josh Powell, Rodney Carney, Dan Gadzuric, Cartier Martin and Mardy Collins all start the season in the Middle Kingdom, perhaps the just as big story that emerged was that Marbury and Williams have more than enough talent to follow them back to the League.

Yes, they’re that good.

Virtually everyone already knew that about Marbury, who after all spent 13 seasons in the NBA before making his trans-continental journey to China in 2010. (Likewise, virtually everyone knows that he has no desire to return.) Yet, there is something to be said about the now 35 year-old guard who just completed Beijing’s transformation from a fringe playoff squad into the second best team in the league.

Though he came up just short in his bid for NiuBBall MVP, Marcus Williams had a dominant season in Shanxi. (Photo: Osports)

At that age, most players would be allowed to take a more secondary role and allow their younger teammates to do most of the heavy-lifting. Not in China though, where foreigners, both young and old, are depended to put up big numbers with a win every game. He’s done just that, averaging 24.1 points, 5.2 rebounds and 6.4 assists. The well-rounded numbers and the 21 wins add up to his finest season in China.

After spending his debut half-season in Shanxi followed by a full one in talent-bereft Foshan without any taste of the post-season, Steph came to the capital city this season with the all-around expectations that the Ducks were going to be a top-tier team. And as we all know, he didn’t disappoint in delivering. Finding the perfect balance between calling his teammates’ number and calling his own, Marbury has reinvigorated a perennially mediocre franchise while simultaneously embedding himself and every Beijing game into the city’s culture. Already a favorite for his well-documented affinity for China and its people, he’s endeared himself even more to fans by playing with pedal-to-the-medal maximum effort in every game — which in this league, isn’t always a given when it comes to foreigners.

His adeptness at balancing the two responsibilities have had positive effects on more than just his own personal popularity, however. Steph gets love from just about everyone in Beijing, but the two guys who should be showing the most are Zhu Yanxi and Zhai Xiaochuan, who before teaming up with their Coney Island point guard were two relatively unknown and unproven first year CBA players. Now, after a season running the floor and spotting up for open shots alongside him, both are very likely to be invited to National Team camp this spring.

Couple that with Ma Bu Li’s counseling of J.R. Smith, keeping up with a weekly China Daily column, running a shoe business and coping with injuries to key players Lee Hsueh-lin and Chen Lei, and you can really understand that he pretty much did it all and then some the Ducks this season.

To Williams’ credit, he’s done more than his fair share in Taiyuan as well. In his junior season in China, the silky point-forward had an even better campaign in Shanxi than he did with Zhejiang Chouzhou last year when he was throwing up triple-doubles on the regular. Showing almost no weaknesses in his offensive game, Williams put up 32-5-4 while shooting a staggering 60% from inside the three-point line and somewhere between 40-100% from outside it. Previously famous for their eccentric owner and object-throwing fans, the 6-7 former Arizona product now has people talking about the Brave Dragons’ first ever post-season berth. After scoring 40 points to pace Shanxi’s Game One semi-finals win over Marbury and the Ducks, he has them only two games away from an even bigger first — a trip to the Finals.

In the end, it’s Marbury with the slight edge. Even if the Ducks’ 13 game win streak to start the season — the best start in franchise history, we add — was somewhat soured by their late season swoon, we’ll push it aside for all of the things Marbury has sweetened in Beijing this season.

Defensive Player of the Year: Zaid Abbas, Fujian SBS

On Sina and hoopCHINA, Zaid Abbas is the league’s leading rebounder. On NetEase and Sohu, he’s second behind Donnell Harvey. The lesson: No matter how mundane the question, there is hardly an easy answer in China.

The CBA’s best defensive player, though? An exception to the rule.

You can say xie xie to Abbas for that, who either averaged 14.5 or 14.9 rebounds per game this season in Fujian, the highest of his three year career. Relentless, tireless and tough on the defensive end of the floor, Abbas is a perpetually in-motion nightmare that opponents have to live with for close to 41 minutes per game. His teammates and coaches on the other hand can’t live without him — he does the defensive dirty work (actually guarding opposing imports, sprinting back on D, diving for loose balls) that nobody else wants to get close to.

Sure, maybe he gambles a bit too much for some people’s tastes. For us though, even if he misses a wild steal or falls for a pump fake, his always running motor means he’s getting right back into the play. And in a league where good defense is still pretty hard to find, that’s more than good enough for us.

Coach of the Year: Dan Panaggio, Shanghai Dongfang

No matter who thought what about the triangle offense coming to Shanghai this season (or Guangsha and Fujian for that matter), one thing was always going to be certain: Dan Pannagio was going to teach it and he was going to stick with it, no matter how bumpy the initial process was going to be.

And oh, were there bumps. Seven of them in the Sharks’ first nine games, to be exact. Not deterred by a slow start, however, Panaggio remained patient and maintained his faith in his players and his three-sided offense. The long-term approach paid off. By season’s end, Shanghai had an 18-14 record and was in the playoffs as a No. 6 seed after missing out the year prior.

Despite a number of obstacles, Dan Panaggio successfully installed the triangle in Shanghai. (Photo: Osports)

Though people point to their big away win at Bayi as the turning point in the season, the improvement within the team didn’t happen overnight. Pannagio’s hard work in establishing an offense that demands high-IQ spacing and reads started well before the season in the long months of September and October, when he went to work teaching the basic principles of the offense. To assist in the process, he brought in Phil Jackson disciple, Kurt Rambis, in pre-season to help lay the groundwork. As the record indicated, it wasn’t pretty in the beginning, but as anyone who watched Shanghai-Shanxi last week can attest to, the Sharks can and do run the triangle effectively as their primary offense.

Getting his players comfortable and successful enough in the offense was just one part of the challenge this season, however. Arguably just as tough was convincing his very much set-in-his-ways team captain/National Team starting point guard, Liu Wei, to buy into an equal opportunity offense that basically takes the ball out of his hands for most of the shot clock. On top of that, a season ending injury to Ryan Forehan-Kelly in January, whose leadership, knowledge of the triangle and fourth quarter clutchness were all major factors in Shanghai’s progression, had the potential to totally ruin the Sharks’ year.

Though some adjusting on both parts, Liu Wei was eventually brought around. Due to some solid homework on RFK’s replacement, Marcus Landry, Shanghai never missed a beat after the injury. And thanks to Panaggio’s other main point, Shanghai’s lead leading defense, the team was able to build an identity that they’ll continue to develop next season when he comes back to take the reigns for a second year. With the already noticeable improvement in Shanghai’s Chinese players from Year One, it’s tough not to feel good abou what may come in Year Two.

Panaggio’s not the only coach with a long-term vision on our mind, though. Brian Goorjian deserves serious props for the job he did this in DonGuan. Picked by some idiot to finish out of the playoffs before the season started, Goorjian righted a potentially disastrous 0-4 start to the season to steer the Leopards to a 19-13 record. A coach who is completely committed to developing Chinese players, he’s doing wonders down in Guangdong province with an improving young core that will likely comprise a good chunk of the Senior National Team later this decade.

For a country that likes to talk about developing its own players, but still hasn’t found a way to successfully find a way to do it yet, the Shanghai-Panaggio and DongGuan-Goorjian combos are two examples that the CBA should look to if they are indeed truly serious about improving Chinese basketball.

Most Improved Player: Zhang Zhaoxu, Shanghai Dongfang

This award didn’t exist last year, simply because in our first season of really following the league, we didn’t really know the players well enough to confidently declare someone “most improved.” Upon completing our second season, however, our feeling on that matter has changed quite drastically. As has our opinion of the guy who’s taking away this award, Zhang Zhaoxu.

Known to many by his English name “Max,” the 7-3 center’s biggest claim to fame where the three years he spent in the Bay Area playing for Cal. Last season, with his eye on a National Team spot for the 2012 London Olympics, he decided to forego his senior season and sign in the CBA with the Sharks, who at the time were coached up by Team China’s head coach, Bob Donewald. Expected to come in and be a presence in the paint, Max was slow to adjust from college to the pros.

Based on what we saw from last season and this summer, it was tough to really be excited about him this year.In his second season though, Max has improved in every facet of the game to become one of the best domestic big men in the PRC. Defensively, he was good at protecting the basket and discouraging easy looks around the basket — one of the reasons behind Shanghai’s league leading defense. Now a nightly double-double threat, he’s improved his numbers almost across the board, including his free throw percentage which jumped up from 60% to 72%. And though his hands are still a major work in progress in addition to his offense which remains a bit rough around the edges, he’s developing a solid jump hook to go along with a useful turnaround jumper that is practically unblockable.

And if he can continue his development this summer, his dream of playing in London will become a reality.

Rookie of the Year: Zhu Yanxi, Beijing Shougang

It was a long, strange road to the CBA for Zhu Yanxi, but his rookie season for the Ducks was well worth the wait. (Photo: Osports)

If you like Jeremy Lin’s overnight sensation story in New York, then we’ve got a feeling you’re going to like Zhu Yanxi’s very similar tale here in Beijing.

Originally a soccer player as a youngster growing up in Chongqing, Zhu Yanxi was pushed towards basketball by his mother at the age of seven after she realized he was growing faster than his classmates. After showing a lot of promise at youth summer and winter camps, Zhu pulled out of school at 13 to board a train to Beijing with the intention of signing professionally. His first tryout was with Bayi, but due to the team’s already fulfilled quota for youth players, they declined to put him on their youth team and told him to come back next year. Already in Beijing, Zhu went to go see the Ducks who quickly snapped him up after seeing him and his sharp shooting from the perimeter.

By the time he was eligible for Beijing’s senior team, though, management felt that he was too raw and sent him down to China’s second-tier professional league, the NBL, to hone his skills. Known and liked by Jiangsu Tongxi head coach, Cui Wanjun, who had coached him during a national training camp earlier that year, Cui rented him out for the season as his ideal stretch big man. Cui’s scouting was on point — playing for Tongxi last season, Zhu lead the team to a championship and also earned himself an NBL All-Star selection.

Satisfied with his performance with Jiangsu, the 6-10 power forward got the call up this year and simply exploded onto the CBA scene, putting up 23 points, three rebounds and four assists on 4-5 from three in his debut game against Jilin. He’d go on to score double-figures in Beijing’s next seven, including 18 against Guangdong and 15 against Xinjiang, both wins.

Zhu ended the regular season with averages of 13.1 points and 5.8 rebounds on 36% from three, all of which were good enough to earn him another All-Star selection, this one being the CBA variety. And here’s another honor for his troubles: NiuBBall Rookie of the Year.

All-CBA First Team:

Guard: Stephon Marbury, Beijing Shougang
Guard: Aaron Brooks, Guangdong Hongyuan
Forward: Marcus Williams, Shanxi Zhongyu
Forward: Charles Gaines, Shanxi Zhongyu
Center: Will McDonald, Fujian SBS

All-CBA Second Team:

Guard: Lester Hudson, Qingdao Double Star
Guard: J.R. Smith, Zhejiang Chouzhou
Forward: Mike Harris, Shanghai Dongfang
Forward: Zaid Abbas, Fujian SBS
Center: P.J. Ramos, Zhejiang Guangsha

If Steph and Marcus’ MVP race was a struggle, the First Team selection was a cool breeze. Like almost every high scoring guard that comes into Guangdong, Brooks initially had trouble meshing with his high scoring Chinese teammates before figuring it out by January. By far the most talented player they’ve ever had, this year’s Guangdong team is hands down the best Guangdong team ever and will win yet another title at the end of this month. Williams’ foreign teammate in Shanxi, Gaines, was just as dominant statistically — no surprise to anyone who’s kept up with the league over the past three seasons. McDonald, in his first year in China, took his highly skilled, highly versatile inside-outside game from Spain and pretty much abused everyone who was thrown his way. If he opts to come back next year, he’ll be in high demand.

From start to finish, Aaron Brooks was the best NBA-to-CBA import in 2011-12. (Photo: Osports)

On the Second Team, Smith and Hudson, the league’s number one and two leading scorers, round out the backcourt while Abbas and Harris comprise the two forward spots. Initially on the bubble, Harris nudged out a couple of competitors he after tore it up with some huge performances during Shanghai’s regular season stretch run. One of those guys who was bumped out, Donnell Harvey, another player who runs through brick walls every game, deserves special mention for the 24-14 he threw down in Tianjin.

The most noticeable name left off these two teams is Wilson Chandler, who couldn’t get his name up above despite averaging 26.6 points and 11.5 rebounds. Why, you ask? Once the NBA resumed and it became clear that he potentially had a potential $30-40 million contract waiting for him when he got back, Chandler pretty much shut it down in order to prevent an injury. Once in second place at 13-4, Guangsha went 2-9 over their next 11 before squeaking into the playoffs as a No. 7 seed at 18-14. His overall unwillingness to get into the paint during that stretch wasn’t the only reason why the Lions slipped down the standings, but it certainly played a role. And to be honest, we don’t really blame him. If we had that much loot back in the States, we’d probably have done the same.

NiuBBall adheres to the laws of Sir Issac Newton, however: Actions have reactions. So while his conservative on-court approach may have guaranteed him a big payday, it did cost him a NiuBBall All-CBA selection.

All-CBA Chinese Team:

Guard: Lu Xiaoming, Shanxi Zhongyu
Guard: Wang Shipeng, Guangdong Hongyuan
Forward: Zhu Fangyu, Guangdong Hongyuan
Forward: Li Gen, Qingdao Double Star
Center: Wang Zhizhi, Bayi Fubang

Williams and Gaines have had a lot to do with Shanxi’s great season, but Lu Xiaoming’s steadiness at a position that has plagued the team in years past has been another key element to their historic season. Thought to be too old after a few lackluster seasons in Fujian, Lu was released by the team he spent the last five years with in the off-season. At the invitation of Shanxi’s infamous owner, Boss Wang, he ended up in Taiyuan as the squad’s starting point guard. Responsible for pushing the ball out after both makes and misses, the 33 year-old Lu had a resurrection this season averaging 8.4 points, 5.9 assists and only 1.9 turnovers. Without his frenetic pace, Shanxi wouldn’t have averaged a league leading 110.3 points per game, nor would they have won 20 games.

Li Gen, who lead all Chinese players with 17.5 ppg, gets on here too, as do Wang Zhizhi, Wang Shipeng and Zhu Fangyu who despite their advancing years are still among the CBA’s best domestic players. We’ll see how long that lasts, especially for Da Zhi, who has Liaoning’s Han Dejun breathing down his neck for best center in the country.

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For many foreign players, China is only temporary

September 9, 2011

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To the outsider, China and its population of 1.3 billion looks like a land of unlimited opportunity. With its booming economy, huge markets in almost every sector and a currency that is exchanged favorably from Western currency, the Middle Kingdom stands out like big red beacon for adventurous, global minded business people who think they can cash in here.

And with an estimated 300-400 million Chinese who claim to play basketball, a lot of people think there’s a lot of green to be made off the orange. China is considered by many as the go-to foreign destination for anything hoops. Whether its bringing an American university over to tour the country and up its exposure in the world’s leading foreign student market, or if its using the Chinese Basketball Association as a potential haven for locked out NBA players, basketball is viewed as a means to tap into China’s vast potential.

But rarely do these casual observers know the full story of doing business in China. And rarely do players, who are lured to China by six and seven figure paychecks, know the full story of playing basketball in the CBA.

Which is why, generally speaking, most of them don’t last here.

While scenarios are being formulated about Wilson Chandler and Earl Clark’s potential March NBA-return after the CBA finishes its season — or any other current NBA free-agent who decides to sign here this season without an opt-out clause — there is very little discussion about what will be the likely outcome in all of these players’ cases:

A mid-season flight back to the United States.

The evidence speaks for itself. The CBA has arguably the highest turnover rate of any professional league in the world. It is rare for a team to finish the year with the same two imports they started with, nor is it out of the question for teams to end the year with two completely different players altogether. Last year alone, only four teams, Xinjiang Guanghui (Quincy Douby and James Singleton); Guangdong Foshan (Stephon Marbury and Olumide Oyedeji); Qingdao Double Star (Dee Brown and Charles Gaines); and Shandong Kingston (Rodney White and Myron Allen) managed to hang onto their two imports the entire season.

There are a variety of reasons why so many players don’t finish out the full-season in China. First, Chinese teams are notoriously fickle with their foreign players and are quick to pull the plug if either the team’s record or the player’s individual statistics are not line with expectations. And as the CBA regular season is only 32 games long, owners won’t wait more than a few games to make a switch if they feel that’s what the team needs to turn itself around.

Granted, that’s as true in Europe as it in China. But, Chinese teams add to the situation by being blatantly corrupt about they way they do it, withholding letter-of-clearances (a FIBA document needed by a player from his former team stating that he is no longer under contract and is thus able to sign for another team), lying about the terms of deals, and sometimes not paying players altogether.

Shanxi Zhongyu, who is reportedly in negotiations with J.R. Smith, is arguably China’s worst offender. Owned by a Wang Xingjiang, an uber-rich former steel magnate who tried his hardest to sign Kobe Bryant during the NBA lockout before CBA officials barred all NBA players with active contracts from playing here this season, the Brave Dragons have a long reputation of unprofessionalism and corruption.

Lee Benson, a longtime CBA veteran who played most recently with Tianjin Rongcheng for part of last year, has played in China for parts of the 2004-05, 2008-09 and 2009-10 seasons. Picked up mid-season by Shanxi in 09-10, his stay was cut short as Benson was released after only five games in order to make room for the newly-acquired Stephon Marbury, who signed with the team in mid- January. Though nothing illegal was done by cutting him, Benson alleged that Shanxi never paid him his full salary after he was released, thus violating the terms of their contract. Benson ended up taking the the case to FIBA, who ruled in favor of Benson at a tribunal in April of the same year.

Marbury finished out the year in Taiyuan with no problems.  But he too eventually became familiar with Shanxi’s way of handling things when he was abruptly released less than two weeks before the start of the 2010-11 season after the two sides had reportedly agreed on a three-year contract extension earlier in October. Shanxi’s general manager at the time, Zhang Aijun, who had been hired that summer to change the team’s culture, told reporters that Marbury never actually signed with the team and that the club was only interested in making him an assistant coach. Marbury said in a May 2011 piece in GQ magazine that the team straight-up forced him out. Marbury ended up signing with Guangdong Foshan shortly after being released. Zhang and the team’s Chinese head coach ended up being fired later that season on December 31st after Shanxi started the year with a highly disappointing 1-5 record. Among the reasons for Zhang’s dismissal were unethically acquiring local players away from other teams and mishandling the team’s import situation.

Besides being at the mercy of teams, who can essentially terminate a contract whenever they want, players often fail to adjust to everyday life in China. Whereas some places in Europe offer a Western style of life that Americans are able to adapt rather easily to, China has a distinctly different language and culture. The case is even more apparent on the basketball court. After experiencing daily six hour practices, nine hour bus rides, unheated hotel rooms and stadiums, and endless meals of KFC and McDonalds — all while not being able to communicate directly with Chinese coaches, management and teammates — players often waive the white flag on their Chinese career and just pack up and leave.

In almost all cases, both longtime NBA veterans and players who are fresh out of the league end up going home for one reason or another. In 2009, Bonzi Wells said he couldn’t adjust to life in Taiyuan, so he went to the U.S. during the annual Spring Festival break and never came back. Last season, Zhejiang Guangsha’s Rafer Alston left for the States to attend a close friend’s funeral. He didn’t come back either. Javaris Crittenton, Mike James and Ricky Davis all reached mutual agreements with their Chinese teams last year because of issues with living in China.

Perhaps Chandler, Clark and Smith, if he signs here, will be different. Based on reality however, its highly unlikely that they are.

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

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CBA bars players with active NBA contracts from playing in China

August 19, 2011

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

Look somewhere else.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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