Tag Archives: Yao Ming

Working Weekend Links

September 21, 2013

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We feel the same way about working on a Sunday, sister.

Only in China is a vacation not really a vacation. Case in point: The preposterous and unholy government-mandated holiday schedule for Mid-Autumn Festival, which officially started on Thursday. After getting two days off from work, the vast majority of China’s workforce will go into their job tomorrow on Sunday, work until Friday, rest on Saturday, work again on Sunday and go into work on the following Monday before getting seven straight days off from October 1st to the 8th. But even then, working weekends doesn’t end as everyone has to go back to work on Saturday 12th.

At NiuBBall, we are vehemently against mandatory working weekend, because weekends are for weekends; not for working. But to stand in solidarity with our working brothers and sisters, we’re dedicating this weeks’ batch of links to everyone whose goint into the office tomorrow… and the following Sunday… and the Saturday two weeks after.

(And if you want to throw eggs at the people who are responsible for making this mess of a holiday schedule, please look up the address this guys‘ house… you know, if you’re into throwing eggs at people’s houses.)

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NiuBBall Classics: Shanghai Sharks vs. Bayi Rockets, November 2001

June 26, 2013

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If Forrest Gump was Chinese and living in 2013, he’d probably say something like this: Life is kind of like flipping around Chinese television at 3am… You never know what you’re going to get.

So when we came across 重温经曲振兴大球, a late-night program on CCTV-5 that shows classic games from Chinese sports history, we stopped flipping. (Don’t worry, it was on a weekend.) The game? A throwback of throwbacks — the Yao Ming-led Shanghai Sharks vs. the Wang Zhizhi juggernaut Bayi Rockets from 2001. We were so pumped, we decided to live blog it. Enjoy.

Pre-Game:

We’re immediately greeted by a really crappy intro vid that is quickly followed up by a deep-voiced voice over whose Chinese pronunciation is so perfectly crystal clear my television screen is turning see-through. This guy will be called Brother Voice Over from now on.

As Brother Voice Over informs us, when Yao Ming and Wang Zhizhi first met on a basketball court in 1997, it was perhaps in the most Chinese way possible: At the National Games. Yao, playing in his first senior level competition for his hometown Shanghai squad, scored 13 points, while Wang had 19 for the People’s Liberation Army, who won the game.

Three years later in 2000, Yao had turned into a dominant force in the Chinese Basketball Association for the Sharks, leading his squad all the way to the league finals for the first time in club history. But in his way was the familiar Army team, the Bayi Rockets, and their smooth shooting center, Wang. Yao and the Sharks would lose handily to the Rockets, who were still in the midst of a dominant run of championships.

But on November 18, 2001, Yao would have his chance for revenge as his Sharks travelled to Ningbo, Zhejiang to play the Rockets in the CBA season opener. And that’s where we pick up the action.

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Lost and Found: Shanghai Sharks recover misplaced championship trophy

June 11, 2013

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Shanghai does not do logical, particularly its basketball team, the Sharks.  So it will be no surprise then to learn that the Sharks, the hometown team of one of China’s most iconic athletes, Yao Ming, recently lost their 2002 CBA championship trophy and its accompanying net, which was cut down after the decisive game four of the series against the Bayi Rockets.

The discovery was only made a couple of weeks ago as the Sharks’ front office started to move parts of its administration team to a new location. After not finding the trophy anywhere in their office, the team quickly established theft as the most likely cause. Yao, who lead the team to the team’s first and only championship that year, was said to be upset about the disappearance.

However, the panic soon turned out to be a false alarm. The trophy and the net were eventually found and soon afterwards, Larry Zhang, the Sharks’ amiable chief press officer posted a photo of the rediscovered trophy and the net on his Weibo account. Turns out, however, that the trophy and net wasn’t stolen — instead, it was sitting in some random room elsewhere in the city for the last four years.

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Shanghai Sharks announce Wang Qun has head coach; re-sign Max Zhang

May 16, 2013

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Things are going to be a lot different in Shanghai next season.

Last Friday, the Sharks held a press conference to announce a combination of decisions that will have a huge impact on the club’s short-term and long-term direction: the appointment of Wang Qun as head coach, and the re-signing of “Max” Zhang Zhaoxu.

Wang, who has had a long history with the Sharks and owner Yao Ming, will become the first official Chinese head coach since Yao took control over the club in 2009. He had been serving in an interim role after American Dan Pannagio was fired mid-season last year.

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Monday Night Chuanr

April 23, 2013

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Nighttime links served up proper with a hearty helping of lamb on a stick.  The beer is on you, though.

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Monday Afternoon Tanghulu

December 3, 2012

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Sweetening up your afternoon with a stick of Beijing’s timeless sugar coated snack and some links…
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Gilbert Arenas officially signs in Shanghai

November 20, 2012

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Gilbert Arenas will be donning number 0 for the Shanghai Sharks this season. (Photo: Osports)

Even if he’s getting away from the United States, Gilbert Arenas will be getting back to a familiar nickname.

In what completes an almost month-long journey, Arenas has finally signed in the Chinese Basketball Association with the Shanghai Sharks. The deal is reported to be a one-year deal worth roughly US $700,000 with a mutual team/player option for a second year.

Already registered on the team’s roster, the three-time NBA All-Star will wear the number 0 for the first time since he was known as “Agent Zero” with the Washington Wizards from 2003-10.

Though the deal was expected to go through since he arrived in Shanghai at the beginning of the month, the Yao Ming-owned Sharks’ decision to delay making it official came down to two major points, a source told NiuBBall.com. First was that both team management and the coaching staff wanted to see Arenas in action before making a commitment, a request that Arenas interestingly enough turned down when he was in negotiations with another Chinese team, the Guangdong Southern Tigers, in October.

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The Legacy of Bob Donewald

August 16, 2012

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Among other accomplishments during his two years as Team China head coach, Bob Donewald Jr. brought home the country’s first Asia Championship since 2005. (Photo: FIBAasia.net)

To the surprise of absolutely no one, Bob Donewald Jr., whose contract in Beijing has now expired, will not be returning to coach Chinese National Team. In a highly eventful three years, the last two of which have been spent as Team China head coach, there’s been suspensions, championships, a documentary, brawls, more suspensions, sideline yelling matches, and a you-couldn’t-make-this-stuff-up crazy half-season in Xinjiang among other notable events. Whatever your opinion of his tenure is, we’re fairly confident that all would agree that his stay in China has been anything but boring.

Of course, the Donewald era is much more than that. The question is: What? What exactly has happened over the last three years? What impact has he made on Chinese basketball? And what is his lasting legacy?

Talking to the Associated Press last week, Donewald offered up his own thoughts on the latter two questions:

“It’s not the way we wanted to end it. But I think we laid the groundwork in the right way,” Donewald said. “We’ve changed some things, we’ve changed some training, we’ve brought ideas, we’ve changed the way we play a little bit. And hopefully they can take it and go from here. … I hope 10 years from now I look back and China’s back on the map and we helped bridge something, we helped do something.”

The full article is well worth the read, not just because Donewald has a lot more interesting things to say, but also because Wang Zhizhi steals the show with a couple of priceless quotes, the best being his initial response in 2010 to Donewald’s defense-first mindset: “This is China. We don’t play defense.”

Critics will obviously point to the recent failure at the Olympics as their perceived reflection of Donewald’s failure to put together and lead a Chinese team capable of winning on the world’s biggest stage. Our views on what went down in London are already well known. But whereas some will want to rate the overall Donewald purely based on an 0-5 record, we’re going to take a few steps back and improve our court vision to assess what’s really gone down the last three years.

1. The turnaround in Shanghai

Known virtually by everyone around the world as the franchise who produced Yao Ming, the Shanghai Sharks were once one of the proudest and most winningest franchise in the Chinese Basketball Association. But, in 2009 — seven years removed from their first and only championship under Yao — the team’s gradual descent into the depths of the league standings hit its lowest point. In last place with 6-44 record and a financial situation that bordered on bankruptcy, the Sharks weren’t just the dregs of the league, they were on the verge of complete extinction.

A savior came from a familiar face, Big Yao himself, who bought his old team in the summer of 2009 to ensure the franchise’s financial future while simultaneously injecting a much needed dose of optimism into the City on the Sea. Shunning the bureaucratic  state-run-styled ownership that nearly put the franchise out of the CBA, Yao vowed to change the entire structure and culture in Shanghai.

That first wave of change came in the form of a new head coach, Donewald. A former NBA assistant in the early 2000s with Cleveland and New Orleans and a successful coach in England in the late 1990s, Donewald had been in Brazil and Ukraine prior to his arrival at the Yuanshen stadium. Unknown virtually by all in Chinese circles, Donewald proved to be the perfect catalyst in Shanghai. With a no compromise attitude, Donewald uprooted practically everything in Sharks-land and brought accountability, professionalism and intensity into a team that was sorely lacking in all three of those departments the previous season.

Under the first year head coach, a reinvigorated Chinese roster teamed up with three excellent imports, John Lucas III, Garet Siler and Zaid Abbas, to finish with the league’s fourth best record before nearly upsetting eventual league champion, Guangdong, in the semi-finals. Impressed by Donewald’s success, the powers that be at the CBA appointed him as head coach of the National Team in April 2010.

That magical season went beyond just himself, though. Lucas and Siler, both of whom were passed over by NBA teams when they came out of college, signed on to play in The League in 2010 with Chicago and Phoenix respectively. Both played this last season for the same teams. Abbas has gone on to star for the Jordanian National Team during the summers and during winters, he’s been busy leading Beijing and Fujian to the playoffs. “Max” Zhang Zhaoxu, who left Cal-Berkeley early to join Donewald in Shanghai in 2010, is now part of the National Team setup.

And though Donewald left in the summer of 2011 for Urumqi, the changes he made in Shanghai can still be felt today as Dan Panaggio continues to build on top of the foundation he first set in 2009.

Yet, perhaps Donewald’s biggest impact on a player was not on an American, but on a Chinese player with deep ties not only to Chinese basketball, but to Yao Ming as well…

2. The resurrection of Liu Wei

The 2008-09 season was long for everyone in Shanghai. But it was their star player, Liu Wei, who perhaps endured the longest and most nightmarish season of them all. Known for his ultra-competitiveness, the raging fire that burned under the longtime National Team point guard smoldered into mere ambers as Liu was forced to deal with not only the worst finish in Shanghai history, but also several nagging injuries, an ugly post-game incident with Yunnan import, Gabe Muoneke, and the 10-game suspension that followed it. His play suffered, and his 15.6 points per game was the worst statistical output since 2001-02. Once a CBA champion and NBA training camp invitee, things got so bad for Liu that he was rumored to be off to Bayi in the following off-season.

Enter Yao, Donewald, and his American staff, all of whom made it a focus to get their point guard back on track for 2009-10. Brought back to health through the dedication of strength and conditioning coach, James Scott, formerly of the Houston Rockets, Liu found his old self again as Shanghai ripped off a regular season 25-7 record. His 21.3 points per game was the third highest output of his career, and individual success carried through to the next season where he averaged 18.6 a game.

Liu’s resurgence has had implications far beyond just Shanghai, however. If you think prolonging the career of the only point guard in China who is consistently capable of playing on an international level, we ask: Have you seen any alternatives at that position?

Neither have we.

3. The transformation of Yi Jianlian

Once appointed head coach of the NT, the job presented to Donewald was to oversee a changing-in-the-guard from the old Yao Ming era to a new decade of Chinese basketball. Not exactly an easy task.

Without an all-world center who could dominate at both ends, Donewald trashed the rely-on-one-player philosophy in favor of a more balanced defensive-oriented, blue-collar approach. But all teams need a guy to dump the ball into on offense and get buckets… and that’s where Yi Jianlian comes into the story.

Under the shadow of the Yao in the 2000s, a then-young Yi played tentatively and inconsistently for China. But since Donewald arrived in 2010, Yi has been a completely different player. Given the task of being The Guy for the Chinese, the seven footer has responded beautifully over the last two international seasons. At the 2010 FIBA World Championship, Yi was the only player in the tournament to average 20 points and 10 rebounds. The following summer at the 2011 FIBA Asia Championship, he won tournament MVP (16.6-10.2) as he led China to a championship over Jordan. And though China flopped miserably in London, Yi managed to lead all players in rebounds (10.2 a game), while putting up strong individual performances against Spain and Russia before an injury suffered against Australia hampered him for the rest of the Games.

No, he’s not Yao. But in the post-Yao era, Yi is unquestionably the best and most important player to the Chinese. He has consistently been at the top of his game when China has need him the most. The player deserves much credit for accepting that challenge, but he — and the CBA — will have to thank Donewald, first for believing in him, then for giving him the support to make the Yao-to-Yi transition a success.

4. The modernization of the National Team

What the CBA chooses to do in light of these Olympics (changing the import rules in their domstic league, increasing the amount of games, hiring a new coach, implementing a new  national daily regimen of three-man weave drills) is anybody’s guess.

Our two cents: They’d be wise to continue in the direction that Donewald and his staff has pointed them in.

Whether it’s been compiling thick tomes detailing every in-and-out of their opponents, meticulously breaking down film, implementing individualized strength and conditioning programs for each player or successfully appealing to the CBA to allow the coaching staff to pick their own players, Donewald has managed to do away with the old days of mindless 6-8 hour-a-day practices and two-hour team meetings. All of which are very positive for Chinese basketball, by the way. The days of 30 exhibition games in the summer? Maybe not. But, one step at a time.

If Chinese basketball is going to catch up to the rest of the world one day, they’ll have to eventually run their program accordingly. Again, whether the CBA decides to take a knee-jerk reaction to what’s gone down in London is anybody’s guess. Yet what Donewald’s been able to do — and teach — to people inside Chinese hoops about the modern requirements for developing a National Team should certainly be beneficial in the long-term for both the country and the next coach who replaces him. You know, if the CBA allows it…

5. The trophies

Lost in all of the Deng Hua de bu xing (Donewald sucks), Deng Hua De de zhan shu bu hao (Donewald’s X’s and O’s aren’t good) and Deng Hua De bu dong Zhongguo (Donewald doesn’t understand China) arguments that I’ve heard from Chinese over the last couple of weeks, is the simple fact that no matter what you think of the guy, he’s won when he was supposed to win. Every time.

And if you don’t think that getting cheng ji – results — in Chinese sports are important, you haven’t seen this yet.

Make no mistake: Donewald’s gotten results. First came a championship at the 2010 Asian Games in Guangzhou, beating Iran in a thrilling semi-finals before dispatching South Korea in the finals. Not exactly a huge deal, since China had one five out of the last six gold medals at the Asian Games, but still a championship nonetheless in a competition that demanded no other result.

The following year in Wuhan, however, was something totally different. Despite playing without two key players, Zhou Peng and Wang Shipeng, both of whom were injury casualties of an endless summer of warm-up games, Donewald and the squad managed to come back in the second half against Jordan in the finals to eek out a win and an automatic berth in the 2012 London Olympics.

Whereas Guangzhou was pretty much always in the cards, triumphing in Wuhan was anything but guaranteed. Some people, including this very space, doubted China’s chances of getting to London because of prior history and a less-than-full-strength roster. On top of proving people wrong, Wuhan represented something far greater: China’s first Asian title since 2005 and more importantly, the first in the post-Yao era, an accomplishment Donewald’s predecessor, Guo Shiqiang, could not get done in 2009.

Was Donewald’s China journey always a smooth ride? Hardly. But at the end of everything, Donewald can go out with a title that nobody in China can take away from him: A winner. We’ll see in 10 years if we can call him a pioneer, too.

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China – Spain Recap

July 31, 2012

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Yi Jianlian’s game-high 30 points were the highlight of a very respectful performance from the Chinese against Spain. Photo: Sina Sports

China was always a longshot (if a shot at all) in their 2012 Olympics-opening match-up against Spain — also known as the rematch of the 2008 Beijing Olympics preliminary round game that China should have won, but coughed up at the end of regulation before eventually losing in overtime — so it’s tough to feel too down about the 97-81 loss that went down on Sunday night. In fact, people should feel quite the opposite. China played well throughout and kept the game competitive, never once looking overmatched or out of place. Just too much size and skill for Spain, who played tiki-taka in the half-court (an incredible 27 assists on 36 makes) en route to 57% shooting from the field and 11-19 from three.

But there were some positives for Big Red and if they continue to play at this level, they very may well come away with a win (or even two) in the group.  Yi Jianlian was sensational offensively with 30 points and 12 boards, and Chen Jianghua played 30 excellent minutes at the point guard spot. As a team, they only turned the ball over eight times and shot well from the field at nearly 52%.

China plays Russia next at 4:00pm local Beijing time today. If you’re going to miss it, this is your go-to tomorrow and everyday after that.
Here’s eight bullet points, because you know… eight is lucky and all.
  • Is there a guy in this tournament with more irrational confidence than Wang Shipeng? Dude hasn’t played a good stretch of basketball in about eight months, including the entire summer, and then he goes out guns blazing last night and drains every shot he takes in the first quarter (the best of which was a rediculous fadeaway on the left side over Rudy Fernandez that was just…  ridiculous). Good to see Wang back. They’ll need some more performances from him because…
  • Sun Yue did not enjoy one of his better nights. 1-9 from the field, three points and one rebound. He was active on D and came up with four steals, but China needs more from him. Starting with some made lay-ups.
  • If you’re wondering why, based on his performances internationally, why Yi Jianlian hasn’t carved out a niche for himself in the NBA yet, his closeout on Pau Gasol on the three-point line in the first quarter — and the ensuing blow-by that quickly followed it — should provide enough answers for now.
  • That being said though, Yi was great offensively: Perfect from the field in the first half and pretty much unguardable in isolations throughout. We would have liked to see him get to the line more when it mattered (there were a couple of times when he got his man up in the air on a pump fake and chose to fade away instead of drawing contact), but other than that it was pretty tough to come up with anything he could have done better on that end. 
  • How about five assists and zero turnovers for Chen Jianghua, who was thrust into big minutes because of Liu Wei’s foul trouble? We said it in the CBA Finals and during the summer, but it bears repeating now: This guy is the best pure point guard playing in China at the moment. Which is crazy to think about, considering he was once a lightning quick combo guard who couldn’t have played in the half-court at a China KFC 3-on-3 tournament. I don’t think massive knee injuries are ever a good thing, but I do strongly feel that the effects of Chen’s injuries and the quickness that they’ve deprived him of have been a big reason in his evolution from a guy with limited ability in running in an offense to a guy that’s making some really nice reads and decisions (his diagonal pass to Yi in the first half was something he couldn’t do a couple years ago). If he can stay healthy, the bridge from Liu Wei to whoever is next at that position might be sturdier than we once thought.
  • HoopsHype on “Max” Zhang Zhaoxu: “The tallest player of the tournament won’t make any difference. Slow and totally unskilled.” Tell us how you really feel, guys! NiuBBall vets know how we feel about the ever-improving Max, but as Serge Ibaka demonstrated with an emphatic block last night, that turnaround fadeaway needs to stay in Shanghai. He was also posterized by Pau Gasol in the first half off of a baseline reverse dunk.

Christian Petersen/Getty Images

  • The Wang Zhizhi-Yi Jianlian front line is nice on offense; not only because of all of the high-low opportunities it can present, but also because it stretches the floor out and keeps the middle open for backcuts — a staple in the Donewald motion offense. Defensively, much different story. Still, I like it and I thought it was a key reason why China was able to play well in this game. But the other effect the lineup has is that it severely weakens China’s bench. When Wang starts, Zhang Zhaoxu is the first big off the bench (and we just saw how that ended up). It’s more necessity than anything when you’re playing against a team as big and as skilled as Spain. But with only three guys capable of playing center, I think Wang needs to stay on the bench against smaller teams.
  • Random thoughts… Always worth noting at the start of these tournaments that FIBA balls are abnormally bouncy… One of the worst non-calls you’ll ever see happened in the fourth quarter… Spain’s uniforms are made by Chinese company, Li-Ning… Yao Ming did a nice job alongside play-by-play guy, Yu Jia, on the CCTV broadcast… 
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Yi Jianlian to hold Chinese flag at Olympics opening ceremony

July 26, 2012

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Yi Jianlian will bear the Chinese flag at the 2012 London Olympics opening ceremony on July 27th, according to a report published by Titan Sports Weekly. It’s the first time that Yi will carry the five-star flag, signifying his place as the unquestioned centerpiece of Chinese basketball.

According to Titan, a shortlist had been made up by Chinese officials that included hurdler Liu Xiang and badminton player, Lin Dan as well as Yi.  CRI English fills us in on why Yi was the pick: “According to Xiao Tian, the team’s deputy chef de mission, China’s Olympic flag bearer will be tall, handsome and famous in order to provide a positive image for the Asian sporting power.”

Since 1984, when Wang Libin led Team China out in Los Angeles, only male basketball players have been given the honor of carrying the flag in each and every Summer Olympics. On top of that, they’ve all been centers. In 1988, Wang carried it again. In 1992 it was Song Ligang. In 1996 and 2000, Liu Yudong, who before getting surpassed by Zhu Fangyu this season, was the CBA’s all-time leading scorer, carried it out. Finally, Yao Ming was the man in 2004 and 2008.

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Road to the Olympics: Wang Zhizhi

July 25, 2012

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As the Chinese men’s basketball team enters the last stage of preparation for the 2012 London Olympics, it is a sad fact that there are not many definitive profiles of these players, let alone ones in the English language. In this light, let us present you a series dedicated to giving a backstory to the players that will no doubt shine on the world’s biggest stage. After profiling Liu Wei last week, we go to the ageless seven foot lefty with the killer footwork and sweet stroke from downtown, Wang Zhizhi.

Name: Wang Zhizhi (王治郅)
Height: 7’1’’ (214 cm)
Weight:  275 pounds (125 kg)
Position: Center
Team: Bayi Rockets

The first Chinese athlete to play in the NBA, the cornerstone of a Bayi Rockets dynasty, a star for the national team since before this century started, and the one whose ban from the team and subsequent reconciliation with officials sparked a great deal of controversy. Suffice to say, Wang Zhizhi has been around for quite a while. A living legend of Chinese basketball, Da Zhi’s legend will grow this July and August as the seven footer will continue to play a great role for Team China in the 2012 London Olympics.

Wang’s journey started all the way back in 1977, when he was born in Beijing to two basketball athlete parents. Standing 6’9 at the age of 14, Wang was recruited by the People’s Liberation Army into the Bayi Rockets. Subject to harsh training, with practice hours sometimes extending to eight hours, Wang was forced to undergo massive lifestyle changes, with even his birthdate moved up to 1979 to allow him to dominate youth competitions. He was awarded places on several Chinese select teams, including the awkwardly named and roughly translated Youth Special Height Team, Chinese Youth National Team, and then the senior Bayi team.

No matter where in the world he went, the crafty center impressed with his nimble footwork, often confusing opponents with a spin and finish with his left hand. He was named the best center in Greece’s Youth Basketball Championships, then went on to deliver a solid performance, including a memorable block on David Robinson, in the 1996 Atlanta Olympics that earned him six scholarship offers from US schools and a Nike endorsement. Though Wang garnered interest from such high profile schools as Georgetown and LSU, Wang ultimately stayed in China due to the sensitivities involved in letting a PLA soldier and key basketball player go the States for four years. Instead, he returned to Bayi for the inaugural CBA season, catalyzing a dynasty that would run to six CBA championships and a league MVP. He seemed destined for a run of unrivaled dominance, entering the start of his prime by averaging 26.3 points and 11.7 rebounds in the 2000-01 season.

Dallas Mavericks owner H. Ross Perot Jr., though, had a different plan in mind.

Notoriously stingy about giving up their players to foreign organizations, Wang’s materials had to be smuggled to the Mavericks and Perot, who wished to draft the first Chinese player ever and thus make history. With the 36th pick of the 1999 NBA draft, and to the surprise of all involved, Wang Zhizhi was drafted by the Dallas Mavericks. The People’s Liberation Army would loath to let go of its prized center, and only when its hand was forced as China’s bid to host the Beijing Olympics was put to a final vote did it allow Wang to play in the NBA. With just ten games left in the season, Wang was able to fit in quickly as a role player, recording 4.8 points and 1.4 rebounds. Wang made the playoff roster; then, duty called, and Wang returned to China, Bayi and the National Team. China won gold at the Asian Championship, Bayi was crowned the champion of the National Games, and Wang played an unmistakable leading role on both teams.

But as his contract in the NBA expired, he began making a series of decisions that would endanger his position in China.

Wang, hoping to participate in the NBA Summer League to work on his game, moved to Los Angeles, leaving little behind in China. Chinese officials urged him to return to the country to practice, as various national team tournaments were on the horizon. But his constant refusals followed by rumors that he was planning on defecting to the US gave the team — and army officials — much to worry about.

PLA officers met him one month later in America, with Wang laying down an ultimatum: he would play in the World Championship, but would not disrupt his season for the the third-tier Asian Games, a relatively unimportant continental tournament. This did not go over well, and Wang was banned from the National Team on October 9th. Shortly after, he served short stints with the Los Angeles Clippers and the Miami Heat, but was unable to find consistent playing time. By the end of 2005, the center did not have a team to play for, and after an expulsion of four years, finally returned to his homeland, attempting to make amends for what amounted to betrayal in the Army’s eyes.

The good soldier was forced to attend “self-criticism” meetings, becoming politically “reeducated”, and published a three-page letter of apology. Returning to the army, he remarked, “It feels sacred to be in an army uniform again”. With the 2008 Beijing Olympics fast approaching, the Chinese government took a more lenient stance towards Wang, and “Dodger,” his American nickname, came full circle when he led China to first place in the Asian Championships with the other side of “The Walking Great Wall,” Yao Ming, out of the lineup. Wang found himself as the undoubted leader and mentor of a suddenly youthful and inexperienced Bayi team, yet found a way to win another CBA title and a Finals MVP in 2007.

Wang’s strong play still holds up today, and in 2012 was a CBA All-Star team starter. He is very much still a major contributor to the national team, winning yet another Asia Games in 2010 with critical plays against Iran, Korea and Qatar. After the game, his 11 teammates draped their medals around his neck, bowing in respect; Wang returned the favor by splitting his championship purse with them.

Fun Facts: the talented lefty started a camp to develop lefties like himself; his favorite car is the Lincoln Navigator; he loves to eat large Texas steaks and enjoys listening to Britney Spears; he enjoys watching movies and tried his hand at film himself, hosting a tourism show on Beijing; former CBA slam dunk champion; and he loves collecting rare china, jade, and metals.

Here’s hoping Wang comes home from London with what will amount to the most valuable metal of them all.

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Road to the Olympics: Liu Wei

July 17, 2012

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Recently, NiuBBall put up an open call for new writers with a passion for Chinese hoops. Fortunately for us and everyone else, someone answered that call. World, meet Leon Zhang. Originally from the Bay Area, Leon moved to Shanghai almost seven years ago where he’s been studying and living ever since. He’s a self-professed hoops addict who’s been devoutly playing since he first learned how to dribble as a wee lad and will be teaming up with Sharks enthusiast and NiuBBall contributor, Andrew Crawford, to give us the what’s what down in Shanghai. Which means we need to find someone up here in Beijing so we can get a game of two-on-two…

Leon’s first piece will be one of several in a series that profiles China’s key players as the team gets ready for the 2012 London Olympics.

As the Chinese men’s basketball team enters the last stage of preparation for the 2012 London Olympics, it is a sad fact that there are not many definitive profiles of these players, let alone ones in the English language. In this light, let us present you a series dedicated to giving a backstory to the players that will no doubt shine on the world’s biggest stage. We’ll start with Liu Wei, the captain of the team and veteran starting point guard.

Name: Liu Wei (刘伟)
Height:
 6’3” (190 cm)
Weight: 198 pounds (90 kg)
Position: Point guard
Team: Shanghai Sharks

Liu Wei was a relative latecomer to the game of basketball. As a young child in Shanghai, he was perceived as fat, but his height was too much for the youth coaches to ignore, entering the Luwan District sports school at the age of 12. Training alongside his best friend, a fellow by the name of Yao Ming, he quickly shot up the ranks, playing for the Shanghai Sharks and Chinese junior team in 1996. Liu was a highly valued prospect, expanding his game with various experiences like a visit to the US to attend a Nike summer camp and play for an AAU team. The future national team guard went through tough times in America, recalling that he “couldn’t get enough to eat. Our expenses were limited and there were three days when we ate lunch and dinner combined.”

All this paid off when, at the age of 22, Liu was selected to play for the National Team, undoubtedly a great honor. He became a cornerstone of the Shanghai Sharks professional team, and with Yao broke the years-long hegemony that Bayi had had on the CBA playoffs with a championship in 2002. The year 2004 was an exciting time for him, as he earned the starting point guard position on the national team, and was able to play for the Sacaramento Kings in the preseason. Liu and Yao together brought pride to many of their countrymen as the “NBA China Games,” which pitted Liu’s Kings against Yao’s Rockets, a first in the NBA for any two Chinese players. Though Liu generated some hype (assistant coach Elston Turner called him an “our best passer in training camp”), he was unable to make much of an impact, recording just two points and four rebounds in three games.

Though his role continued to expand for both club and country, recording 8.5 points and 1.6 assists in the 2008 Beijing Olympics, things went south as the Sharks’ decline, which started with the departure of Yao Ming, became more and more evident before the team — and Liu — eventually the team hit rock bottom in 2008.

On the verge of bankruptcy, Shanghai stripped its roster and became committed to rebuilding. In turn, the Sharks’ record took a huge dive and Liu’s apparent frustration with losing boiled over when, on November 28th, he attacked American Gabe Muoneke of the Yunnan Running Bulls outside the locker room inside Yuanshen Stadium. Along with several of his teammates, Liu chased, cornered and hit Muoneke. The incident as caught on stadium security cameras, and Liu paid a hefty fine and served a 10-game suspension. Shanghai finished the season in last place with a 6-44 record.

But in the off-season, the Sharks got the assist they needed when Yao Ming reentered the Shanghai Sharks, this time as an owner. With the team having been saved from going bankrupt, the team went forward with a number of changes designed to bring the Sharks back to respectability. Bob Donewald Jr., hired in the summer of 2009, brought an entertaining run-and-gun style to the Sharks, and along with a revitalized Liu in combination with American import John Lucas III, the trio brought Shanghai an unexpected fourth-place regular finish and a semi-finals berth.

These days, Liu plays in the triangle system of Coach Dan Panaggio, serving a key role as a facilitator and scorer, and also remains as an indispensable cog under Donewald in the National Team. The combo guard brings to Team China unquestioned leadership and extensive experience, and his importance to the team is evident by the fact that he logged the most minutes of any player on the Chinese team in the 2010 FIBA World Championship. In 2012, Liu may need for more time on the bench to rest, as he is too often run into the ground due to a lack of point guard depth. When healthy and rested, though, he is still one of the best guards in Asia, and as the only guard to score over 7000 points in CBA history, his resume is unquestioned. Liu’s strengths include his size, which allows him to play stifling defense, and his steady hand at the point guard position, which will be needed if China is to go far in London this year.

At age 32, this will very likely be the last time Liu suits up for Olympic basketball. As one of the key players of his generation, you can bet he’ll leave it all on the line in London this July and August as he tries to get China into the knockout stages for the third straight time.

Some fun facts about Liu: his favorite Korean drama is Full House, starring the Korean pop star Rain; his favorite drink is tea; he is married to Wang Weiting, a fellow basketball player; his biggest dream is to spend time with friends and family; and when asked of the country he wants to go to most, he emphasizes that he would want to visit all of the beautiful sights in China.

Spoken like a true patriot.

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Decision to cut Wang Zhelin makes sense when put into context

July 12, 2012

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To the disappointment of some, Wang Zhelin won’t be dunking in the Olympics. (Photo: Osports)

China has had a couple of nights to sleep on the as-of-Tuesday-released 12-man roster for the London Olympics and yet the primary debate remains the same today as it was when it was first announced: Should Wang Zhelin have been included on the team?

Public opinion is mixed, but a slight majority feels that the 18 year-old should have been brought along to London. On a poll on Sina.com, 59% percent of people felt that among all the players left off the roster, Wang was the one who should not have been cut.

It’s a sentiment that’s being shared by people in Chinese media, too. Longtime Chinese basketball commentator and journalist, Su Quan, writes in today’s Basketball Pioneers in a piece entitled “Wang Zhelin should not be abandoned:”

…But every team competing in the Olympics should include a young, promising player on the 12-man roster, especially a center who shows a lot of potential. You don’t need to hope for instant success, instead you can build him up for future success. The Olympics is the biggest international competition there is, every player is bound to feel nervous, excited and unfamiliar with everything their first time. If you can allow him to go through the process earlier, then when he’s 22 years old and back in the Olympics again, the experience will go much more smoothly. This kind of opportunity for a center is the absolute most important thing because the development of a center is a long-term process. It takes a while to grow into a full sized tree, but the earlier you plant the seed, the deeper the roots will grow and the stronger the tree will become.

Su then points to the history of the various Chinese teams who chose to put a young big man at the end of their bench during previous Olympics or Word Championships: 18 year-old Wang Haibo in the 1984, 19 year-old Wang Zhizhi in 1994, 20 year-old Yao Ming in 2000 and an “even younger” (Su doesn’t write his age… hmmm…) Yi Jianlian in 2004.

All valid points and I get all of them. Su’s argument is further enhance when you consider that neither Wang Haibo nor Wang Zhizhi had any prior experience at the senior international level before making their debuts.

But still, I disagree. And the reason is this: Letting Wang Zhelin sit on the end of the bench does not give China the best chance at winning games this Olympics.

First, let’s go across the Pacific Ocean to introduce my point. The United States, the best team in the world right now, could have brought recent No. 1 overall draft pick and one of the most promising big men to come out in years, Anthony Davis, onto a roster that arguably needs some depth at center. The fact that he sprained his ankle early in training camp certainly had something to do with him not making the roster, but so did another thing: The US wants to field the strongest roster possible so that it can win a gold medal. Ditto for Spain, who also didn’t bring along a young center.

For China, the goal is different — for them it’s to get past the group stage and then go through to the semi-finals for the first time in their country’s history — but the concept is the same: Put forth the best team possible. And with the current players available to Bob Donewald and the rest of the Chinese basketball powers from above, the best team is one full of versatile and more athletic players. If this was the Yao Ming era, when China had the luxury of a NBA All-Star center who could pass and score with equal adeptness and when the rotation was better  was shorter, then there’d be some room for Wang.

But now? At the moment, China lacks one player who is currently signed to an NBA team. Key players like Liu Wei and Wang Zhizhi are all playing way past their primes, while Zhu Fangyu and Wang Shipeng are merely playing just past it. You could make the argument that talent wise, this is the weakest China’s been in over a decade. While there are guys Donewald will depend on heavily — Yi Jianlian, Sun Yue, Zhou Peng, the aforementioned four guys — there’s other guys like Yi Li, Ding Jinhui and Chen Jianghua who very well could get into the rotation. And that may just be Donewald is counting on, here: Athleticism, depth, versatility and defense.

Let’s go beyond Donewald’s selection preferences, important as they are, and go to another extremely important point: The CBA values results over all else at the Olympics. Seen as the premier stage to show off their country’s ability to the world, the Olympics always have and always will be about proving China to the West. Ensuring its players can develop for Olympic play is the reason why its professional league only allows two imports per team, why those players have minute restrictions and why Kobe Bryant and Dwyane Wade weren’t allowed to sign here during the NBA lockout. Chinese players, Chinese teams and Chinese appearances — successful appearances — at major international competitions are what the CBA is concerned with.

S. Mageshwaran over at FIBA.com sums it up nicely: “China’s men are aiming to get past the Quarter-Finals for the first time in their history, while the women are looking for a medal. Therefore it is only logical that this pragmatism has stood up in the face of erroneous enthusiasm from certain quarters… the decision to leave [Wang Zhelin] out is one that has arisen out of common sense.”

Wang Zhelin isn’t being abandoned. Donewald has rightfully kept him along for the entire summertime ride and as a result, he’s improved his game immensely from being around the best coaches and best players China has to offer. And with the announcement that 15 players will be going to Poland on July 20th for China’s last set of warm-up games, he very well may stay until the last possible moment. Yet for the good of his team, his Olympic moment will have to wait for another four years. That’s not right or wrong. That’s just the way it is.

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China announces final 12-man roster for Olympics, wins gold at Stankovic

July 11, 2012

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Team China celebrates their first ever Stankovic Cup gold medal last night in Guangzhou. (Photo: Osports)

China finalized its 12-man roster for the 2012 London Olympics yesterday, then they proceeded to win the finals at the 2012 Stankovic Cup in Guangzhou.

The Chinese capped off their undefeated run to gold with a 70-51 win over Australia last night. It’s China’s first and only gold medal since the competition was first established in 2005. Yi Jianlian finished as the game’s top performer with 14 points and nine rebounds, while Yi Li pitched in with 12.

Although the level of competition at this year’s even wasn’t as strong as it has been in years past — Russia and Australia both sent younger teams — the achievement is still notable for China. Clearly better and more experienced, the Chinese suffered no letdowns and played well throughout the tournament. The win should give the team some momentum heading into their next set of pre-Olympic exhibition games, which start on July 20 in Poland against the Polish National Team.

But while the historic result was highly noteworthy, the real news came a few hours before tip-off when the 12-man roster was announced on Chinese media outlets. Five players will be making their Olympic debut in London: Center Zhang Zhaoxu, forwards Ding Jinhui, Yi Li and Zhou Peng, and point guard Guo Ailun.

Joining them will be the familiar faces of Chinese basketball over the last several years, Yi Jianlian, Wang Zhizhi, Zhu Fangyu, Wang Shipeng, Sun Yue, Liu Wei and Chen Jianghua.

CBA officials said the roster can change in the event of injuries.

Bob Donewald’s decision to carry only three centers on the roster speaks to the emphasis on versatility and defense that has been placed within the Chinese National Team since he took over the reigns in the spring of 2010. Whereas Chinese teams in the past relied on a slower pace that was designed to punish teams down low — i.e. get the ball into Yao Ming by any means necessary — China is now likely to go with rangier and more athletic lineups that will be better equipped to handle what is an extremely talented Group B.

So the exclusion of what is already being seen as China’s two biggest snubs, centers Su Wei and Wang Zhelin, shouldn’t really be considered as such. Though Su picked it up recent weeks, his confidence and overall play has taken a major hit since his disastrous showing in the CBA Finals last April against Beijing. Limited on offense even on a good day, Su’s ability to finish the simplest of plays around the hoop made him into a major liability on that end of the floor. And with Donewald’s commitment to fielding a more athletic lineup, there was no room in the end for the plodding former rower-turned-hoopster. After having played under Donewald in 2010 at the FIBA World Championship, missing out on the chance to play in his first Olympics will have to sting for Su because with a wealth of talented young Chinese centers primed to make the team in 2016, this may have been his last.

For Wang Zhelin, however, this will very likely be the last time he’s cut for any major international competition at the senior level. Though the 18 year-old performed very well in spots this summer, his inexperience and poor defensive play ultimately sealed his fate.  Though he was eligible to play for Fujian SBS last year in the top division in the CBA, Wang was held back and placed on the youth team to allow his body and game to develop. Not only does Wang not have any experience with the Senior China National Team, he’s never suited up against the top level domestically either. Added to that, Wang’s inability to either guard anybody on the ball or help off of it put him in a bad spot with the defensive-minded Donewald.

Another notable development is the inclusion of Guo Ailun. Guo, who played in Turkey two years ago, fell out of favor with the National Team setup last year after he lead a “blood letter” demanding the removal of China Olympic Team head coach, Fan Bin. Then he found himself off the roster for the 2011 FIBA Asia Championship. And this season, it looked like he’d be left in the cold once again when he was left off the preliminary roster in March. However, with limited options at the back-up point guard spit, he was called back up on April 14th. With injuries to Yang Ming and Zhang Bo, Guo will go to London. As the odds-on eventual short-term heir to Liu Wei, a trip to London bodes well for the future of Chinese basketball.

China plays its opening game in the Olympics against Spain on July 29.

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Tracy McGrady, still the man in China

June 8, 2012

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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