Chinese basketball legend Yao Ming may be best known for his on-court exploits, but he’s now facing a challenge of a very different sort as he looks to reform Chinese basketball. In a Chinese sports version of Bannon vs. Kushner, the big man is battling “the establishment” in order to gain influence behind the scenes. But the obstacles he’s facing may be so entrenched that the entire sports industry in China is affected.
Rumors started to circle earlier this year that Yao Ming would be appointed as the new head of the Chinese Basketball Association (CBA), and despite resistance in certain quarters – including this editorial from state-run news agency Xinhua which called him too young and too inexperienced [link in Chinese] – he seemed the obvious candidate.
Zhou Qi and Wang Zhelin become first Chinese players drafted for nine years, but both face an uphill battle to play in the NBA.
A year ago, ice hockey player Song Andong was touted as China’s next big sporting star after being drafted by the NHL’s New York Islanders, then swiftly promoted as one of the faces of China’s 2022 Winter Olympic Games bid campaign. This spring, it is the turn of two Chinese basketball players, Zhou Qi and Wang Zhelin, who were drafted by the NBA’s Houston Rockets and Memphis Grizzlies, respectively.
After a breathless few weeks during which the entire sporting world has been talking about Chinese football (with yours truly quoted by AFPthreetimes, FTtwice, El Pais, Hicimos, Vice Sports and interviewed by CCTV, BBC and Al Jazeera among others), let’s take a look at a few stories that could be cropping up over the next 12 months…
Since writing this week’s Sports Talk column about Stephon Marbury‘s playoff heroics for the Beijing Ducks, he scored 36 points – including two 3s in the final minute – to lead the Ducks to a slender 111-110 win over the Liaoning Leopards and tie the CBA Finals at 2-2.
Just want you all to know Yang Yi is lying to the China press about me. Any information from him are false to promote his clients. I love China and will always be faithful to all my fans. Peace!
Yang Yi is the Senior Basketball Editor at Titan Sports and a former NBA commentator for CCTV who became known for dropping Yao Ming’s name at every opportunity. Still doesn’t sound like McGrady will be playing in China any time soon, though…]
Yao Ming may not have been the first player from China to play in the NBA – that distinction goes to Wang Zhizhi – but Yao’s arrival in the US was supposed to open the doors and let in a steady stream of talent from the east. Unfortunately those doors have now slammed shut with the news that Yi Jianlian doesn’t plan to have another crack at the NBA and will stay in China.