Yi Jianlian is so excited about not being forced to play in the Chinese National Games that the guy’s actually playing some good basketball. He scored 21 points and grabbed 11 boards in an exhibition game against the New York Knicks last Friday. In the Nets’ two previous games, against the Boston Celtics, Yi went for 20 and 8 in the first, but just 2 and 4 in the second.
But someone in China didn’t want Yi in those games, or in the Nets’ season opener against Minnesota. Guangdong, his hometown team and a favorite at China’s national games going on right now in Shandong, reportedly had a deal with the Milwaukee Bucks (the team that drafted Yi in 2007) that would have had Yi back in China for the last two weeks of October, missing the start of the NBA season. Yi’s new team, the New Jersey Nets, has no such agreement, so the 7-footer is free to play for New Jersey.
It may seem crazy to think that Yi would be required to miss the start of his third NBA season to play against a bunch of guys who couldn’t even ride the bench for a team in a major NCAA conference. But conflicts between Chinese interests, Chinese players, and NBA interests also had huge impacts on the careers of Yi’s predecessors, Yao Ming and Wang Zhizhi. For Wang (drafted by the Dallas Mavericks in 1999), a disagreement about whether he would miss the start of his second season to play for Team China in the Asian Games was the beginning of the end of an abbreviated NBA career (For a fascinating account of Wang’s conflicts with the CBA, check out Brook Larmer’s “The reeducation of Lt. Wang,” from ESPN: The Magazine. And Yao, after the negotiation of his release seven years ago from the Shanghai Sharks of the CBA, has balanced his work between the Houston Rockets and the Chinese National Team.
For more Chinese sports news, check out China Sports Today.
NJ.com: Yi Jianlian still seems the best option at power forward for the Nets
ESPN: The Magazine: The reeducation of Lt. Wang
Yi Jianlian image: Gzxw.com.cn