Alas! It wasn’t meant to be…
The Chinese Basketball Association formally decided to drop the ban-hammer on the possibility of Kobe, Dwight Howard and a slew of other locked-out NBA players playing in China during the upcoming CBA season beginning in November. The CBA concluded after meeting in Shenzhen that only free agents currently not under contract with any NBA team can participate in the upcoming season.
Director of the CBA League Office Bai Xilin was quoted saying that free agents were welcome to play for “at least a full season in the CBA.”
The decision follows recent news that none other than Kobe “Mr.” Bean Bryant was to report to training camp for the Shanxi Brave Dragons (山西中宇, the same team that first brought Stephon Marbury to China) on October 1st. If Mr. Bean actually suited up for the Taiyuan club, it would’ve easily been one of the most seismic things to happen in Chinese sports since the Beijing Olympics.
Now, the prospect of players like Dwight, Carmelo Anthony and Chris Paul stepping onto Chinese courts is exactly zero, since they’re all franchise cornerstones currently under contract with their respective teams.
As it stands, only free agents like Yao’s former teammates Tracy McGrady (who’ll be visiting the Foshan Long Lions [佛山龙狮] on August 28th) and Shane Battier, along with human victory cigar Brian Scalabrine, would be allowed to play in the CBA, since they’re presently not signed with any other team. And oh, don’t forget China’s lone ethnic representative in the NBA now that Yao’s gone, Yi Jianlian!
So, did the CBA do the right thing in nixing what could possibly have been a great migration of NBA talent to Chinese shores? We took the liberty of writing up some hypothetical press conference statements that respond to the CBA’s decision…
“Yes, the CBA made the right decision. Though we’re far from perfect, the CBA is its own complete league whose main purpose is to improve the level of Chinese basketball talent. Therefore rules are in place that restrict the number of foreign players on each team, and how many consecutive quarters they can play each game. After all, the Chinese domestic league is set up for Chinese athletes to thrive, not foreigners. A foreign player comes to the CBA of their own volition, and if they think the league is run poorly or if they can’t stomach the preferential treatment sometimes given to domestic players, then they’re certainly welcome to ply their trade elsewhere.
In that same spirit, we feel that we’re well within our rights to say thanks but no thanks to the Kobes and Amares of this world. Why is it taken for granted that welcoming NBA players with open arms is a good idea? There have been plenty of players that came to China and didn’t pan out. The CBA is even discussing new contract stipulations that would make it more difficult for foreign players to leave before their contracts are over, since it’s not uncommon for players to leave the CBA before fulfilling their contracts, citing spurious injury claims or ‘family problems’ as the reasons why they’re begging off from work they signed up for.
And then there’s players like Steve Francis coming into the league totally unprepared, arriving with the wrong attitude and wrong ideas about what the CBA is for. We are not here so some over-the-hill former star can audition for another NBA contract, and we’re also not here to serve as a plan B for NBA players just because one of the richest leagues in the world can’t get their own financial house in order.
If an athlete from the NBA or any other league wants to join one of our teams, they’ll have to invest in being part of a team. If they can refrain from disrupting team chemistry with excessive extra demands or a me-first attitude, then they are welcome here.
It’s simply a matter of respect. We’d rather be an unpopular league than lose our self-respect, and we won’t give control of our league away to slick agents interested only in maximizing their clients’ Chinese marketing profile. We will not serve as a doormat for superstar athletes, no matter how talented they are. No one’s going to take our league seriously if we don’t do it first.”
“No, the CBA made the wrong decision. We are foaming at the bit and chomping at the mouth over how wrong they are. You’re turning down the chance for your league to gain regular worldwide media exposure (imagine the CBA and its teams featured daily on ESPN!) by showcasing some of the foremost athlete-celebrity-demigods on the planet, in their prime, on a nightly basis. You’re forsaking huge upticks in advertising revenue and attendance, and the opportunity to create interest and buzz for your league at home and abroad, and in the process make your league more viable than it ever has been in the domestic and global athletic marketplace.
You could also be improving your overall basketball product by allowing players who compete regularly at the highest levels of basketball to enter your league. The intensity and level of play would improve in the CBA as a result of Chinese teams getting regular opportunities to compete with and against the world’s best basketballers. Not to mention different and possibly better ideas and methods regarding practice, conditioning and sports science being introduced by accompanying training staffs.
Stephon Marbury of the Foshan Long Lions, chillin’ with the LBX at Workers Stadium in Beijing, April 25, 2011
Oh, the sheer meanness and pettiness of denying the Chinese audience a season’s worth of games to actually get excited over! Short of a Chinese guard playing for a winning NBA team at an MVP level, there really isn’t anything that could be more exciting for Chinese basketball, period.
Or maybe there’s concern that the fragile little league could suffer because foreign players would show up and merely go through the motions? Considering that the level of play in a lackadaisical All-Star game is still more exciting and competitive than most CBA games, we don’t see what the problem would be if that was the case.
But in all seriousness, we don’t think that would happen, considering the fact that players would be under copious media scrutiny while playing in China, and their desire to keep their reputations afloat would ensure that they gave their all on the court. Not to mention that any crowd with the right energy anywhere can coax the best out of a player.
But if extra guarantees are needed, then why not heavily incentivize player contracts, or even endorsement deals? Players could be paid according to their performance levels, and heavy incentives could also be geared towards making players stay for as much of the season as possible, if aiming for an entire season would be unfeasible.
And why would it be so certain that players would want to leave before their contracts are over? At this point, there’s no guarantee that the NBA Players Association and the NBA would be able to figure out their disputes in time to hold games this year. If that were the case, then why would NBA athletes leave the CBA if there’s no other league to go back to?
We’d like to know what the league has to lose by rolling the dice this one time. We’d hate to be uncouth, but how can the product on the floor be any worse than it already is? A traditional Chinese saying goes, ‘If the duck-neck stew smells delicious, do not defecate in it.’ But since the current state of the league’s play leaves much to be desired, it wouldn’t hurt to try something new, especially since you can’t ruin a league as boring as the CBA. There is nothing to lose (the level of play can’t get worse) and there’s everything to gain. The way the current athletic bureaucracy does things, it’s unlikely that a Yao-like talent could come out of China any more than once every generation.
It’s our hunch that the ban against under contract players is at least partially about maintaining face, control, and anal-retentiveness. Can the league just not tolerate a little uncertainty and possible chaotic element? Where is the vision, the daring, the guts? The cracks are beginning to show in the state sports system that emphasizes order and control, and it’s unfortunate that the CBA is a bit behind the times here.
The only reason we can think of why NBA players in the CBA might not be a good idea is because on-court fisticuffs might always occur again. But besides that? Nothing.
Why not take a risk on having a season-long experiment featuring the best basketball talent in the world? At the end of the day, basketball is still an entertainment product, and your league will ultimately live and die according to how many people actually want to watch your product. Lebron James, Chris Bosh, Amare Stoudemire, LaMarcus Aldridge and Tyson Chandler were all at Shanghai’s Nike Festival of Sport this weekend, and at least several of them in attendance at the Liaoning-Georgetown game looked like they would’ve been happy to show the crowd what they could do. If there are owners who can shell out the big bucks to bring players to China, and athletes who want to play, then why get in the way of that? Make safe and conservative choices, and you’re always going to be lesser than the league that has the guts to take risks.”