After being released by the Los Angeles Lakers, Chinese basketball star Yi Jianlian is already back in China playing hoops with his hometown team, though he is having a bit of a hard time adjusting to the footwear.
One minute into the second quarter of a game against the Shenzhen Leopards on Wednesday night, Yi suddenly took off his sneakers on the court and asked for a substitution.
Moments later, he was ready to return wearing a pair of Nikes; however, the referees wouldn’t let him back on the floor. He promptly left for the locker room and was only allowed back into the game in the late third quarter still wearing his Nikes.
After the game, the Chinese Basketball Association suspended Yi for one game and fined his team, the Guangdong Southern Tigers, 50,000 RMB for the incident.
The punishment was administered because of an official apparel deal that the CBA has with Chinese sportswear giant Li-Ning, which mandates that all domestic players wear Li-Ning branded jerseys, socks and shoes.
However, Yi has a sponsorship deal with Nike. Last season, he was allowed to play games wearing Nike sneakers, this season that special privilege has been revoked as the CBA’s 2 billion RMB deal with Li-Ning is set to expire at the end of this season.
Following the game, Yi said that he had shed the Li-Ning sneakers because they were hurting his feet. He explained that it wasn’t that Li-Ning was a bad brand, but that the Nike shoes had been specially designed to fit his feet just right, Sohu reports.
The next morning, Yi took to Weibo to apologize for his “bad manners.”
“Because of the pain in my feet, I lost control of my emotions and reacted poorly on the court,” he wrote. “I deeply apologize and am willing to accept any punishment.”
Yi recently rejoined his hometown Guangdong Southern Tigers after his NBA comeback was cut short when he asked to be released from the Los Angeles Lakers before the regular season had even started. While he may have failed to impress in the NBA preseason, Yi is still the best Chinese basketball player on the planet, winning the last four domestic MVP awards in the CBA.
It remains to be seen if he’ll be able to win a fifth MVP without his trusty Nikes. The Southern Tigers, a perennial contender for the CBA title, have started off this season with two straight losses.
[Images via Sohu]