The Yi debacle: A View from China

By Alan Paul

The first thing to get out of the way is this: no one in China really knows what is going in with Yi either.

“I really don’t understand why he dislikes Milwaukee so much,” says Shen Zhiyu, a senior writer for the Chinese language version of Slam. “It doesn’t make sense for him to demand to be somewhere or not be somewhere. No matter what team he’s on, it’s a very good chance for him to improve his level of play significantly. It’s a very good chance for him and for the Chinese National Team.”

This last point is really the key to understanding how people here view this situation: it helps the Chinese National Team to have as many of their players as possible playing against as high level competition as possible. People are particularly pumped about this because of the ’08 Beijing Olympics, kicking off in a little more than a year.

The only way for Yi to really avoid playing for the Bucks is to sit the year out and that is not a reasonable option; there is no way he can have no competition in the year before the Beijing Games, probably the most anticipated sports event in Chinese history.

One thing to clarify: the reason the owners of Yi’s CBA team keep speaking for him is they are his Chinese agents. Even now that he is (theoretically) going to the NBA, he is still basically controlled by his Chinese team.

Yi has no support from the Chinese public. As detailed in this story in the government run China Daily, in a poll on, china’s most popular internet portal, 82 percent of the respondents want Yi to remain a Buck.

The story goes on to say:

And it’s not just the fans that are losing patience.

“I have heard about it, I hope he can solve his troubles as soon as possible and concentrate on the national team,” China’s head coach Jonas Kazlauskas told China Daily.

Several big names have urged Yi to end the turmoil and join the Bucks.

“I think Yi should know his agent works for him, it’s not him who works for his agent. He will have to make a decision for himself,” NBA legend Scottie Pippen told China Daily last week. “Just looking at the fact that he doesn’t want to play in that market, I think he should really try to reconsider and embrace the fact that not only are you a part of the NBA, but you have a chance to go out and make a name for yourself.”

I was there when Pip said this and it was a pretty funny scene. He was in Beijing for a press conference with the NBA and Motorola, where they announced their massive two-on-two tournament. Afterwards, he spoke to the press. I was there asking him about things like the 97 Finals and his relationship with MJ and the Chinese press was there asking him over and over about Yi. First, he said he didn’t know too much about it. Then he talked and talked about it, getting pretty hardline with Yi.

By the way, I can’t overstate how big of a star Pip is here. Most Chinese fans started watching the NBA during the Bulls’ run and the whole team retains a much larger than life aura here. A friend who was in shanghai basketball without Borders told me that Pip was a bigger draw than Yao.