China’s New Basketball Hero: Not Yao…Kobe.

The tallies are in, and the latest figures on NBA jersey sales in China show Yao slipping from the third spot all the way down to number six. In fact, based on sales data released last week, Yao’s #11 isn’t even the best-seller on the Houston Rockets, that honor goes to Tracy McGrady, #3 on the list who himself lost the top spot in the rankings to Kobe. Alan Iverson (a huge fan-favorite among Chinese hoopsters), Dwayne Wade, and LeBron round out the top 5.

Yao was having a career season this winter until he missed 32 games with a broken bone under his right knee. Nevertheless, the big man is average 24.7 points, 9.5 boards, and 2 blocks a game.

Personally, I wouldn’t be caught dead in a Lakers jersey, but that’s just me.

The Discussion: 12 Comments

hey, Kobe’s number change certainly helped to earn him a lot of money with so many people (now even in China) buying the new #24 jerseys.

I think the main reason for Yao’s jersey not being in the top 5 is that even though he’s Chinese, its hard for most Chinese kids to “identify” with him because of his size. Its easier for them to see themselves as shorter guards like Kobe and AI. Plus, those guards are far more flashier and have a more “attractive” playing style (at least to the “streetball” obsessed younger generation) compared to Yao.

March 22, 2007 @ 3:37 pm | Comment

Totally agree with you about why the “guard”-types are more popular here. I play a lot of ball in China and–by far–AI is the most popular player with the people I play with. The small-ball style and the flash has a lot to do with it.

Now if we could just get players here to learn 1) why a moving pick is a foul 2) that 5-on-5 half-court is a recipe for total chaos 3) A charging call requires both feet to be planted, not dancing like Donna Summer and 4) It’s okay to play defense beyond standing around and then yelling “Hey” when your opponent takes a shot.

There are more, but these are the ones that are bugging me right now.

March 22, 2007 @ 3:48 pm | Comment

Hey, Jeremiah. I read your post today, a couple of hours before I was touching a number of my classes. I always thought Yao Ming was a rather great role model. But then, in typical (Chinese? Asian? or just any possibly self-effacing people) maybe he is too great. People may want to claim him for their nation (and Chinese, if I observe correctly, seen to be incredibly proud, when it comes to nationhood, whatever that is), but to individually aspire to be him…no way.

One of my students, at one point, were saying, “I’m Michael Jordan.”

I said, “No, you’re not… how about…”

He jumped in, “Kobe Bryant!”

I said “Why not Yao Ming?”

Everyone seemed aghast at the notion. Not because they dislike him or anything like that. The student said “He is too good. Too skilled!”

So there you have it! Yao Ming is just not a picture of something easily achievable. It is strange to us Western-type people. But then, we are used to individual ambition being in the normal swing of things. It seems like for most Chinese, however, being too much below, too much among, or too much above the average is maybe vulgar. This is my speculation, anyway. I suspect that Western influence will gradually change Chinese culture, though.

Speaking of Chinese culture and all that has been going on in The Peking Duck, by the way, I think that there is nothing new in the CCP banning blogs (mostly Western-based). The Chinese government has been isolationist as far back as the past few hundred years, long before the Communists were in power.

Even the United States went through isolationists periods, refusing to get involved in wars that would inevitably involved it anyway. The United States banned books, movies, etc. and even banned the people who were making them from making anymore (the McCarthy blacklists being an obvious example). I do agree that the current CCP censorship situation is intolerable, but I don’t think we should get hysterical about it yet, either. Criticize it, but do it in rational (yet devastating, ways).

March 22, 2007 @ 11:54 pm | Comment

Go Lakers!

OK, had to throw that in and pretend I have some hometown pride. I’m the worst fan ever.

I am going to file this factoid away, though, for next time my students gloat about Houston beating LA. At least we’ve got the jerseys.

March 23, 2007 @ 12:19 am | Comment


You may be on to something given that Yao occupies such a rarefied place in the Chinese basketball world in terms of dominance and talent. I also think that b. cheng’s point is worth noting: Yao Ming is an atypical combination of size and touch that few people anywhere can relate to.

The next big thing out of China is Yi Jianlian, whom describes as a KG-type player currently lighting up the CBA Finals for Guangdong. He’s likely to go high in the first round in this year’s NBA draft. He’s good. Not Yao good, but certainly “man among boys” in the CBA. Compared to Yao, Wang Zhizhi or Mengke Bateer, he’s not that tall, but still would be a 3 or a 4 in the NBA.

I really think that the future of Chinese players in the NBA is going to be when some of these fast, ball-handler types outgrow the playground. Within 5 years, I think we’ll see a great Chinese point guard enter the NBA.

March 23, 2007 @ 2:06 pm | Comment

Jeremiah, you had me at the five lessons that Chinese people need to learn while playing. I’ve almost gave up playing with my co-workers because it was causing what little game I had to deteriorate further.

But then you lost me on a Chinese point-guard in 5 years. Fast, highly-skilled ball-handlers I can agree with, but someone who can really LEAD a team. I have a hard time believing that’s going to happen anytime soon, that “true” confidence still resides mainly in American players. It’s hard for me to believe that the confidence needed will be instilled in anyone growing up in China.

March 23, 2007 @ 8:03 pm | Comment

Yi’s jerseys in all likelihood, will out-sell Yao’s if he becomes a NBA starter. He is better looking, and plays a far flashier style of basketball.

Louis Hutong, I think you get those two reverse. Confidence comes with superior skill level and the realization of which, not the other way around. Some 10 years ago, when the American basketball team with pro NBA players met any international teams, those teams talked as if they were just honored to be playing with the “Dream Teams”. Nowadays, some of these top teams (Spain, Greece, Argentina, Italy, etc.) go into the games fully expecting to beat the best American team. These teams are winning not because they are more confident (they are), but rather their skills at a team level, have caught up those of the Americans.

Having said that, I don’t know if in 5 years China will produce world-class point guards.

March 23, 2007 @ 11:09 pm | Comment

Jxie, I think you make a good point, but to really move from the good to the elite does require a lot of confidence. Please don’t confuse that with much of the “arrogance” found in NBA basketball as well.

Many of the Europeans in the league are very good, both technically and athletically, but have continually been ravaged for their lack of grit and confidence in big games. This is slowly changing, but not quickly. And if it’s not quickly happening from Euro and Latin American players, it certainly doesn’t bode well for Chinese players mired in leagues with no real competition.

And yes, many of the top teams globally expect to beat the Americans now. I wont deny that. These are also teams that have been playing together for years and truly know how to play together. The American teams now are brought together very late and then pushed to meld into an International rules system. They rarely have time to gel and establish a real pecking order. So while the non-American teams have established better teamwork, you can’t tell me with any confidence that those teams could truly survive in the NBA. If they could, then I’d believe you that they’d caught up.

March 24, 2007 @ 5:29 pm | Comment

1) Let’s not get carried away. I think a Chinese point guard will emerge in the next few years but I’m not expecting the next Steve Nash or Magic Johnson to come out of China. Maybe the next Jarrett Jack or Andre Miller…I was going to say the next Jason Williams, but only if he comes from a “happier” place, like central Yunnan.

2) There’s something to be said to Louis’ comment. If we took the the Detroit Pistons (the best team in the NBA with an all-American starting five (more on this in a moment), they would probably not do worse, and might likely do better than the so-called “dream teams.” Mainly because they might play AS A TEAM. I also think, hat tip Bill Simmons, the same thing of an under-22 college team (which would be more fun to root for) and would include Kevin Durant and Greg Oden who (hopefully) aren’t as jaded as “grandpas” like Lebron and D-Wade.

I mentioned Detroit, but they are only the 5th best team in the NBA right now. Dallas (Dirk), Phoenix (Nash), San Antonio (Parker), Utah (AK-47) and Houston (Yao) all have better records and feature, prominently, foreign born players. I know it’s been said but the NBA really is becoming an international league.

March 24, 2007 @ 7:02 pm | Comment

Actually most of those top teams had spent less time to prepare the 2006 World Basketball Championship than the American team. Those top teams aren’t particularly playing more often together as a team than the American team — most of them play the continental championship games beyond the pro seasons and that’s all about it.

I just think the American team picked some of the wrong players for FIBA rules. The FIBA basketball games are very different from the NBA games. They have closer 3-point lane, no hand-check rule and no defense 3 second. Hence they strongly favor spot-up shooters over slashers, i.e. Camelo Anthony, Michael Redd & Rip Hamilton are good; DWade & Lebron are bad. Good NBA players aren’t necessarily good FIBA players, and vice versa.

NBA is a profit-driven league and people love to see DWade or Lebron type of plays. If a Sportscenter top-10 move to the basket otherwise probability-wise is a bad move, let’s make sure the rules are changed and phantom “superstar” calls are made, so that the houses can be packed. In FIBA games, such a low percentage shot will cost your team, and the refs won’t bail you out.

Also the American team has done a very poor job in scouting. In Coach K’s post-game press conference after the loss in semifinal to Greece, he couldn’t even name most of the Greek squad!

Jeremiah, if Bill Simmon’s team is ever assembled, I am willing to bet up to $1000 1 on 1 that the American team won’t qualify for the Beijing Olympic Game. BTW, what’s that bit about “happier” place mean?

March 25, 2007 @ 10:09 am | Comment

I agree, the days of the dream teams walking all over international competition are long gone. For a variety of reasons.

The point is that an NBA team does have more of a balance than the “Dream teams do,” you have shooters, handlers, rebounders, defensive stoppers, 6th men, etc. because those teams are built for an 81+ game season rather than a 16 game tournament. That’s all.

As for college ball…I think you need to check out Kevin Durant or Greg Oden before you are so dismissive. It sounds to me like you don’t watch NC2A all that much. Trust me when I tell you that either of these two guys is a top-20 player in the world. Easily. Greg Oden’s been playing dominant ball all season with the wrong hand because…wait for it…his right wrist was broken. It’s just one step away from, “nah, nah, I can beat you with one hand tied behind my back.”

But my main point is I would rather watch a team of no-name kids struggle to beat Lithuania than watch a bunch of hung-over millionaires sulk their way through another international tournament.

As for American-style/International style…the NBA is, and will be for a long time, the premier league in basketball. Yi Jianlian is not looking forward to playing in Turkey next year, let’s just say that. It may be the money, but ONE reason why international competition has become so much tougher is because the world’s best players are able hone their skills in the world’s toughest league during the regular season.

As for the referee shenanigans…checked out a professional football match in China, lately?

Finally, Yunnan…if you’ve been there, you know what I’m talking about. And if you have to ask further, you wouldn’t understand the answer anyway.

March 25, 2007 @ 4:55 pm | Comment

Jeremiah, we both are on the right path in thinking on how to build a better team out of American-born NBA players. My point is that you need more shooters in FIBA games. There is a vested interest for those NBA multimillionaires to play well at the world stage — it affects the reputation of NBA and ultimately their incomes. No matter what though, NBA is still by far the best basketball league.

As a sports nut, of course I watch a lot of NCAA games. Methinks you drank too much kool-aid believing that Durant or Oden are already top-20 in the world. If Oden is drafted this year, I think at least in the first half of his rookie season he will be schooled not only by Yao, Shaq, D12, Amare, but also by Gasol, Okur, etc. He just hasn’t had enough playing time with quality bigs in HS/college. We shall see.

A team consisting of all NCAA players isn’t bad at all. But you have to realize what teams you need to beat to go to Beijing. My money is that with such an American team, Argentina and Brazil will take the 2 Americas’ seats (Puerto Rico stands an outside chance), and the American team will have to play with a bunch of European powerhouses for the world qualification round. Europe is so deep that any one of top 8 teams can beat each other.

That bit about refs is me still fuming over how Lebron took 5 steps and still made the final buzzer beater shot to beat my team in a playoff game. 5 fucking steps!

I think I have some idea on what you meant about the “happier” place — something about the athletes coming out the Chinese sports system? I wanted a clarification and gave my two cents started from something told me by my Brazilian girlfriend. Oh well, never mind then.

March 25, 2007 @ 9:52 pm | Comment

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