Yi Jianlian, the 2.11-meter young basketball player of the Guangdong Hongyuan team in CBA is in the limelight at the moment. When joining in basketball training camp in the US last month, he was interviewed by Time Magazine. Deemed as the successor of Yao Ming, Yi will probably start a new Chinese basketball fervor in NBA.
Besides the well-known Yao Ming, there are three other Chinese playing basketballs in NBA. They are vigorous Menk Bateer from San Antonio Spurs, Wang Zhizhi from Los Angeles Clippers and the 20-year-old Xue Yuyang, who has been selected by the Dallas Mavericks in the second round of the 2003 NBA draft. But Xue won't go to the NBA due to the disapproval of the General Administration of Sport. Afterwards, the player-seekers transfer their attention to the much younger players, such as 19-year-old Tang Zhengdong and 1.86-meter Chen Jiahua, 14, whose dunks look like the behavior of the Kongfu superstar Jet Li.
Nevertheless, all these young players are inferior to Yi Jianlian as the talent rookie is the favorite of more insiders.
Yi Jianlian, from Shenzhen in Guangdong Province, became a professional athlete in 1999. His father is 1.99 meters tall and his mother is 1.73 meters. Both of them are retired handball players. When graduating from the primary school, Yi was already 1.93 meters tall. Generally people in the southern areas of China are comparatively short, therefore he has been called a giant since he was very young. At the beginning, his parents didn't want him to be a professional for they thought professionals hold a job that lasts only as long as their youth, and so there's nothing for them to rely on after retirement.
"We are not the well-to-do now," Yi's mother said, with her and her husband both employees of the post office. "We didn't get good education when we were young, and we couldn't find a good job after we retired. Therefore, we expect our son to be a well-educated man, instead of a professional athlete. We don't want him to be the same as us."
Although the parents opposed their son being an athlete at that time, a senior coach called Dai from a sports school took a fancy to him. Dai believed that Yi Jianlian has everything of an ideal physique: speed, flexibility, harmonization, fine jumping capacity as well as outstanding height. Furthermore, after a series of special examinations, Dai also predicted that Yi Jianlian could grow to a height of 2.03 meters to 2.06 meters. In the end, Dai persuaded Yi's parents to let him go to the sports school for a try.
However, the road for Yi to become a professional basketball player was not smooth for his career almost stopped at the beginning. In the first 400-meter-running test in the school, Yi gave up when he only finished half way. He felt very sick and was not able to overcome the physical limitation. He complained, "I can't stand any more. Before I came to the sports school, I'd never tried to leave home for a long time. I never dreamed of becoming a basketball player."
Over time, Yi grew up and was gradually fond of playing basketball. He made up his mind to overcome his temporary difficulties and become an excellent basketball player. Since then Yi has been fascinated by the magic NBA and many related products, such as cartoons and video games about the NBA.
When Yi Jianlian joined the Guangdong Hongyuan team in the CBA league (China's Basketball Association), his height amazingly reached 2.11 meters. He was capable of jumping and touching a height of 3.51 meters while the ring was only 3.16 meters tall. At that time, Yi had been a wonderful center that mastered many skills, like perimeter shooting, hook shooting, reverse dunk and so on. That's why Adidas, the world well-known sports product enterprise, would embrace him. In order to compete with its primary rival Nike, the sponsor of China's national team, Adidas invited Yi to join the ABCD basketball training camp in New Jersey in 2002. Yi was the only member from China. The trip was an eye-opener for Yi and helped him for the first time set the goal of playing basketball in NBA.
"I'm still very young and thin," Yi said. Only playing one season in the league, and spending most of his time on the substitute bench, Yi knows that he has a long way to go. However the last game in the regular season really surprised the audience and made people believe Yi had a bright future. When the game entered overtime, Yi finally got the chance to substitute and grabbed 13 points in five minutes which ensured a victory for his team and the No.1 place in the league. Although his performance in the final was rather conservative, Yi did contribute the best moment in the season: stealing the ball in the last several seconds, running, and leaving others behind him, finishing with a monster dunk.
When will Yi Jianlian access NBA? It depends on the most mysterious thing about Yi: his age. The coach of Chinese National Junior Team said Yi was born on Oct 27, 1987, which means he is only 16 and has to wait till 2009 to be qualified for entering the NBA draft. While some Chinese experts hold that Yi is 18 or 19 years old now. Whether the information of his age is true won't affect Nike's interest towards Yi. The company has defeated other business rivals and signed a six-year contract with Yi. The value of the contract is more expensive than the salary he gets now. It even surpasses the contract that Nike signed with Yao Ming at first. Today, Yi Jianlian has attracted the attention of people on both sides of the ocean. Will he become the genuine successor of Yao Ming and start a whole new Chinese fervor in the NBA? Let's just wait and see.
(China.org.cn by Li Xiao, September 22, 2003)