Home / Sports / Opinion Review Tools: Save | Print | E-mail | Most Read | Comment
Who owns an athlete?
Adjust font size:

The tension between club and country is one of the most vexing realities for professional athletes.

On one hand, the highest possible honor for most athletes is to represent their homeland in international competition. At the same time, a player's club is his employer, the body to which he is contractually bound.

So who owns an athlete? China made it very clear to the Rockets when they drafted Yao Ming that he was on loan to the club and that his ultimate obligation was to the Chinese national team. It was a concession the Rockets were able to live with if it meant securing the rights to one of the planet's most unique basketball talents, not to mention the chance to identify itself as China's favorite NBA team. The agreement has so far worked out perfectly for both sides, as neither China nor Houston have had to flex its muscles over the issue of who "owns" Yao.

In fact, Rockets general manager Daryl Morey has continued to express his commitment to sharing in the wake of Yao's season-ending injury. A recent article in the Houston Chronicle quoted him saying, "He's a player that is shared among the Rockets, the city of Houston, the NBA and China. We're absolutely OK with that. Him not playing (in the Olympics), not representing his country in China would be like not playing basketball at all. It's who he is."

Although the delicate situation has forced Morey to put on his bravest and most diplomatic face, the Houston-China relationship is decidedly more amicable than the one developing between Lithuania and the Cleveland Cavaliers.

Lithuanian giant Zydrunas Ilgauskas, the NBA's second-tallest player, whose career almost ended before it really began due to foot problems nearly identical to Yao's, decided last month that he would lace up for Lithuania one more time in Beijing after sitting out the Athens Games with injury concerns. Given his past injuries, "Big Z" is something of a success story. Seven years ago he underwent the same surgery Yao had on Monday - and he has missed no more than four games in a single season since.

Lithuania is currently ranked world No 5 and Ilgauskas' inclusion could make the difference between winning its first gold medal and nothing at all.

But the Cavs have indicated they may forbid Big Z from fulfilling his national team dreams. Although the NBA and hoops' governing body FIBA have an agreement saying no club can bar a player from playing for his national team, Ilgauskas is one of 14 NBA players for whom the rule does not apply due to stipulations in his contract. The matter has yet to be resolved, but signs point to the defending Eastern conference champion Cavs exercising their right to show just who owns Big Z.

Yao is clearly dedicated to both China and Houston. In the same Chronicle report, teammate Shane Battier said, "If there is anyone dedicated to his team in the entire league, it is Yao Ming. Anyone that doubts that needs psychiatric help." But it's Yao's exhausting year-round schedule that likely caused the injury in the first place. He may love both his club and country, but as he gets older he may have to choose one over the other.

(China Daily March 6, 2008)

Tools: Save | Print | E-mail | Most Read

Pet Name
China Archives
Related >>
- Yao upbeat after successful foot surgery
- Yao undergoes successful surgery on left foot
- Yao out for season with stress fracture in left foot
Most Viewed >>
- Portugal advance, Switzerland eliminated at Euro 2008
- Ronaldo awarded English player of the year
- Portugal, Czech score wins on first day of Euro 2008
- Italian soccer team training session interrupted by beauties 
- Space-age suits race into uncharted waters