November 18, 2011

NBA's loss is CBA's gain

When the NBA and it's players failed to agree on a Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA), and thus, put an end to the current lockout, there is another CBA that seems to have gained: the Chinese Basketball Association. And now that the NBA's player's union has disbanded, and the 2011/12 NBA season is seemingly slipping away, China will start looking like an even more attractive destination for NBA players.

Of course, going overseas isn't a newly-discovered option for former NBA players - bit players who couldn't find NBA jobs and those who were past their prime have occasionally taken the leap overseas and taken their talents to Europe, South America, and in rare occasions, to Asia.

But the change in economy has also directly influenced the change in preferred basketball-player destination. The NBA, which is the richest and the most competitive basketball league in the world, is obviously the dream destination for every basketball player in the world. But the NBA is no more (for now): and so, during this lockout, more and more players are thinking China. Europe is in serious recessions, while China has become the world's second largest economy. It also happens to be a country crazy about hoops - of course, the cultural barrier in the Far East as compared to Europe may be a tougher hurdle for the average NBA player - but the CBA has rising competitiveness and relative financial strength in its favour. No team outside the NBA can really match NBA salaries, but in today's economy, it seems that the CBA comes the closest.

The CBA was only founded 16 years ago - in 1995. The first American player to play in the league was James Hodges. There are 17 teams in the league.

The first American to play in the CBA was James Hodges, back in 1996. Since then, former NBA players slowly made their way back and forth, but the biggest breakthrough in NBA to CBA history was the arrival of former All Star and Timberwolves/Nets/Suns/Knicks/Celtics guard Stephon Marbury. One of the most exciting (and possibly crazy) players in the NBA, Marbury shocked the world when he joined China's Shanxi Brave Dragons in 2010. Since then, Marbury has played for the Foshan Dragons and has now signed for the Beijing Ducks. In the process, he has become one of the most popular players in China, all while also promoting his shoe company there. For a former perhaps-nutcase, Marbury has flipped his career around for the better with the China move.

Now, to promote their own talent, Chinese teams have quite stringent rules for allowing foreign players on their rosters and for the playing time that the foreign players get. All teams except the Bayi Rockets can have a maximum of two foreign players, although the bottom five teams in the league are allowed to sign an additional Asian player to their roster. When facing an opponent in any game, the foreign players are allowed to play a combined total of six quarters, except for when teams are facing the Bayi Rockets, in which case the foreigners can play up to five quarters.

Why the Bayi Rockets exceptions, you ask? Well, the Rockets are China's Army Team, and thus, they feature only Chinese players. The Bayi Rockets also happen to be the squad that beat up players from the Georgetown University team in a 'friendly' game a few months ago. They also happen to be the most successful team of the CBA, winning 8 of the 16 titles so far.

Until last season, a few former NBA players did manage to make their impact on the, although none of them were as well known as Marbury. These included former Kings player Quincy Douby (Xinjiang Flying Tigers), who was last year's China All Star MVP, former Knick/Hawk Randolph Morris (Beijing Ducks), former Spur/Clipper/Bobcat Marcus Williams (Shanxi Brave Dragons), former Clipper/Mav/Wizard James Singleton (Guangdong Southern Tigers), former Rocket/Wizard Mike Harris (Shanghai Sharks), former NBA journeyman Andre Emmett (Fujian Sturgeons). Another former NBA big name - Steve Francis - had a shot with the Beijing Ducks, but it never really worked out. Former Kings player Bonzi Wells had a pretty successful 1 season in China with the Shanxi Brave Dragons.

Still, nothing prepared China for what was going to happen across the pond this year. When the NBA went into lockout, most of the players took the wait-and-see approach before deciding on their futures overseas. But some of them were more proactive and decided early. Now, compared to basketball leagues in other countries, China has strict rules that are still keeping NBA-ers at bay: once a player signs with a Chinese side, he has to play the whole season. In other countries, players can break their contract and return to America if the lockout ends; not in China.

But many players have made the jump eastwards anyways, and from the looks of things, many more are now considering it. Already, a major portion of the former Denver Nuggets have traded the Rocky Mountains for the Great Wall: Wilson Chandler (Zheijiang Lions), Kenyon Martin (Xinjiang Flying Tigers), and JR Smith (Zheijiang Golden Bulls) signed for CBA teams a few months ago. They were joined by the Nets' Dan Gadzuric (Jiangsu Dragons), and the Hawks' Josh Powell (Liaoning Dinosaurs). Chinese stars Yi Jianlian of the Wizards also headed back to his homeland to play for the Southern Tigers, who are the league's defending champions.

And a few days ago, the Suns' Aaron Brooks became the latest to accept a contract with the Chinese team, signing with the Southern Tigers. Chinese teams have been showing interest in bringing over Shane Battier, too.

And of course, there was a major push a few months ago for Kobe Bryant - it didn't resolve to anything back, but since the NBA's status has gone from bad to worse, I'm sure that even the Mamba would be thinking about expanding his horizons. Kobe would definitely become the biggest basketball name in country, and perhaps the best NBA player to ever play in an overseas league. But Chinese fans shouldn't get too carried away about that, yet, as he has a lot more international options and offers to choose from.

The NBA, our favourite league, is unfortunately slipping. Who knows when, and if, there will be a settlement between the two sides, especially now that they're going to court. But the NBA's loss has become the CBA's gain. And while the world's best basketball league in the world's strongest economy squabbles and shuts down over money matters, the second-strongest economy in the East seems to be becoming a brighter option for the basketball starved players.

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