CBA gets lucky
Updated: 2012-10-25 04:40
By Dusty Lane (China Daily)
It really is better to be lucky than good.
After a season heavy on foreign imports, it looked for much of the summer as though the Chinese Basketball Association would focus instead on local talent.
Fortunately for everyone involved, it's being forced to double down instead.
Tracy McGrady's decision to join the Qingdao Eagles gives the CBA its highest-profile foreign player to date, a seven-time All-Star who was already one of the most popular players in China after spending his best years playing alongside Yao Ming on the Houston Rockets.
He'll reportedly be joined by Gilbert Arenas - a three-time All-Star in his own right - who's on the verge of signing with the Guangdong Southern Tigers.
The league, on the other hand, has been noisy in its desire to make it more difficult for teams to bring in imports. As recently as a month ago, there were serious discussions about imposing a salary cap that would've made it nearly impossible to bring in what the league views as high-priced guerrillas looking for a quick payday at the expense of the CBA's continuity and long-term development.
Those plans are thankfully on hold for at least a year. McGrady might be the only player who fits perfectly in the CBA's Venn diagram sweet-spot - a scoring machine whose exceptionally high profile overlaps with a background that makes China a cushy place to finish his career.
The question then becomes, how will the schizophrenic league react now that it's reached yet another crossroads? Will McGrady do what Stephon Marbury somehow hasn't been able to and convince the powers that be that their franchises, players and fans are best-served when the world's elite players aren't made to feel like party-crashers?
The CBA is in many ways subordinate to the Chinese national team, a conflicting mandate that makes it impossible to chart a logical course for either entity.
The short 34-game season, for instance, is in place partly to give the national team as much time as possible to train together. Of course, that robs the national team's players of a few dozen competitive games a season.
The same goes for the second-tier players who will make up the national team in five years.
And the kids watching the games who might make up the team in 15 years.
And fans who just want to kick back and watch some basketball.
In related news, China went 0-5 at the Olympics this year, finishing dead last.
There's this constant push in China to build things up from the grassroots level. Read a story about any western sport - rugby, basketball, tennis, soccer, football, equestrian - and the word grassroots is going to come into play from a coach or official or player. Probably about five times.
There's intense interest in developing internationally competitive programs the right way, but in cases like this, it feels like nobody's thought ahead to what happens after the grassroots level.
Well, grassroots are by definition a beginning, not an end.
Since it seems like plants are the metaphor of choice, there comes a time to shift the focus from root to blossom.
Basketball is the one western sport that's definitively taken hold here. Yao is from China. Marbury and McGrady are in China. Arenas is about to come to China. J.R. Smith and Kenyon Martin and Wilson Chandler made varying degrees of mockeries of their time in China last year, but they were in fact in China.
You'd be hard-pressed to think of another league, in any sport anywhere in the world, that continually looks for ways to actively discourage top players from competing. It's incredibly easy math - better players equal a better league because the players ARE the league.
Maybe one more great season and a healthy dose of McGrady will be enough to convince the CBA.
Reach Dusty Lane at firstname.lastname@example.org.
(China Daily 10/25/2012 page24)