Yi Jianlian: Money for the Bucks?
"With the _____ pick in the ____ NBA Draft, the ____________ select ___________."
That announcement has brought entire families to tears and made grown men smile like children on Christmas morning. It is representative of the moment at which many young men’s lives are changed, the point at which dreams become reality.
For Yi Jianlian, discovering that the Milwaukee Bucks had selected him with the sixth pick in the 2007 Draft was certainly not one of those moments. To say the least, Yi’s camp was disappointed at the thought of the next Great Chinese Hope playing in Wisconsin. So much so that they refused to allow the Bucks to talk to their draftee and threatened to prevent him from ever donning one of those fashionably questionable uniforms.
The two sides have made nice since then and a summer of referee scandal and the usual NBA player misconduct have been enough to obscure the incident and to put it in the public’s rearview mirror. Now the focus is on Yi’s insertion into the starting lineup and his contributions to Milwaukee’s push to become a playoff contender and a franchise that can once again be mentioned among the league’s best.
At first glance, one might see Yi supplanting Charlie Villanueva in the starting lineup as a ploy to appease the Chinese powers that be. Upon further inspection, the numbers come to Yi’s defense. He is averaging a healthy nine points and five rebounds per game thus far in the young NBA season, including 16 points, eight rebounds, two steals and two blocks in a win against the Central Division rival and Eastern Conference hopeful Chicago Bulls.
The numbers aren’t spectacular, but they are certainly more than many expected. In fact, China has become enthralled with Yi, with papers in the country giving him ownership of Milwaukee and praising the Bucks for drafting the "potentially valuable player." And this is three games into an 82-game season. One can only imagine what kind of praise he will receive if he keeps up his current play and the Bucks become relevant.
"When Yi plays well, I’m very happy," said countryman Yao Ming, perhaps capturing the sentiments of an entire nation. Yao, the only other Chinese player currently in the league and star center for the Houston Rockets, thinks that perhaps Yi’s career will be similar to or even better than his own.
"If you compare us in our third NBA games, you will see that Yi’s statistics are far better than mine," Yao told Monday’s Titan Sports Weekly. "I hope he gets better and better and will be able play at a high level."
The two will compete against one another for the first time in an NBA game on November 9 when the Rockets host the Bucks. One can only imagine the fervor and excitement that will be generated in China by this game. Early speculation says more than 100 million will view the game there on television.
That same early speculation could lead to a great deal of pressure on the rookie forward. Only time will tell whether he is destined for greatness or headed towards obscurity.