I Owe Yi
Apology an Jianlian Yi owe I.
Scripted in reverse it just doesn’t sound right. I got the flip on my keyboard switched. The column fodder backfired. The flow off my fingertips is getting punched down my throat. It leaves a nasty
feeling. Excuse me while I try to undo what I never did.
Understand this: I never dissed Yi Jianlian. Sure, I lined him up, took some shots. But I didn’t do him in the usual way sportswriters knock the cats who lace up. Not like that. Back in July I took on
issues of rocky international relations, pride, prejudice, and hungry pockets of greedy and self centered parties, of which Yi was not the only one. For better or worse, I never touched on the man’s game.
The essentials are indisputable. Seven-foot, two-forty, athletic, agile, lights out stroke – no one is denying Yi can play. Motives I can question, power trips I will challenge, and areas of ambiguity I won’t leave unexplored. But facts are facts. Yi Jianlian can ball.
And yet somehow, skills acknowledged and all, the sense is still inescapable, like questioning something that legitimately needed to be questioned wronged somebody. But that isn’t true. Sometimes it does slip. Sometimes I do forget. I have to keep reminding myself, I never
technically dissed Yi the basketball player. Confusion can mess with you like that.
That – confusion – is the only front where I may have actually wronged Yi. Words coming off this keyboard don’t come undone. Stroking the backspace key is one thing, blotting out the collective
recollection of the words with your byline on it is another set of X’s and O’s entirely. What’s said is said. What’s left is for me to be clear about what I’m spinning, something that in two articles and
2,035 words I may not have done properly the first time I brought my thoughts on Yi to your attention.
I didn’t even realize what had happened until the kid from Guangdong started dropping evidence of his skills on US soil. 16 and 8 in the Windy City. 19 and 9 on Yao in H-Town. 13 and 7 with three blocks against Duncan and the squad from the two-one-oh. Instant. Lights are on. People see what matters, and only that.
His stroke is damn near perfect. The release is high, smooth, he snaps a follow through and the net snaps back. The way he moves is scary. It isn’t demonstrative, just confident. He’s nothing like Yao when Yao first stepped into the league. Yi is brimming with confidence. His shot looks effortless and without hesitation.
When you seem him out on the perimeter, just moving, taking threes, he doesn’t look like a big man doing guard things and taking guard shots, he looks like a basketball player doing basketball things and taking basketball shots. You can’t help but be reminded of Dirk. And
then be reminded again that Dirk wasn’t this good in his first month in the league.
When Chuck Ellis dropped a very gracious nod to the young big on this very site, that was the last straw. CYE was painting the man’s future to look bright (rightfully so), and I was feeling illogically guilty. It was like I did something wrong. Like I lost a stack with the wrong pick in a Superbowl wager, but I never placed the bet. Like I got shot down by the girl without ever even asking for her digits.
What the fuck?
Why? I didn’t do anything wrong. I never questioned the man’s game. I always said he had talent. So why the illogical guilt?
Because in an odd way, Yi Jianlian drawing criticism from me for pulling a Franchise (Stevie, not Milwaukee) on a franchise (Bucks, not Francis) and then drawing my praise for his game is like a microscopic version of Kobe shedding hate from sexual assault charges by dropping
81, and like Belichick and the Pats trying to run the table after spygate. You can’t compare the magnitude of these incidents, but the idea is the same. Making up for something, with something else entirely different. Redemption on floor three for the sin on floor two.
Truth: That isn’t Yi’s fault – it’s mine. And yours.
With the exception of that Belichick comparison, seldom do you find someone in pro sports who is consciously trying to use his success on the field of play to make up for his shortcomings off it. We – the media, and occasionally the fans – concoct that bullshit. It feeds into our misguided idea of blending the sports world with… everything else.
While the issue of of Milwaukee drafting and signing Yi Jianlian was directly tied into the sports world, the egos, motives and actions had little, if anything, to do with actually playing the game of
I have to apologize to Yi Jianlian for the same reason I did Kobe Bryant at the beginning of last season. Because, unintentionally, unknowingly, subconsciously or otherwise, I allowed my opinions of off court issues to cloud the sight of the on-court talent that exists. You can flip that script any way you want; it still drops the same.