Yi Jianlian – Walking, Talking Trade Dispute

The NBA draft is over, and the Milwaukee Bucks have placed themselves in the unenviable position of having drafted China’s Yi Jianlian at No. 7. Unenviable, because prior to the draft Yi and his handlers notified the Bucks and several other interested teams that he was only interested in playing in a city with a sizable Chinese population – like Chicago, New York, or Los Angeles. And just to prove the point, they refused to do the traditional pre-draft workouts for teams which didn’t interest Yi.

Now, I will be the first to praise Yi’s game. He’s a wonderful talent: a seven footer who runs like a deer and moves with a point guard’s agility. But let’s not forget that he’s been playing in the Chinese Basketball Association, where competition isn’t exactly stiff, and even generous scouts – like ESPN’s – suggest that he’s not going to be much better than Toni Kukoc, the fragile Croatian forward who never looked better than when he was playing alongside Michael Jordan during the second Chicago three-peat of the late 90s. After that, Kukoc faded into being a utility player – in Milwaukee.

Maybe Yi will be better. Maybe not. But what’s not in dispute is that there were several far superior players in this draft, and none of them refused to workout or be drafted by teams that didn’t meet their demographic criteria. As an elite Chinese athlete, Yi has long been coddled by the Chinese athletic authorities and – quite likely – authorities who have no interest beyond watching him on television. If he expects the NBA to treat him similarly, he’s in for a tough run. Commissioner David Stern is a consistent enforcer of the NBA’s rules, and he is not likely to take kindly to an upstart international star with designs on re-engineering the NBA draft.

A second factor in all of this that Yi and his handlers might want to consider before they do any more bad-mouthing of Milwaukee: Herb Kohl, the sole owner of the Milwaukee Bucks, also happens to be a four-term US Senator. Obviously, this situation isn’t going to become an international incident. But, then again, how eager is Yi to be in the position of bad-mouthing a senior US Senator’s hometown? How eager are Yi’s government handlers in China to see him do it?

Or, put another way: imagine how the Chinese government would react if a US basketball player publicly refused to play for a Chinese franchise in a city with a small number of expatriates. Now, imagine if that team were owned by a member of the Chinese Politburo.


  1. He was taken in the 6th pick of the draft. I am from Wisconsin and hope he will sign, I think he will help the Bucks! if not maybe they can trade him and help the team that way! Anyway you slice it the Bucks will be ok!

  2. Bruce – I agree: I think he’ll get some sense and sign. But if he doesn’t, I think the Bucks are in a tough spot because other teams will low ball them on the trade value knowing that they HAVE to unload him.

    And as for Eli Manning — I laughed out loud at that one!

  3. He will sign or he’ll never play for the NBA. It’s like having a hold out for 4 years, he has no choice. If he wants to play in the NBA, he has to play in Milwaukee. People are sorely mistaken about the situation, he doesn’t if he plays for Milwaukee. The Chinese government and his agents don’t want him playing for Milwaukee. He just wants to play in the NBA. Does Houston have a particularly large chinese population? I don’t think so but they had no problem with Ming Yao going to Houston.

  4. Don’t the Bucks still own the rights to Rashard Griffith (former Badger who refused to play for the Bucks?) who I believe is still playing in Turkey!!!! Yi will never be in a bucks uni…try to trade him for someone to make the Bucks better immediately (insert KG trade rumor talks here)…It was reported on ESPN that it is EXTREMELY unlikely that KG will be in a Timberwolves uniform this season…KG, Bogut and Villanueva front court, Redd and Mo Williams in the backcourt?!?!?! Sounds like recipe for a deep playoff run

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