Yi Jianlian – Walking, Talking Trade Dispute, Pt. 2

ESPN news services are reporting that Milwaukee Bucks owner Herb Kohl has written a personal letter to his first round draft pick, Yi Jianlian, requesting a meeting with the player and his family. So far, the disgruntled Yi – who tried to engineer being drafted by a team in a city with a large Asian population, has not had any contact with the Bucks. As I mentioned in an earlier post, none of this would be of much interest but for the fact that Herb Kohl is also a four-term US Senator, in the majority, and with powerful, senior committee assignments.

Whatever happens, I have to think that the longer this drags out, the more important it will become to Chinese athletic authorities, and the more anxious they will be to tell Yi to sign a contract with the Bucks. After all, it is well known that Yao Ming had trouble adjusting to Houston, and I really don’t believe that the image-obsessed Chinese athletic authorities are going to allow anything more to damage the long-term prospects of other Chinese players in the NBA. More than that, I think it highly unlikely that the Chinese Foreign Ministry is really going to stand for a basketball player sticking it to a very senior US Senator and his financial interests (that is, his ownership of the Bucks).

On a (ahem) personal note: I really wish somebody in the US sports media (hello, ESPN?) would call out Yi on his ridiculous demands. If this really is about playing in front of Chinese crowds, then maybe Yi should skip the NBA entirely and content himself with his team in Guangzhou. After all, if he can’t handle playing for a crowd with Milwaukee’s demographics, then I really don’t know how he’s going to handle games in places like Salt Lake City, Minneapolis, Oklahoma City, Charlotte, or the 25-some NBA cities without significant Asian populations.

[UPDATE! There’s a really thoughtful post on this topic over at Yellow Chair Sports. If you care about the internationalization of the NBA, then this is worth reading.]