If Yi Jianlian ends up spending his season watching NBA highlights on a flatscreen in Guangzhou, he’ll at least have some Milwaukee Bucks gear to keep him company. According to ESPN, Yi had a sit-down with Bucks management on Friday, during which he was given his very own jersey. The ESPN story isn’t very clear about what constituted management – it could have just been the equipment manager – but it’s quite clear that Senator Herb Kohl, the Bucks owner, was not there. Which just goes to show that Yi Jianlian is still willing to snub the four-term US Senator and his (still) likely future employer by demanding a trade.
In an age of coddled pro athletes, Yi might be the most coddled of all. After all, what other US employer would be willing to listen to this: “Thanks for the job offer and visa – But if you know what’s good for you, you’d better go and find someone else to employ me.” The Immigration and Naturalization Service would be on the case within hours and, after grilling Yi about possibly lying to his future employer about his real age, not to mention refusing to work, he’d be on the first plane back to China.
Enter Yao Ming. Yao, when asked to comment on his national team colleague, seemed to imply that Yi has nothing to do with this stand-off beyond an inability to stand-up to his managers:
“Yi must walk his own road,” Yao said. “Chinese players are very modest, but this does not mean that he should not make his own feelings known.”
Modest or not (and this is standard Chinese boilerplate for any misbehaving native of the People’s Republic), Yi shouldn’t expect a free pass just because his management seems determined to singlehandedly resuscitate the recently failed US immigration legislation.
In the end, I expect the Bucks will prevail in this thing (though I’d sure hate to be on the receiving end of what the Milwaukee fans will send Yi’s way during his first player introduction), if only because the Chinese national team is determined to see Yi gain NBA experience in advance of the 2008 Olympics. As is, if Yi refuses to play for the Bucks in 2007, he’ll only be able to enter the 2008 draft if he forgoes professional play entirely in 2008. And that means anywhere, including China.
[UPDATE: A comment below points to a China Daily article reporting that Yi’s meeting with the Bucks included Bucks general manager Larry Harris and coach Larry Krystkowiak. The overall point of the story, however, is that Chinese NBA fans want Yi to suck it up and play for Milwaukee. My personal weekend poll of two Chinese NBA fans came up with the same results. However, none of that would matter if it wasn’t backed up with a quote from the coach of the Chinese national team (who blamed all of this on the foreigner – er, I mean, Yi’s agent). Anyway, this should be over soon.