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In China, a Rocky Ascent for Basketball

DAN LEVIN The New York Times 22.07.2009 22:37
Bonzi Wells, a former N.B.A. player who signed with the Chinese team Shanxi Zhongyu in 2008, rested during a game against the Beijing Ducks in Taiyuan, China, in January.

Bonzi Wells, a former N.B.A. player who signed with the Chinese team Shanxi Zhongyu in 2008, rested during a game against the Beijing Ducks in Taiyuan, China, in January.


With 1.3 billion potential fans, China is increasingly seen as a financial promised land for N.B.A. stars through endorsement deals, and the league itself has established a robust organization here valued at $2 billion.



But China’s own professional league, the Chinese Basketball Association, has hardly enjoyed a smooth ascendance alongside this country’s basketball boom. American players and agents describe broken contracts, unpaid wages, suspicions of game-fixing and rising resentment toward foreign players. Several players have left China after failing to receive paychecks. Last month, the league announced that it lost $17 million last season, which ended in May.

Players and coaches in China’s professional league said problems escalated last season after the association loosened salary and court-time restrictions on foreign players, part of an effort to heighten the game’s appeal to China’s growing N.B.A fan base and to bring in more lucrative sponsorship deals. The association also hoped the prowess of imported players would help bolster China’s basketball prospects for the 2012 Summer Olympics.

The efforts yielded conflicting results. TV ratings soared, and foreign players found starring roles — the top 15 scorers were non-Chinese, and players like Bonzi Wells and Dontae’ Jones — who had less than stellar N.B.A. careers — frequently scored more than 40 points a game. At the same time, the dominance of foreign players fueled frustration.

“Foreigners should play supporting roles, not dominate the game,” said Zhang Xiong, director of operations for the Chinese Basketball Association.`

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