Sport

Not very hoopful

The prospects of foreign basketball stars playing in China look dim

Benched: foreign stars now less likely to play in China's basketball league

Kobe Bryant, China’s favourite NBA star, told reporters in Hangzhou recently that he might end up playing for a Chinese basketball team. “I’d consider it,” he said. “I think the passion for the game in China is something that excites me.”

But the chances of Bryant really moving to China just deteriorated. Last week, the Chinese Basketball Association (CBA) announced a salary cap on foreign basketballers playing in the country.

The monthly salary for foreign players cannot now exceed $60,000, says the CBA. Total pay for players and coaches should fall below 55% of the club’s revenue too.

Exit left Mr Bryant, who took home $23 million in salary from the LA Lakers last season.

Reports claim that the CBA’s new rules were prompted by complaints from mainland players about the salary gap between locals and foreigners.

While most Chinese players earn about $14,000 a season, the foreign ones pick up six-figure packages, free meals, lodging and travel benefits.

What’s more, despite the growing popularity of basketball in China, young Chinese favour the NBA over the domestic league. Televised NBA games outnumber CBA games, and NBA jerseys outsell CBA ones. In June, the CBA announced that it lost $17 million over the last season.

“We are going to regulate the CBA’s club management and marketing and control their revenue,” said a CBA statement. “We also hope to protect the interest of clubs, players, as well as coaches.”

Some defend the need to pay for foreign talent. We shouldn’t discourage foreign basketball players from coming to China, says the Southern Metropolis Daily. Local players have little star power to bring in lucrative sponsorship deals. And more importantly, foreign players help improve the standard of young Chinese players.

Wang Yong of the Dongguan Leopards agrees: “I’ve learned a lot from them this season and feel I am a better player.”

But the local press also has complaints about foreign player behaviour. Apparently they can be “showy” and “selfish”, and prone to “bad attitudes”. Welcome to the world of professional basketball, perhaps.

Others worry that the foreign imports restrict game time for Chinese teammates. One netizen wrote on 163.com, a popular internet portal: “If we keep letting foreign players dominate the games, how do we achieve the purpose of training local players?”

Not that the foreign stars have it all their own way. There are complaints about broken contracts and unpaid wages. Others recount being told to slack off on court. Basketball has problems with game-fixing similar to the domestic football league (see WiC31), it seems. “It’s common knowledge that Chinese teams bribe referees,” Gabe Muoneke, an American at the Yunnan Bulls, told the New York Times.

Others just can’t adapt to the Chinese environment.

Bonzi Wells, a former NBA player who signed with Shanxi Zhongyu in 2008, is the latest to head for the exit, when he refused to return from a holiday break.

“It was so cold in Shanxi,” he complained to media. ” I wasn’t used to it. The whole city was grey and it gave me the feeling of dirtiness.”


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