The CBA has continued to grow in popularity in recent years, securing investment and an increased fanbase as well as intense interest from overseas.
It’s no surprise that after the successful career of Yao Ming, basketball has received increased exposure on the Asian continent.
Yao Ming is the undisputed king of Chinese basketball. During his time in the NBA, he established himself as one of the all-time greatest centers. Throughout his nine-year NBA career, he stayed faithful to the team that drafted him, the Houston Rockets, and was named an NBA All-Star eight times.
Clearly, when it comes to other Chinese players, Yao Ming was a cut above the rest. The Chinese giant displayed to the world that there’s some serious talent coming out of the CBA, with a young Yao starting his professional basketball career at the Shanghai Sharks, a team he now owns.
Yao’s ambition is to develop the game even further in China. His nationality acted as a potent force throughout his career, allowing American ideals to be exported to a Chinese audience, whether that be through the NBA or the various lucrative advertising contracts Yao was able to secure and drawing upon his huge influence in the American and Chinese national eye.
In fact, his influence on the popularity of the sport in China, and America’s acceptance of Chinese players is clear to see, with Golden State, playoff finalists with odds of 5/12 from betfair at the time of writing to take the first game of series, even releasing a special edition of their kit to celebrate Chinese New Year.
The American public adored Yao for his dominance and prowess on court, yet within China, Yao is famous in terms of his success and wealth. He is one of China’s biggest sporting exports, in terms of height and wealth, accumulating over $65 million to date.
Yao is a model that all young Chinese basketball players aspire to be. He had the perfect game and was idolised domestically and internationally, drawing attention to both the NBA and CBA. However, there have been many successful Asian players to join the NBA, with a good cluster of these over the years emerging from China, such as Mengke Bateer, Wang Zhizhi, Yi Jianlian and Sun Yue.
The CBA is improving, but it’s got a long way to go
A substantial amount of money had been pumped into the Chinese league within the last decade, which has allowed Chinese teams to make marquee signings of ex-NBA talent.
In fact, in March this year, the most expensive deal in the history of the CBA was carried out, with Andray Blatche, a former Washington Wizard, signing a three-year contract with Xinjiang worth $7.5 million.
This is a great indication of what’s in store for the CBA. Many NBA teams were hot on the heels of Blatche, raising rumours that he could be returning back to America after an impressive performance in China.
Blatche had a troubled time in the American big league. His time at the Wizards was fraught with controversy, with him facing disciplinary action due to mocking the infamous Gilbert Arenas locker room firearm incident.
The two had an interesting relationship and were never short of media attention.
Blatche put on some promising performances on court, but failed to impress and never really cemented his place in the team. He then had a two-year stint with the Brooklyn Nets, before finally shipping over to China with the Xinjiang Flying Tigers, where he has been a dominant force.
In his current form, there’s no denying that Blatche is an NBA level player, with his skills perhaps being improved by being able to leave his troubles behind and focus on his game.
Blatche is currently amongst a crop of CBA players who have impressed this season and could easily keep pace in the NBA. If this is the case, surely the best place for them would be in the NBA?
There’s a gulf in class between the CBA and the NBA, with it being easier to be a star in the CBA than the NBA, as Blatche has shown.
Now that Blatche has honed his skills and defeated his demons, is it now time for him to start thinking about a return America?
Ex-NBA players like Blatche, Wafer and Bynum are raising the standard of the CBA
Ex-NBA talent is a fantastic draw for the CBA. These players bring a different type of experience that domestic CBA players will not have been exposed to. The level of talent in the NBA is inevitably higher.
To be successful in the NBA, shot conversion rates need to be high, whereas this is less of an issue in the CBA. Sure, they still need to be high, but nowhere near as high as what the cream of the crop in the NBA output.
The exchange of talent, both new and old, is healthy for the basketball world. Similar to what is happening in soccer with older players moving to less competitive, but rapidly emerging leagues, such as the American MLS or Australian A league, the same developments would be great for basketball across the globe.
Because the standard of the CBA is not on par with the NBA, it’s not as if the CBA is having a ‘talent drain’ effect on the American league by luring away players in their prime. The best players know they need to be competing in the best league in order to be taken seriously.
Great players playing in the CBA in their twilight years before their retirement would be an awesome spectacle for Asian basketball, and would be a fantastic way for domestic Chinese players to rub shoulders with the greats.
These players would bring more money into the league, which is already able to pay some competitive salaries to top Chinese players. Obviously these are dwarfed by NBA salaries, but they still show that the CBA has some serious financial clout behind it.
As long as the CBA continues to improve, so will the standard of Asian basketball. In the long run, this could mean more Asian players heading to the NBA. Again, this would be a great move for the game.
So does the NBA have anything to worry about?
At the moment, no, not at all. In fact, the interaction between the leagues is positive for basketball and basketball fans around the world.
Chinese basketball, and on a wider level, Asian basketball, is continuing to develop in size and ability, which is great for the sport.
The CBA is surely a great lure for aging players to give their curtain call, but it can also be useful for younger prospects who aren’t getting the game time they need to stay fit in the NBA. Whilst a move to the CBA may not be the best long-term move for young talent, in the short term, it offers a great way for young, underused NBA players to stay fit and sharp.