Friday, August 19, 2011

Kobe Bryant could be the Yao Ming of China

Dwight Howard could be the Yao Ming of China. I still believe that. If any one NBA player has the most to gain from playing overseas during this Segregation Part Deux (it's not segregation, but it's the worst thing since segregation....too soon?), it has to be Dwight Howard.


Dwight going over to China wouldn't be the biggest news story. That would be Kobe Bryant.

Yes, both Wade and LeBron has surpassed Kobe in the conversation for "Greatest Player Living on Planet Earth" (typing that sentence hurt my heart in ways you cannot possibly comprehend). He's not even the best player in the Western Conference right now. But he would have the most impact. Dwight has the most to gain, but Kobe is the athlete that could reach the highest stratosphere of international popularity.

Kobe is an international brand. He is known the world over, through language barriers and cultural divides. It is not only his transcendent play and physical dominance; it is that he is a champion, five times over. No matter how your government is run, what God you worship or if you have clean, running water, everyone understands winning. Everyone gets what it means to be the last man standing. Kobe established this early in his career. In fact, in 2006, when the Lakers were winning 45 games a season and getting bounced by Phoenix in the first round, I wandered into a bootleg market in Beijing. There were wall to wall Armani suits, Chanel bags and Nike shoes that were perhaps questionable in quality, but always assuredly questionable in origin. Amongst the plethora of knockoff garments were, yes, Kobe branded Nike gear and shoes clad in purple and gold. Even with his team in the doldrums of their glorious history, Kobe's brand of WINNING was shining through. While LeBron and Wade were reaching the peak of their still cresting popularity, Kobe kept his with the rings he garnered early in his career. Having an already strong foothold overseas, Kobe putting his game on display before (literally) a billion people would be a nearly invaluable asset to the Kobe Bryant brand. Everyone talks about Kobe chasing Michael Jordan in both championships and legacy. What better way to do this than to become the next great international superstar?

Kobe's expressed interest in going to the Chinese Basketball Assocation a few times. And while I have disagreed that he should play elsewhere if he thinks the lockout will end in-season, it seems that that is not going to be the case. China isn't the best option competition-wise (what league would be compared to the NBA), but it certainly is the best marketing-wise.

I suppose that all of the above reasoning is why China ruled today that no NBA players currently under contract will be able to join the CBA. Maybe the logic is that they don't want to serve as a vehicle for American players to expand their economic reach in China, or maybe it's just a broader way of keeping out players that could leave mid-season if the lockout were to end. Maybe this has broader social or political implications beyond what could be covered on this simultaneously groundbreaking and yet feeble blog. Either way, it doesn't matter that Dwight, Kobe or Wade are intrigued by the idea of coming and playing in the world's largest emerging market.

I don't really understand the CBA's logic here. As far as I've read, with the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, China is pouring more money than they ever have into becoming more competitive in the international athletic scene. They want to compete with the Western nations not just in the economic and political scene, but also culturally, which has to include professional sports.

The bottom line (because Stone Cold STILL says so) is that bringing guys like Wade, Kobe and Earl Clarke over from the US is just going to make their players better. Of course they can watch tape and follow some instructional videos, but learning from the best players in the world day in and day out at practice would serve as the best possible learning tool towards the Chinese players getting better.

(I was just joking in that last paragraph; Earl Clarke has never made anyone better, professionally or personally)

I understand that no league wants to have a major exodus of talent in season, such as the one that would occur if the NBA were to end the lockout in December or January. It would be detrimental to the image of the CBA, lending to a "minor league" image that they understandably want to shed. But if that is the case, why not let in NBA players that are under contract IF they agree to not leave until the CBA season is over? Why not give them that option? Maybe that will exclude elite players from joining the league, but maybe the Kevin Martins, Jared Dudleys and Rip Hamiltons of the NBA will still agree to that payday. The Chinese basketball players don't have to learn from the best to get better; learning from even the mid-level NBA star is better than nearly every player they have in the league right now.

If China wants to play with the big boys of the world basketball scene, they have to allow it on their soil first. Step it up Mao.

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