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Stephon Marbury of the North team tries to shoot against Wang Zhizhi of the South during the CBA All-Star Weekend at the Guangzhou International Sports Arena in Guangzhou, Guangdong province, on Sunday. The South won 120-117. The South's Yi Jianlian was the All-Star MVP. Cui Meng / China Daily
Lack of big names, odd schedule hamper CBA's showpiece event
It was hyped up and dressed up, but the CBA All-Star Weekend remained more style than substance.
Staged in the Guangzhou International Sports Arena over the weekend and boasting dynamic lighting effects and NBA-like programming, this year's CBA All-Star gala looked fancy, but still failed to inspire fans due to the absence of stars and half-hearted performances.
The lack of Chinese talent aside, the awkward position in the CBA's schedule may also be to blame.
Held between the end of the regular season and the playoffs since 2002, the All-Star Game has seen high-profile foreign stars like Tracy McGrady and J.R. Smith (last year) withdraw from the event after their teams failed to make the playoffs.
Meanwhile, with the postseason tipping off just three days after the All-Star Game, the remaining stars go less than full tilt to conserve their energy and avoid injury.
"It (the schedule) indeed has an impact," the Shanghai Sharks' seven-time All-Star starter Liu Wei told China Daily during the official photo call on Saturday.
"We are tired after a long season and some players have left while others are not in the mood to have fun as they still face tough battles," said Liu, who failed to make the playoffs with the Sharks this year.
The biggest absentee this year was Qingdao Eagles' forward McGrady, who led the All-Star voting but decided to return to the US to deal with an illness in his family.
His absence has led to a large vacuum in the upper deck of the 18,000-seat stadium, which was supposed to be packed by his diehard supporters.
"Of course we are disappointed as we booked the tickets early just for a glance of him. But he won't be here tomorrow and I am considering selling the tickets now," Xu Jialiang, a sophomore at Guangdong University of Foreign Studies, said before the rookie challenge game on Saturday.
With the playoffs looming, coaches have told their players to be extra cautious during the event.
"Now this week is the playoffs and everybody will be guarded - like coach Gong (Xiaobin) told us to be careful about injuries," said Zaid Abbaas, Shandong Golden Lions' Jordanian forward, who helped his team finish second in the regular season.
"We play here on Sunday and the first (postseason) game is Wednesday. It's kind of a distraction," Abbaas' US teammate Eugene Jeter said.
A rescheduling of the game into the regular season, like the NBA does, would help attract a top lineup of stars while doing away with the tension of impending playoffs.
Guangdong's assistant coach Jonas Kazlauskas, who steered China to an eighth-place finish at the 2008 Beijing Olympics, would support such a move.
"I think it's a little bit too close to the first round (of playoffs). I think the people who organize this might have to consider a change. We have six players (from Guangdong) here, it's too tough," said the Lithuanian.
"That will be smarter (to move the event earlier), so we can have a rest during the season while having big names taking part," said Zhang Nan, Tianjin Golden Lions forward, who replaced McGrady in the North team's starting lineup.
Still, the governing body is not prepared to make any radical changes in a short space of time.
"It's a valuable proposal but a league reschedule shouldn't be a quick decision and it has to be discussed with the clubs and involve consultation with experts," Bai Xilin, the director of the CBA's competition department, said after the South rookie squad beat the North, 84-77, on Saturday.
"If we place it in the middle of the regular season, there won't be enough time for the players to be tested and fans will find it hard to select the right stars," Bai said.
(China Daily 02/25/2013 page24)