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Guangdong Southern Tigers' Yi Jianlian dunks during Game 4 of the CBA Finals against Shandong Gold Lions on Friday in Jinan, Shandong. Wu Jun for China Daily
The returning leader also brought with him the heart of a champion.
The Guangdong Southern Tigers lost last year's CBA Finals series 4-1 to the Beijing Ducks, but regained its winning mojo in this season's Finals as it swept Shandong to regain its crown; and that was in no small part due to the return of Yi Jianlian.
Yi, who left Guangdong to join the NBA after losing in the Finals to the Bayi Rockets in 2007, came back more eager than ever for a CBA title as he hadn't tasted championship success since 2006.
"I made a promise to my teammates and all the Guangdong fans. That was to bring them back the CBA championship," Yi said at the start of the playoffs.
Actions speak louder than words, so Yi also let his performances do the talking instead of making inspirational speeches in front of media and the team.
Averaging 24.6 points and 10.5 rebounds in 40 games, Yi's presence in the paint caused defenses to collapse, which created easier shots from the perimeter, particularly for Zhu Fangyu and Wang Shipeng, who upped their scoring this season over the last.
Yi's fighting spirit, which saw him overcome a finger injury to help Guangdong sweep the Xinjiang Flying Tigers in the semis, also provided inspiration to his teammates.
"His return not only gave us an edge under the rim but also provided us with a mental boost as well," Wang said before Game 4 of the Finals. "We kind of got used to making the Finals over the past few years and lost our hunger for the title. He brought back the mindset of having to fight hard for the title."
Guangdong claimed three league titles in a row from 2003-04 to 2005-06 and then four straight championships from 2007-08 to 2010-2011.
Too much success may have made some of the players complacent, but not Yi.
"The CBA championship will always be a big motivation for me. Witnessing the team's loss in the Finals last year was a blow for me.
"The desire to win another title for the city played a big part in my decision to come back this season," said the 25-year-old national forward.
Drafted by the Milwaukee Bucks as the overall sixth pick in 2007, Yi played in the NBA for five years with the Bucks, Brooklyn Nets (formerly New Jersey Nets), Washington Wizards and Dallas Mavericks. He averaged 7.9 points and 4.9 rebounds in 22.2 minutes per game.
(China Daily 03/30/2013 page16)