After his regular-season debut five years ago, a beat-up Yao Ming called the NBA "a battleground". After one game, Yi Jianlian has a different take on the NBA: "It is just like a stage."
It may be a stretch to call Yi's premiere performance especially theatrical, but he certainly silenced a few critics, fulfilling his starting role admirably. In 25 minutes of play Yi scored an efficient nine points on 4-of-5 shooting, sticking jumpers from 22-feet in. And he played his heart out on defense - his first NBA stat was a steal and he added a couple of blocks to help out a defensively deficient Bucks team.
That is a significantly more productive line than Yao managed in his first NBA game where he only played 11 minutes and missed the only shot he took. Yi, of course, didn't have to live up to the exorbitant expectations thrust upon Yao, who was only playing for the reputation of all of China. Yao fought through his "battleground" and blazed a trail for Yi so that he could perform on the grandest of all basketball stages.
As Yi quickly learned, though, the script of the regular season in the NBA is like a complete rewrite of the preseason. The pace is faster, the fouls are harder and the games are more intense.
The biggest struggle Yi will have will be staying out of foul trouble, a task which proved elusive in Orlando as Yi fouled out with just under three minutes left in the game. NBA referees call games differently than their international counterparts. Offensive fouls, for one thing, are called much more often in the NBA. And there is the unspoken rule of NBA refs that in a questionable call the benefit of the doubt goes to the veteran star and the rookie is almost always the guilty party.
Yi may have outperformed Yao on his opening night, but he has a lot to learn before he gets to Broadway.