'Boss', Huang added luster to a sorry year for China

By Chen Xiangfeng (China Daily)
Updated: 2010-01-12 09:01
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Houston Rockets All-star center Yao Ming and American-Chinese businessman Huang Jianhua stood out in Chinese basketball in 2009 thanks to their refreshing moves into the Chinese Basketball Association (CBA).

However, the national team's setbacks on the international stage coupled with the struggles of its head coach, Guo Shiqiang, made the year a less than stellar one for the country's most popular sport.

Yao became the sole owner of his old team, the financially-troubled Shanghai Sharks, in July and Huang, who goes by the name Kenny Huang in the US, took over the Jilin Northeast Tigers four months later.

Both moves marked an historic step forward for the domestic league as Yao became the first CBA boss while still a current player, and Huang's investment was the first overseas financial injection for a CBA team.

Yao's takeover proved an immediate boost for his former home team, which won six straight games in CBA this new season, the longest winning streak since Yao left in 2002. Meanwhile, the Sharks' home stadium, almost empty last season, saw more and more spectators come to support the side.

Founded in 1996, the Sharks claimed the CBA championship in the 2001-02 season, thanks primarily to the exploits of center Yao.

After the championship, he left for the NBA and Shanghai have since failed to produce another title, finishing near the bottom in the 2008-09 regular season.

Despite missing a whole season for the Rockets due to injury, Yao's every move off the court still made news in his homeland.

"Boss Yao" has become his new moniker among Chinese basketball fans.

"These are two different roles - as a player and as a boss," said Yao. "I have to take more responsibility and face new challenges."

NBA elements

Like Yao, Huang's involvement in the CBA makes the rapidly-developing league substantially more interesting.

Huang, 45, who shot into US and Chinese sports headlines with a successful bid to buy a stake in the Cleveland Cavaliers last May, promised to bring more NBA elements to the CBA.

He has brought an NBA management and operations model to the Northeast Tigers; an effort which is likely to spill over to other CBA teams.

He also established a basketball magazine, I-Basketball, in China and believes owning a basketball publication is an important part of his marketing strategy as he needs a platform to promote his idea of "entertaining basketball".

"It's a different magazine from others in China. I will link I-Basketball closer to the NBA. I will bring more elements of entertaining basketball to the magazine," Huang said .

"I have learned a lot from getting involved with NBA clubs. Basketball is not just a sport in the US. It's also about entertainment and therefore attracts great numbers of people to have fun together."

Having produced several NBA caliber players, including Yao, New Jersey Nets' Yi Jianlian and Wang Zhizhi, Mengke Bateer and Sun Yue, and attracting overseas investment from the likes of Huang, the CBA has made itself better known and thus attracted more former NBA players to join for the current 2009-10 season.

Struggling national team

However, encouraging progress in the CBA can't gloss over embarrassing performances from the Chinese national team.

Inexperienced national coach Guo became the youngest man to hold the position when he was appointed at the age of 33 last May.

He has so far failed to make any impact and a humiliating loss to Iran in the final of the Asian Championship in Tianjin and a poor showing in the Stankovic Cup provoked widespread calls for his dismissal.

Guo, a teammate of Yao just six years ago at the Athens Olympics, beat out some experienced and highly-fancied local coaches to take over the team but lots of people have been questioning his ability.

He was called "Mr No Idea" during the Asian Championship for his apparent lack of tactics.

With Yao now officially out of August's World Basketball Championship and Guo still in charge, there is increasing concern China will not even emerge from the tournament's knockout stage. China are drawn in Group C with Greece, hosts Turkey, Puerto Rico, Russia and Cote d'Ivoire.