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The Global Economic Logic to Yi's NBA Destination

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Stern's is seeing dollar signs when he is in Yi's presence. No joke.

Before and even after the NBA Draft, the mystery around the hottest international prospect Yi Jianlian generated some interesting, though not surprising, responses from his critics.  Some, not all, of the criticism of Yi--whether it was his actual age, his lack of adequate professional competition, and where he should play based on specific demographics--are just more manifestations of American Orientalism.  That is, American perceptions of itself as "dominating" politically, economically, culturally etc. is achieved by distancing itself from its perceptions of a weaker, backward Asia.  In other words, America identifies itself by making up some crazy ideas of Asia with no real quantifiable evidence then claims itself to be everything but that.  Its probably true that Yi’s competition in Asia is not up to par with the NBA and SOME of the international arena.  But hypothetically speaking, if Yi is really 19 and most kids drafted are as young as 17, 18, 19 (like rail thin Brandan Wright) -- many who have only played high school or a year of college with competition that is physically undeveloped -- are we to say that Yi has a lower ceiling?  Is Yi -- who’s age ranges from 19-22 -- playing in China’s professional league less likely to succeed against kids in America or Europe his own age if not younger who have also played against some strong, but much equally mediocre competition (at least in relation to the NBA or even NBDL)?  Are those people who rely on the "low competition" argument suggesting that the Chinese league that Yi played against has totally stunted his development forever?   Are we to assume that the Chinese professional basketball leagues are WORSE than high school competition or almost ALL college teams?  How would you be able to qualify AND quantify this judgment?

This illogical logic comes up again in the debates of whether or not Yi should play for Milwaukee.  In several (not many) instances on this blog, people have criticized Yi for "whining."  In one instance, as Atma showed me, a blogger called him a "Chinaman" (what is this the 19th century?) and that he should just go back home.  A few others have echoed this same sentiment: Yi should just suck it up and deal with it AND he should feel privileged to play in America and if he refuses, he should, again, just go home.  What strikes me is how people conflate Yi playing in the NBA, a business move, as the American legend of the "immigrant narrative." It’s as if people think Yi is immigrating here, attempting to establish citizenship, and to live here permanently and we American citizens (and not the NBA) are granting him this wonderful opportunity and he should be thankful.  That is the general "immigrant narrative" as we know it in America.  My question is, why should we be thankful for the corporations that are making money off of Yi? One has to consider the structural limitations to Yi's actual choice-making. EDIT: Is Yi Really calling the shots or do the corporations (i.e. the NBA) that are trying to make money of him the ones really trying to dictate where he is going. My belief is the latter.

Shane Battier shoe deal in China comes off the deals that Yao has already established.

This particular logic of Yi as just another ‘immigrant’ reduces the complexities of Yi’s situation.  For one, Yi is not immigrating here nor is he trying to gain citizenship (at least not that I know of yet).  Second, to argue that Yi is "whiny", should just "deal with it" or "go back to China" forgets the HUGE international, global capitalism at work in making Yi a star and making the NBA and many multinational corporations TONS of money.  A Google keyword search of "nba china market" brings up dozens of articles dating as far back as 2002 describing the NBA’s primary interest tapping into the market in Asia and the millions of dollars it has poured specifically into China and other Asian corporations to expand the NBA empire.  Don’t believe me?  Click here, here, and here.  

I’m not here to make a moral or ethical judgment on whether Yi should or should not report to Milwaukee, which the Asian/Asian American population is less than 2% of the city’s population.  But what moral or ethical judgment I am making is that rather than viewing Yi through the parochial anti-immigrant, nativist lens, we all need to consider the huge financial opportunities and profits the NBA and the rest of the globalized world wants to get in that is embodied in Yi and other Chinese players in the NBA.   In these articles and even at the draft, the NBA is deliberately trying to use people like Yao and Yi in the NBA to help sell their product (NBA merchandise) overseas in places like China.  Check it:

The NBA, no doubt, is hoping everyone ends up happy. The league is eager to publicize its China progress. Spalding sold a million basketballs in China last year, a league release informs. Programming from last season was available on 51 Chinese TV stations, and various NBA paraphernalia could be had at 50,000 outlets. It's no shock, then, that a bunch of Yao Ming jerseys have been sold in China More significant is that he ranks only sixth on the popularity list. From Shanghai to Hong Kong, they go first for such capitalists as Bryant, Allen Iverson, Tracy McGrady, Dwyane Wade and LeBron James.

Granted, Yao was not the top selling jersey, its more evident here how Yao’s presence in the NBA has led to the increased consumption of anything NBA in China.  This translating into more dollars for Stern:

Stern said the NBA is trying to increase its profitability in Japan and Asia by securing tie-ups with Japanese companies in China.

"Japanese companies are moving very aggressively to make sure that they don't get shut out of the China market," he said.

"We are actually talking to many Japanese companies about affiliations with them in China."

Here is more on the billion dollar investments in overseas Chinese players in the NBA.  From an article titled, "NBA uses Yao to court China":

Behind the star power of Yao Ming, the National Basketball Association fired up Chinese fans with its brand of hoops and hoopla, staging exhibition games recently at packed stadiums in Shanghai and Beijing as a homecoming for the 2-metre-29-centimetre icon, who plays for the Houston Rockets.

Afterward, league executives were cheering as well.

They came away with plans for doubling the number of stores selling NBA apparel in the country, along with names of Chinese companies interested in becoming sponsors - and had nothing but blue-sky predictions.

"Over the next 20 years, the growth of the NBA in China will mirror or parallel growth in China,'' NBA Commissioner David Stern said.

But its not just the NBA who’s driving this, it’s a concerted effort between multiple corporations:

Meanwhile, NBA officials say they have been approached by Chinese companies interested in becoming corporate sponsors - not to sell to Americans but as part of a sort of boomerang strategy to influence mainland consumers.

If these articles and the other dozens are any evidence, Yi’s ability to pick and choose where he goes is constrained, in a large part, by market logics.  Whether it’s Yi preference to be in a large Asian American community is actually his choice, doing whatever it takes to make sure their (the NBA, China, and other corporations) investment, that being Yi, is in the proper place to succeed is a top priority. If multiple corporations have their hand in how Yi's career goes, shouldn't they care about the well being of their product? Isn't it common logic that companies try to keep their employees happy through random incentives? Is Yi's case any different? 

To assume that Yi is coming here purely on his own will and to treat him as an ordinary immigrant is EXTREMELY short sighted.  The emergence of skilled Chinese basketball players should not be considered a complete anomaly considering how involved the NBA has been in developing interest in the game internationally in their own efforts to make more money.  In some ways, you could say the NBA’s economic plan backfired when some international competition began to outplay even the best of the best in basketball --this dating as far back as 2000, the last time Team USA won the gold having to go through several nailbiters against Lithuania and France.  Instead of opting a nativist stance by policing the national basketball borders and blaming international players for coming here or forcing them to play by America’s rules, those criticizing the deluge of international players should really be pointing their fingers at the NBA for starting the global interest in basketball by penetrating their economies to consume mass quantities of NBA products.  

Stern even brings over cheerleading. I wonder if he will also export choreographers in his next campaign?

The particular situation of Yi is more complicated than American Orientalist assumptions of Yi as another "Chinaman" who needs to play by American rules.  What this particular situation has shown us is that the NBA is in fact shaking hands with corporations and nation-states around the world in an increasingly integrated global economy--playing by the rules of global economics, which Yi is smack-dab in the middle of.   The NBA is as much invested in Yi’s success as his camp is and from my predictions, the NBA is as much implicated in the perfect "product placement" of Yi as much as Yi's camp is. Granted, money could be made anywhere. But why the big deal when Oden and Durant went to smaller markets? People were up in arms saying that it made sense for them to be in "big markets" to tap into all the marketing and merchandising. Or what about rumors of Lebron going to New York, where again, they can tap into a huger market? If we come to think that location is completely irrelevant in Yi's case, why do we keep bringing it up with future stars such as the aforementioned? To assume Yi has nothing to do with marketing and is ONLY about "appeasing" the Asian community in the U.S. is just plain stupid and eurocentric biased  Before we jump to anymore conclusions or judgments about Yi, I urge you to follow the money first.

The Yi Movement:

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