Before 1995, basketball careers were fostered mainly with State support. But, although competitive leagues had been developing rapidly, State funding could not be sustained, hindering further growth. Consequently, the game was professionalized, and now professional teams are built at both state and provincial levels, producing a great number of players.
In 1995, The Chinese Basketball Association (CBA) introduced the 'Home and Away' system into its league, which was greeted with enthusiasm by fans and media alike. After 8 years' cultivation, the league has significantly improved with a considerable number of high-level players trained and its marketing greatly enhanced.
Wang Du, Vice President of China Basketball Management Center, said, "The purpose of our reform is to discard traditional ways of management that contradict the rules of the market. The goal is really to get a larger market share. We'd like to attract a larger audience to basketball, and were doing so through effective marketing."
In terms of flexibility, the Shanghai Team benefits greatly from trading players (domestic and international), and team management. Coached by Li Qiuping, it took Shanghai Dongfang six years to go from DivisionＢto Division A. Moreover, they won the CBA Finals in the 2001-2002 season. It was then that Yao Ming finished his domestic career and joined the NBA.
Today, the CBA's marketing promises a brighter future for Chinese basketball. The NBA has already recruited Yao Ming and two other Chinese basketball players. Yao Ming joined the NBA through an internationally recognized procedure that, in turn, initiated a new stage of China-US sports exchange.
The CBA is dedicated to producing the best basketball league in Asia. As a result of three well-known CBA centers, Wang Zhizhi, Mengke Bateer and Yao Ming, joining the NBA, the CBA began to shift its focus, adopting some of the rules of the NBA. For example, in a four-quarter game, 'full-court press,' a defensive strategy, must be applied in at least one quarter.
Sports clubs in China are currently coordinated by local sports committees and businesses. With these clubs, the CBA has laid down an entire system of rules and regulations. In this new system, clubs are able to work with foreign investors, bring in foreign players and coaches, and freely trade players with other clubs. The object is to further professionalize the league, and to convert state-owned teams into self-managed basketball enterprises.
Fang Youqing, Team Leader of Guangdong Hongyuan, said, "The Guangdong Hongyuan Club is owned by a private corporation, so everything is pretty flexible. Through years of development, we've been trying to work on our weaknesses. We're also paying more attention to our second team, because we want our teams to rank at higher levels for a longer period of time."
Guangdong Winnerway successfully rejuvenated its team. Its players are now an average age of 22 and an average height of 1.98m. Scoring 115 points per game, achieving 55 percent of its field goals and using the full court press defense, Guangdong Hongyuan swept their competitors away and won first place in the 2002-2003 season.
Coaches have also needed to change, to move away from ineffective training and a lack of discipline. In order to get better results and improve team management and coaching levels, CBA clubs have invested time and energy in finding the best solutions for their teams. Beijing Olympian, Jiangsu and Zhejiang hired coaches from Yugoslavia, the Republic of Korea (South Korea) and the US respectively.
2002 was a year of hiring foreign coaches. Beijing Aoshen hired Mila, a coach from Yugoslavia. He was once the coach of Yugoslavia's national team, coaching more than 100 games for them. Mila comes with rich experience and is very dedicated. He is diligent, enthusiastic, and conscientious. He is also very strict with the team.
Mila said, "It is very difficult to indoctrinate all my ideas to players in just several months. I can only teach as much as they can learn. "
As the league becomes more professionalized, foreign coaches and players have gradually become accustomed to the Chinese basketball league. Quite a few well-known international players have joined the CBA, one after another, which has brought a new perspective to the league.
Li Qun, player for Guangdong Winnerway, said, "I believe foreign players have been performing consistently well in the past eight years. They are especially prominent this year. So among this year's foreign players, I think Johnson is the best because his values are very close to ours. It is very easy for us to work together."
This season, distributed among the 14 teams are some 40 international players. Most are from the US and the rest come from Nigeria, Croatia, Lithuania and Mali.
Over the last decade, over 200 international players have participated in the CBA. There are also 300-400 players that have had a close relationship with Chinese basketball league.
Some foreign players are a crucial part of their teams. According to the CBA, the names of foreign players appeared in all seven categories with the exception of three-pointers and assists, and foreigners took almost all top threes in game standings for dunking and rebounding. The importance of foreign players is even more obvious this round.
Wang Du said, "Chinese basketball has been improved by foreign players, we can learn a lot of things from them. So from a development perspective, our future is promising but it will not be easy. We want the CBA to be a league known worldwide."
China has a very broad market for basketball and it is one of the most popular sports here. It has the biggest number of people involved with the game, and over 100 million fans. Today the number of spectators who attend CBA games is over 800,000 and over 600 million watch them on TV.
In China, every team has its own faithful fans. They come to cheer and support almost every game.
Zhang Weiqiang, basketball fan, said, "Our cheering squad was founded four years ago. At that time we had about 50 people. We now have over 300. We have been following the Beijing Ducks for four years. We want to cheer for our team in order to help their performance. That's the least we can do."
Fans have been there throughout the development of the CBA. Some say that, "Chinese players' physical and psychological conditions are not as good as American players. Referees should improve their judging abilities."
The NBA has 83 regular season games over several months. But there were only 2 or 3 games per week for the CBA. This season, the league launched its 10-year development plan, the 'North Star Project,' with an aim to become the best league in Asia and among the world's best in the years to come.
Following the NBA's example, dividing the 14 teams into north and south conferences is one of the most prominent reforms. Each team will play 38 games in the regular season with 266 matches overall, 84 more than before. Also, from this year, two foreign players will not be allowed to play at the same time and in the same quarter.
According to Li Yuanwei, director of the China Basketball Administration Center, the ongoing reforms also include introducing a Super League to replace the current one in 2005. And the center is looking forward to a better player reserve system, based on the middle school league, with the Chinese University Basketball Association (CUBA), Chinese Basketball League (CBL), CBA and national team all aiming for new heights.
(China.org.cn and CCTV)