Commented a fan self-described as JohnY (who's Chinese-American himself) on NetsDaily:
Yes, we are being forced to start Yi, by Ratner & co who thinks Yi is marketing the Nets to 200 million fans. right…
Guess which NYC developer bought the proverbial Brooklyn bridge from the Chinese?
Another commenter observed:
Yi hasn’t played to expectations nor will he. He is just there for marketing values get rid of him he’s not helping us; he is holding the team back.
Those assertions are tough to prove, of course, and Nets' basketball brass may be right in thinking Yi will be a success, even though, as fans point out, he doesn't get much fourth-quarter playing time these days.
Upon trading the established Richard Jefferson for Yi (and Bobby Simmons and cap space), principal owner Bruce Ratner said in July, that “It’s 100 percent about basketball” and “The fact that along with a great player like Yi comes marketing opportunities is a wonderful thing, but it’s secondary to basketball. "
Even though Yi has not yet been "great," there's another incentive to make sure he gets playing time. CEO Brett Yormark signed sponsorship deals in September with four Chinese companies.
The Nets just announced a marketing deal with PEAK, a Chinese sportswear company, and are broadcasting 31 games in China. (I'm not sure if PEAK represents a fifth deal or the announcement of one of the deals signed in September.)
All-Star Game voting
Fan sentiment from China has even distorted the balloting for the All-Star Game (ASG), with Yi occupying third place among Eastern Conference forward in overall fan voting, ahead of stars like Chris Bosh and Paul Pierce, among others.
One commenter on a Nets message board has a sig file (right) that suggests an effort to vote for Yi over Boston Celtics superstar Kevin Garnett, who's on track to be a starter, would make the ASG "more of a joke."
I'm a Yi fan, but obviously he has a lot of flaws in his game. Can't take Yi too serious or it'll piss me off.
The fan vote determines only the starters; the coaches choose the rest of the team. My bet is that Yi won't be chosen, though at least one of the more deserving Nets guards, Devin Harris and Vince Carter, will make the team.
The Yi deal
In a 6/29/08 NetsDaily piece, NetIncome (aka Bobbo) sketched the team's grand ambitions:
Richard Jefferson wasn’t traded for a player or two. He was traded for a country… China.
It’s not that the two ideas are mutually exclusive, but Yi, if handled right, presents the Nets with a golden opportunity....
New York has the biggest Chinese population in the United States—and Chinatown is one subway stop away from the site of the Barclays Center. The United States in turn has the largest overseas Chinese population in the world....
There is money to be made here… and not just in ticket sales, but in corporate suite sales, sponsorships and naming rights, lots of it. And not just by the franchise, but by the players. Nets’ games will now be featured on the fifty-plus Chinese TV stations that carry NBA games. There are 300 million Chinese who play basketball and one billion viewers watch NBA games on Chinese television. Some months, the NBA brings in more revenue from China than it does from North America. The numbers are staggering.
Of course he acknowledged the challenge:
Of course, Yi has to prove he can be a major contributor to the Nets. If he becomes a mediocre, deep shooting softie, not much of this will matter. He MUST become a star, he MUST become the next Dirk Nowitzki. The Nets ownership will demand it. The Chinese Basketball Association will too. Good Luck with that, Kiki.
Indeed, the jury's still out.