The Los Angeles Lakers are expected to sign 28-year-old Chinese basketball star Yi Jianlian, who spent five seasons in the NBA — he was drafted by the Bucks in 2007, traded to the Nets in 2008, then traded to the Wizards in 2010 and played one season with the Dallas Mavericks and their affiliate — before going back to play in China.
Yi has played for the Chinese national team in the 2004, 2008, 2012 and 2016 Summer Olympics. ESPN’s Marc Stein said the 6-11 forward Yi’s return to the NBA could be worth about $8 million for a one-year deal.
ESPN reports Yi’s Chinese squad, the Guangdong Southern Tigers, released a statement saying: “In order to help Yi seize this opportunity to play at the highest stage of [the basketball] world and unfold his capability, in order to help Yi fulfill his dream and goal, we are offering our unconditional support and cooperation to Yi to make sure he joins Lakers. Best wishes to Yi for his bright future in NBA.”
At one time, Yi, dubbed the ‘next Yao Ming,’ was named the third richest Chinese celebrity, according to Forbes. Yao was first.
After debuting in the NBA on Oct. 31, 2007, Yi, born in He Shan, China, racked up a career 2,148 points, 1,339 rebounds and 184 blocks in 272 NBA games, averaging 7.9 points and 4.9 boards.
Here is what you need to know about Yi:
1. Yi, ‘the Next Yao Ming’ Went 6th in a 2007 Draft Class That Included Kevin Durant
Yi was the sixth overall pick in 2007, an NBA draft class that included first overall pick Greg Oden, along with Kevin Durant, Al Horford, Jeff Green, Joakim Noah and Thaddeus Young. In 2006, the year before the Bucks picked Yi, the Chinese star said he wanted to enter the draft but later decided against it. Yi claimed he wasn’t good enough, according to Chinese media.
Yi and his agent wanted him to be traded to a market with a larger Asian-American population, like L.A., but Milwaukee ownership denied the trade. It took a flight to Hong Kong to ink the deal, according to the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel.
He was considered a draft bust by some after averaging 7.9 points and 4.9 rebounds in his five seasons in the NBA.
2. Yi Could Be Headed to the Lakers for a One-Year, $8 Million Deal
The Lakers, sources said, tried in the summer of 2015 to sign Yi and this year renewed those efforts in the wake of the former lottery pick’s strong play in Rio…
The Lakers haven’t made an official announcement, Stein notes, but Yi’s Chinese team is already operating “as though the deal is done.” The team released a statement well-wishing Yi and his upcoming endeavors, including “unconditional support and cooperation to Yi to make sure he joins Lakers,” Stein reports.
Finalizing the contract could take a few days, according to TWC SportsNet’s Mike Bresnahan:
The Lakers finished a franchise-worse 17-65 last year in Kobe Bryant’s farewell season.
3. The Rio Olympics May Have Boosted His Worth for the Lakers
Yes, Yi flirted with a return to American pro basketball last year, but Chinese media said he was low-balled by the Lakers front office. Regardless, the talks fizzled out.
But this year, with much of the world watching the 2016 Olympics, Yi had another shot at the limelight. The Chinese star has posted 20.4 points and 6.6 rebounds — while shooting 46 percent from three-point range — which, as the International Business Times reports, could have raised his value with the Lakers.
4. There Were Questions, Investigations Surrounding Yi’s Age
In the early stages of his NBA career, questions were raised about Yi’s age. His birthday was — and still is — listed as Oct. 27, 1987, but Li Zhigang, a reporter from Sports Illustrated China, wrote a story saying Yi was actually born in 1984.
Li found Yi’s senior high registration form and a picture of him from 1997. Both pointed to Yi being older than reported.
Ages are altered in some countries so players can compete in youth tournaments, giving their team an advantage. This is the third straight Olympics the Chinese gymnastics team has been accused of using younger athletes.
5. With an Estimated Net Worth of $2.4 Million, Yi Is One of the Richest Athletes in China
Yi is the fifth-richest Chinese athlete with total net worth of $2.4 million (15 million Yuan), according to TopRichest.com, which compiles data of wealthy people. In 2009, Forbes China ranked Yi as the third-richest Chinese celebrity. Yao Ming was the richest that year.
Yi appeared in ads in China for both Nike and McDonald’s:
In his last season in the NBA, Yi made $827,221 with the Dallas Mavericks. If the Lakers deal is worth $8 million, it will be the most he’s made in one year since the Wizards paid him $4 million for the 2010-11 season.