The Milwaukee Bucks made All-Star forward Dirk Nowitzki the ninth overall pick in the 1998 NBA Draft . . .and promptly traded him to the Dallas Mavericks for Robert "Tractor" Traylor. In retrospect, it was one of the worst trades in the history of the NBA, but we don't get to live life in retrospect, so we?
Eight seasons ago the NBA wasn't nearly as international as it is now. Don Nelson – then coach of the Dallas Mavericks – saw something he liked in the kid from Germany. He took what was considered a gamble at the time, and he definitely hit the jackpot.
This time around the Milwaukee Bucks are going to keep their promising international big man, hoping to reap the benefits of their own international scouting.
"You're supposed to learn from your past experiences," says Bucks GM Larry Harris. "There's been a lot said about the drafting of Dirk Nowitzki. Unfortunately, we never really had him, but when you look at all the annuals of NBA drafts it says Milwaukee did draft him, which we did, and quickly traded him. I guess God has shined down on us once again. We got the number one pick in 2005 (Andrew Bogut) and we really feel like we hit a homerun here in 2007 with Yi (Jianlian)."
It's an easy statement for Harris to make, especially in light of the way Yi Jianlian is beginning to adapt to the NBA style of play . . .after just five regular season games. On a night when a reported 220,000 basketball fans worldwide (a record for an NBA game), Yi stepped up with a career night of 19 points and nine rebounds. Not to be outdone, fellow countryman Yao Ming recorded 28 points, 10 rebounds, and three blocks in a 104-88 win for the host Rockets.
"He did a great job, a great job," raved Yao Ming of his friend. "He didn't score a lot in the first half, but he turned it around in the second half. He really helped his team stay in the game."
"He's pretty good," agreed Tracy McGrady. "He has a tremendous upside in this league. He started off a little bit slow and maybe he had the jitters or whatever, but in the second half he showcased some skills. He is an athlete, and for a guy to be seven feet tall with ball handling skills, ability to get to the basket, and he showed he can shoot the outside jumper, too. He has a bright future."
"He started a little tight and then he got going with reckless abandon," beamed Bucks head coach Larry Krystkowiak. "A lot of people in China have a lot to be proud of with Yao and Yi. I didn't know what to expect of him. His ability to understand the game puts him way ahead of lots of rookies in this league. He'll continue to improve every game."
Ultimately, this game came down to which team really wanted it in the fourth quarter. Yao Ming was able to be the catalyst for a late Houston run that put the game out of reach with roughly three minutes left in the game.
"The big fella is a great luxury to have," said Shane Battier. "He wants the ball in that situation and he makes really good decisions. When they doubled him, we had some shooters who were knocking down shots. It's a pretty good formula for us right now to finish games."
The Houston Rockets improved to 5-1 on the season, while the Bucks fell to 2-3. More importantly, though, two of the global community's brightest basketball stars gave a record audience something to cheer about. This was just the first of what is sure to be many great showdowns between two of China's favorite sons.
Perhaps now the Bucks can wash away the memories of what might have been with Dirk with fresh anticipation of what's still to come with Yi.
good read it will be fun to watch yi develop into a quailty nba player