BEIJING (Reuters) – China’s first NBA star, expelled from
the national team for skipping the 2002 Asian Games, made an
apologetic return on Monday as China seeks to reconcile with
“problem stars” ahead of the Beijing Olympics.
Wang Zhizhi, who paved the way for Chinese NBA players Yao
Ming and Menk Barteer when he signed for the Dallas Mavericks
in 2001, was welcomed back with open arms by the China
Basketball Administration, the same body that expelled him.
The three became known as China’s “Great Wall” in the NBA.
“We have always placed importance on and cherished talent,”
a CBA spokesman said on its official Web site on Monday.
“The door of the national team has always been open to
those excellent athletes willing to pay back the motherland.”
The 28-year-old former player and army official with the Ba
Yi Rockets military team publicly apologized at the airport for
turning his back on China.
“At the time I was young and immature,” he was quoted on
the CBA Web site as saying.
“Because of this, I made a very wrong decision.
“Through these years of painful reflection and with the
help of leaders of the army and the CBA, I have deeper
recognition of the mistakes I’ve made in the past.”
The center’s return follows several meetings with CBA
vice-president Li Yuanwei in the United States in February
after he was dumped from the NBA’s Miami Heat team prior to the
Whereas Yao Ming’s NBA career with the Houston Rockets has
prospered and makes daily headlines in local media, there has
been a virtual blanket ban on coverage of Wang’s relatively
unsuccessful stint in the world’s top league — until today.
His return to the national team has not been confirmed, but
the CBA stated that the ball was firmly in Wang’s court.
“Whether he plays for the national team again will depend
on his capability, mental and physical conditions,” the CBA
Chinese sporting authorities take a dim view of athletes
shirking national duty, having black-listed a number of problem
stars, including Olympic champion diver Tian Liang.
However, recent media reports have said that China would
reach out to national athletes it had cast off in order to
field the strongest possible team for the 2008 Beijing Games.
Wang’s return follows China’s recent reconciliation with
promising tennis player Peng Shuai, who had complained of being
stifled by national duties.