The Great Ball of China: NBA Stars Who Played in China
The Chinese Basketball Association can be thought of as a place to launch one’s career, a place to revitalize one’s career, a place for one’s career to die out, or a place to simply earn more money. Whatever the reason may be, the CBA has been drawing NCAA and NBA players to China for decades.
Here are 30 NBA players who, at some point during their careers, went to play basketball in China, home of the ever-growing Chinese Basketball Association.
In 2011, Jimmer Fredette took over college basketball. He was a one-man show, a spectacle that captivated the nation. Much like how people yell “Kobe” when they shoot their trash into the bin, there was a few-month span where people would heave up deep shots and yell “Jimmer.”
But Jimmer was a flash in the pan. Fredette was selected 10th overall in the 2011 NBA Draft and never lived up to the hype. In 2016, Fredette left the NBA for the CBA where he has become somewhat of a cult figure. He’s a dominant scorer and was the league’s foreign MVP for the 2016-17 season.
“Psycho T,” as he was endearingly referred to back during his college days at the University of North Carolina, was a standout four-year player who won the 2009 NCAA Tournament before being selected 13th overall by the Indiana Pacers. Considered a staunch defender and solid rebounder, Hansbrough was never able to find his stride in the NBA.
His numbers weren’t horrible but they were disappointing, to say the least. In 2017, Hansbrough left the NBA for the Guangzhou Long-Lions and hasn’t looked back since. Hansbrough has nearly doubled his NBA numbers in scoring and rebounds. Below, Hansbrough battles for a rebound in an exhibition game against the Washington Wizards.
Considered one of the biggest draft busts of all time, Greg Oden’s NBA career was short-lived, marked by injury and a serious lack of production. With his NBA career in the rearview mirror, Oden packed his bags and shipped off to the far east. He signed a one-year, $1.2 million deal with Jiangsu Dragons.
Oden faired fairly well overseas and was, most importantly, able to stay healthy. Despite his admirable, commendable efforts, Oden decided to call it a career after his contract expired and moved back home. After returning to the States, Oden re-enrolled at Ohio State and volunteered his time with the men’s basketball team.
The tumultuos career of Steve Francis started way before he was drafted second overall in 1999. Francis grew up drug dealing and was headed down the wrong path before basketball intervened. Francis turned his life around and starred at the University of Maryland before going pro.
In the NBA Francis was a three-time All-Star and one of the league’s most dynamic scorers. As his career tapered off, Francis jumped ship for the CBA in 2010. That venture proved fruitless as Francis only played in four games for the Beijing Ducks. Since retiring, Francis has been involved in numerous run-ins with the law.
When basketball fans think of NBA players in China, they think of Stephon Marbury. Marbury was an excellent NBA player, but what he’s done in China is nothing short of remarkable. Over the course of a few years, Marbury transformed himself from mere mortal in the NBA to a god in China. He’s won three CBA championships and is a six-time All-Star.
More importantly, Marbury has become China’s most adored adopted son. Beijing has dedicated plays to him, built museums in his honor, put him on postage stamps, and even gave him Chinese citizenship, something no CBA player had been given before.
Unlike most NBA players, Chris “The Birdman” Andersen’s Chinese basketball career started before his NBA career, not during the middle or end of it. Andersen left junior college for the NBA but never registered for the draft. By chance, Andersen, a wandering, troubled soul, played in an exhibition game in China where his shot blocking prowess wowed the coaches of the Jiangsu Nangang Dragons.
He was offered a spot on the team and played there for four and a half months. That short stint in China got the ball rolling for Andersen who, after numerous stints in developmental leagues around America, got his NBA break with the Nuggets.
Metta World Peace (Ron Artest)
Everyone knows Ron Artest for his infamous role in the 2004 Indiana-Detroit brawl known as the Malice at the Palace. People also fondly remember Artest for changing his name to Metta World Peace in 2011. But what many people don’t know about Artest was he became “The Panda’s Friend” during his brief stint in the CBA.
In 2014 Artest signed with the Sichuan Blue Whales on a one-year deal worth $1.4 million, making him one of the league’s highest-paid players. While in China, Artest went by The Panda’s Friend and even had that name on the back of his jersey.
The NBA’s second-most recognized Argentinian player after Manu Ginobili, Luis Scola was the type of player you’d love to have on your team and the guy you’d absolutely abhor if your team was playing him. He’d flop faster than Fosbury and was more dramatic than Leonardo DiCaprio in “The Revenant.”
But for all his nonsense, Scola was a dependable player who managed a 10-year NBA career. Once his NBA career concluded, Scola went to China where he initially signed with the Shanxi Brave Dragons. After one year there, Scola signed with the Shanghai Sharks, the team that Yao Ming balled for before the NBA.
Brandon Jennings left high school as the nation’s No.1 recruit. He was a coveted prospect who spurned the NCAA for Europe where he signed a $1.65 million contract to play for Lottomatica Roma of Italy’s Serie A. In doing so, Jennings became the first player since the NBA implemented their age restriction rule to opt for a European league after high school instead of college.
Following his year in Italy, Milwaukee selected Jennings 10th overall. In 2017, Jennings signed a one-year, $1.5 million deal with the Shanxi Brave Dragons. He played 13 games in China before being released. After China, Jennings briefly returned to the NBA.
Another coveted high schooler, Jared Sullinger starred at Ohio State for two years before going pro. The Boston Celtics selected him with the 21st pick of the 2012 NBA Draft, however, constant injuries severely hampered Sullinger’s potential. After five seasons in the NBA, Sullinger and his deteriorating body left the NBA for China.
In 2017, Sullinger signed with the Shenzhen Leopards where he has dominated the boards and the scoring, averaging a double-double. In his first year overseas, Sullinger led the CBA in rebounds, averaging 16.6 per game. Despite the solid showings, Sullinger hasn’t been able to lure an NBA team into offering him another contract.
Agent Zero, The Hibachi, or Gunz Blazin Gilbert, Gilbert Arenas was a man of many nicknames and even more talent. An elite scorer, Arenas was a three-time All-Star and the Wizards’ franchise player, but dumb decisions slowly dereailed Gilbert’s career. In 2010 Arenas was suspended indefinitely for bringing loaded guns into the Wizards locker room.
That dumbfounding incident marked his inevitable demise from the league. Two years later, Agent Zero, whose nickname took on a new, more literal meaning, left for China, signing with the Shanghai Sharks. Arenas played there for one season before hanging up his sneakers for good.
Sources cannot confirm whether or not Delonte West had an affair with LeBron James’ mother, Gloria. But what sources can confirm is how tragic and swift Delonte West’s fall from glory was. West was an exciting prospect from Saint Joseph’s University in Philadelphia and arrived to the NBA with high expectations.
Initially, West lived up to those expectations before problems with anxiety and the law began to undo his successes. After a stint in the D-League, West signed a one-year deal with Fujian Xunxing. Two years later, his attempted NBA comeback fell short after West was cut by the D-League’s Texas Legends.
Ty Lawson is a good point guard and a horrible driver — he’s been arrested at least four times for driving-related offenses. On the basketball court, Lawson was a key cog on North Carolina’s 2009 National Championship team, but he slipped in the draft due to injuries.
With the Nuggets, Lawson was the team’s starting point guard and one of the more established players on the team. In 2015, Lawson was dealt to Houston where his career began to decline. Two years later, Lawson was out of the league and playing for the Shandong Golden Stars. Now if only he played in Thailand, he could go by Thai Lawson.
One of the greatest college basketball freshmen of the 2000s, Michael Beasley’s professional career can best be described as mercurial. He’s bounced around the league frequently, has had outbursts of production followed by an inability to produce, and has more off-court issues than personal accolades.
When the NBA was finally fed up with Beasley and his antics, China opened its doors and welcomed the crestfallen enigma. In total, Beasley has played for three CBA teams- the Shanghai Sharks, Shandong Golden Stars, and, starting in 2019 after the Clippers released him, the Guangdong Southern Tigers. Beasley’s NBA window has not yet closed, but the prospects of him returning to the league look slim.
Providence College’s MarShon Brooks was hyped up to be the next Kobe Bryant. Pro-tip: comparing anyone to one of the game’s greatest players is essentially setting them up for failure from the get-go, be it the next LeBron James, Peyton Manning, Jordan, or Gretzky.
We’re always trying to find them, trying to compare a high school kid with a limited body of work to some of the most elite athletes in history. It doesn’t make sense, but I digress. Brooks never even came close to being the next Kobe, and after his underwhelming NBA career concluded, Brooks went to China where he faired a bit better.
Yes. That is the cover of the Chinese edition of Sports Illustrated. And yes, that is Bonzi Wells pointing at you, telling you to tune in to the thrilling action that is the CBA. Bonzi Wells was a founding father of the Portland Jail Blazers team of the 1990s, and when ownership was fed up with his squad’s antics, Wells was jettisoned off to Memphis.
In Memphis, Bonzi faired well but his best days were behind him, and in 2009 Wells signed with the Shanxi Brave Dragons. Wells was a fan favorite from the start but relations with the team spoiled after Wells failed to return in a timely fashion after the Chinese New Year break. He was subsequently released.
Terrence Jones capped off his sophomore season with a 2012 National Championship, and the highly-touted recruit was headed for the NBA. Houston selected Jones 18th overall in the 2012 draft expecting great things out of the power forward. What they got in return was mediocre, at best. Jones has shuttled around the globe from league to league, failing to find a role that suits him best.
In 2017, Jones landed in China, signing with the Qingdao DoubleStar Eagles (talk about a name). A few months into his new life abroad, Jones was kicked out of practice following a heated dispute with his coach, packed his bags, and returned home.
“The Dutch Cookie,” Von Wafer’s career wasn’t anything notable. That’s just how the cookie crumbled. Wafer played in 200 career games, averaging 5.3 points and 1.2 rebounds. Those numbers usually don’t cut it in the NBA, and Von was no exception. With no NBA teams needing this tough cookie’s services, Von went to China, signing a one-year deal with the Xinjiang Flying Tigers.
Following his one year in China, Mr. Wafer returned to America in pursuit of his NBA dream, but it would not be realized again. After playing for multiple G-League teams, Wafer moved back to China, signing with the Jilin Northeast Tigers. Constantly being overlooked, it’s no wonder why Wafer always has a (chocolate) chip on his shoulder.
Jordan Crawford is best remembered for a strange saga that took place in 2009 while Crawford was just a sophomore in college. At a LeBron James basketball camp, Crawford threw down a vicious dunk on the King, and, apparently, there was footage of the poster-worthy dunk.
Nike, fearing the dunk would tarnish James’ impeccable reputation, sought out to confiscate and destroy the tape. Fortunately, the video was uploaded to YouTube before Nike’s secret agents were able to destroy it. In the NBA, Crawford had a few decent seasons, but nothing more notable than that one infamous dunk. In 2014, Crawford signed a one-year deal with Xinjiang Flying Tigers and has moved back and forth between the NBA and the CBA since.
A four-year star at Duke University, Shelden Williams impressed the Atlanta Hawks enough for the franchise to select him fifth overall in 2006. Much like many other players here, Williams did not live up to his potential (Duke fans, doesn’t that sound familiar?), and the lottery pick only averaged 4.5 points and 4.3 rebounds in his six years in the league.
When it became clear that no NBA team was interested in Williams’ services, the Duke star jetted to China, signing with the Tianjin Ronggang Gold Lions. In 2013, Williams helped the Gold Lions reach the playoffs for the first time in franchise history.
The second overall pick in the 2000 NBA Draft, Stromile Swift was a high-flying dunker who was known to rock the rim. The LSU prospect was considered a generational athlete who could evolve into an elite basketball player, but that prediction never materialized. Swift was, at his best, average, a serviceable player not worthy of the second pick.
Swift’s last NBA season was in 2008-9 as a member of the Suns. Then his time in the league burned up, forcing Stromile to take a hike. He ended up in China with the Shandong Lions, playing there for two seasons and earning an All-Star selection in 2010.
At Syracuse University, Hakim Warrick solidified himself as one of the nation’s greatest dunkers and arguably the greatest dunker in ‘Cuse history. Aside from his dunking, Warrick was a member of the 2003 National Championship team and was the 2005 Big East Player of the Year. In the 2005 NBA Draft, Warrick was selected by the Grizzlies with the 19th pick.
Apparently, Memphis had an affinity towards explosive dunkers. Warrick’s NBA career was not noteworthy in any way, and the Syracuse icon played his final NBA season in 2012-13 for the Bobcats. Still allured by electrifying dunks, Warrick decided to take his aerial abilities abroad and signed with the Liaoning Flying Leopards for one year.
Brandon Bass had a solid 12-year NBA career. He didn’t go to China because he was a washed-player with nothing left to offer. He didn’t flee to China in a desperate attempt at revitalizing a once promising career. No, Brandon Bass went to China because he did it all in the NBA.
He was a role player, a team player, and a respected teammate. After the 2016-17 season, Bass signed a one-year, $2 million deal the Liaoning Leopards. In 2018, Bass led the CBA in dunks, proving the seasoned vet still has the hops needed to compete at a high level.
After one year at North Carolina State University, JJ Hickson made the jump to the NBA. Cleveland drafted the power forward/ center with the 19th pick in the 2008 NBA Draft where Hickson would play for three seasons. Despite being a McDonald’s High School All-American and a member of the ACC All-Freshmen team, Hickson never really found his stride in the league.
Aside from a few solid seasons, Hickson was largely an afterthought. In 2016, Hickson signed with the Fujian Sturgeons, and in 2017, he moved to the Nanjing Monkey Kings. After China, Hickson signed with Champville SC of the Lebanese Basketball Federation.
To get to the top of the CBA, you have to usually bottom out of the NBA. Randolph Morris, a three-time CBA champion and two-time CBA All-Star did just that. In high school, Morris was the big fish in a little pond- he was a McDonald’s High School All-American.
Then Morris matriculated to Kentucky where he played for three seasons, and thanks to a unique situation, Morris was able to sign with an NBA team one week after Kentucky’s early exit from the NCAA Tournament. Morris signed with the Knicks and would ultimately play in the NBA for only 74 games, averaging numbers not worth writing about. However, in China, Morris has reinvented himself, becoming a go-to player for the Beijing Ducks.
2006 NBA champion Dorell Wright decided to skip college and jump straight to the pros. The bold move worked out well for Wright as the small forward played for 10 seasons, won a ring, and started 82 games for Golden State during the 2010-11 season. Following the 2014-15 season, Wright took his talents to China, signing with the Beikong Fly Dragons.
That stint lasted one year before Wright returned to America and signed with the Heat for their 2016 playoff run. After the Heat were bounced from the playoffs, Wright went back abroad, this time playing in Germany for Brose Bamberg.
To call Eddy Curry a massive bust would be unjust, but to say the fourth overall pick 2001 draft lived up to his expectations and produced at a level expected of a top lottery pick would also be inaccurate. Curry had a few solid seasons playing in New York, but the overarching theme with him was he was unhealthy and never produced in the ways he was capable of.
However, in 2012, Curry won a ring as a member of the Dallas Mavericks. After Curry found his precious ring, he went to play in China. He signed with the Zhejiang Golden Bulls and was able to average a double-double.
Will Bynum has seen it all. He’s more traveled than a commercial pilot and has been passed around the basketball universe more than the chips and dip at a Super Bowl party. Bynum played for two colleges (ultimately graduating from Georgia Tech), suited up for three NBA teams, had two stints playing in China, was a star in Israel, attempted a comeback in the G-League, and moved on from that to play in Turkey.
Long list right? In 2014, Bynum signed with the Guangdong Southern Tigers where he dominated. After a failed NBA comeback in 2015, Bynum returned to Guangdong. Bynum is a two-time CBA All-Star and shares no relation to fellow NBAer Andrew Bynum.
2007 NCAA champion. 2015 NBA champion. The only thing left for Marreese Speights to conquer is the CBA. Speights was one of the more serviceable journeymen in the NBA since he entered the league back in 2008. The former Florida Gator was a utility player capable of filling whatever role his team needed, from defense to three-point shooting.
Speights finished the 2017-18 season with the Orlando Magic and appeared primed to return to the NBA for another season, but instead opted to join the Guangzhou Long-Lions, and so far, the move appears to be working out just fine for Mo. The team pays for his luxury penthouse suite and hired a full-time driver to shuttle China’s newest star around the city when he’s not hooping.
Had injuries not taken their toll on McGrady, the elite-scoring shooting guard could have gone down as one of the greatest to ever play the game. He could have won a championship. There are a lot of “what ifs” surround T-Mac, but what we do know is when he was healthy he was an unguardable scoring machine.
In 2012, the seven-time All-Star and two-time scoring champion signed a one-year deal with the Qingdao DoubleStar Eagles. Although the Eagles finished in last place, McGrady left such an enduring impact on the team that they decided to retire his number. T-Mac returned to the NBA after China for a postseason run with the Spurs, losing to the Heat in the 2013 NBA Finals.