The Memphis Grizzlies’ new owner has finally made an impact on the team. Chris Wallace’s absence has finally been explained, and the expression, “Only in the movies and Memphis,” is going to be repeated a lot over the next few weeks, and hopefully for the next few years as well. Also, the Grizzlies finally may have found their replacement for former crowd favorite, Iranian Hamed Haddadi.
And no, it’s not Keyon Dooling (although he may be coming soon too). Nor is it this ridiculously tall PG from Greece, although he would certainly be helpful in corralling Chris Paul.
His name is Kāi Wán Xiào (in Pinyin). Hailing from the Northwest section of the southern Chinese province of Yunnan, Xiào is rumored to be over 7’10” (taller than countrymen Yao Ming and Sun Ming Ming, but not quite to the level of Zhang Jucai) although no official measurements have been given. He also is supposed to be the fastest center in franchise history. His age is rumored to be 22 but that has not been confirmed.
Xiào reportedly trains by running the high altitude passes of the Tiger Leaping Gorge, one of the deepest chasms on earth, about two hours west of his home by bike. He also is a master yoga practitioner, which has made him more lithe and agile than most big men in the USA and elsewhere. The combination of stretching, strength and fierce independence from traditional Chinese cultural control has the Grizzlies front office excited about his potential in the NBA.
3 Shades of Blue happened to be interviewing CEO Jason Levien when the word came back from Wallace about his finding. The blog was given exclusive rights to break the story in exchange for remaining silent until a contract could be negotiated. Jason Levien had this to say about his project: “He’s ridiculously tall, athletic and fast. Imagine a taller Dwight Howard with a three-point shot. Face it, the US isn’t producing big men with real skills anymore. Everyone wants to be the next Magic Johnson. He wants to be a better Yao Ming.”
Robert Pera’s business connections in China have expedited contract negotiations and made it relatively easy to get Xiao a visa into the USA. His mother is apparently coming with him but not his father. The Grizzlies will be holding a press conference tomorrow to discuss the signing. It’s unknown at this time if Xiào will be at the press conference or not.
Kāi Wán Xiào (friends call him Xiào) has developed outside of the normal training regime in China that emphasizes team concepts over individual excellence. A native of Lijiang, Xiào was raised by his mother (Zhèshì Yīgè XiàoHuà) and father in a matriarchal society which could explain his mother’s presence in his entourage.
By avoiding the more traditional Chinese training, Xiào has a more selfish approach to the game, ideal for modern NBA basketball, according to Grizzlies’ insiders. Wallace said he measured his wing span at nearly 9 feet but can’t be certain of an exact length because the tape wasn’t long enough and he didn’t trust the local measurements.
Xiao has been playing in the Chinese D-League equivalent due to his political untouchable status (his parents are outspoken supporters of Tibetan independence) but scored 37 points and grabbed 26 rebounds against the national Team in an exhibition last fall. Wallace said, “I saw him touch the rim flat-footed and, with one step, grab and hold onto the top of the backboard. It was the most amazing thing I have ever seen. And like most foreign players he can hit the 3 ball too!”
Xiào was discovered by Robert Pera on a sales trip for his Ubiquiti Networks (UBNT) in Yuddan, a Southern province close to the Tibetan border. Pera sent Wallace to China to scout him in early March using the NCAA Conference tournaments as cover.
The Grizzlies front office is not united in support of Xiào. John Hollinger is against the deal on the grounds that his PER statistical model can’t be used to evaluate him. “I think it is a big risk to ignore my computer models. The days of seeing and believing are over. If you can’t put it in a simulation it is usually a bad idea,” Hollinger said.
What Wallace said he saw was “a young but incredibly tall man playing basketball in the wilderness. You don’t expect to actually find someone this agile and tall in backwoods China but there he was. He’s raw as the day is young but you can see the talent. There is no mistaking it. I can’t put it in a computer simulation, but I know talent when I see it.”
Wallace estimates he could make an impact on this year’s playoff roster but his true value won’t be known until he gets a season or two under his belt. Xiào speaks four languages but not English yet so it will take some time for him to adapt to American culture.
Jason Levien cautions about expecting too much too soon. “Yes, Xiào is tall but we really won’t know how he is going to adapt to living in the USA, playing in the NBA, and there is still his yoga practice that he wants to maintain. It’s like a religion for him. He was thinking about quitting basketball to focus on yoga when Robert saw him.”
Ma Lianbao, coach of the Yunnan Bulls, said through an interpreter that “Xiào could have revolutionized basketball in China but the government wouldn’t allow him into their system because of his parent’s political stances.” Xiào is not a Buddhist and his parents aren’t Tibetan either.
While Yao Ming had a great NBA career before injuries ended it prematurely, there have been plenty of Chinese basketball players who have failed to live up to the hype, including Yi Jianlian and Wang Zhizhi.
The likelihood of a Chinese equivalent of a D-league player making a major impact on American basketball is remote to be polite. Then again, how great do you need to be when you are 7-10, fast, can jump and hit outside shots?
Could this be the proverbial diamond in the rough or just April Fool’s gold?