Against all odds, the Tigers have added some key veterans, trained up their youth and now they’re on a warpath to once again claim the CBA championship. Head Strength Coach, Zeshaun “Z” Mirza, gives us the scoop.
The 2016-17 Chinese Basketball Association (CBA) season started off with a huge splash when Yi Jianlian declared his return to the Guangdong Southern Tigers after being released by the National Basketball Association’s (NBA) Los Angeles Lakers. As the most popular player in China, he immediately made headlines in his first game back against his rivals, the Shenzhen Leopards.
A new CBA rule was put in place this season requiring all Chinese players to wear league sponsored Li-Ning shoes. Yi, a famously Nike-sponsored athlete, showed his discomfort with the new rule by taking off the Li-Ning shoes, leaving them on the court and walking off in his socks.
The crowd, and later, social media went crazy along with CBA executives. After delivering a cutting publicity blow to Li-Ning, Yi apologized via Weibo the next day and has since worn Li-Ning shoes.
Now, when the Tigers are playing away games and Yi is at the free-throw line, crowds will chant, “tuō xié!” or “take off the shoes!” The calls make for a few smirks on both teams’ benches.
Big man on campus
Along with the surprise return of Yi, the Tigers added NBA veteran center, Carlos Boozer. Over a 13-year career in the NBA, Boozer also grew quite a large fan base in China while playing for the Utah Jazz and competing against the venerable Yao Ming and his Houston Rockets in the playoffs.
Now, when the Tigers are playing away games and Yi is at the free-throw line, crowds chant, “tuō xié!” or “take off your shoes!” The fanfare makes for a few smirks on both teams’ benches.
Boozer entered this season having left the NBA—and basketball—for almost 18 months before returning to play in China. Off to what some would call a slow start, Carlos battled the critics by training harder, eating healthier and consistently dedicating himself to getting better as the season progressed.
Tigers’ Head Coach, Du Feng, once played against Boozer in the 2008 Olympics in Beijing. As a result, he had faith that #5 would eventually explode and stuck with the big man.
As the season wore on and the Tigers picked up speed, they went on a 17-game winning streak. Just as Coach Du expected, Boozer is now right where the team needs him to be with the playoffs already underway.
The success the team is achieving this season also came as quite a surprise to some since a number of young and undeveloped players were added to the roster during the off-season. In the midst of pre-season, the squad had—on paper—the youngest lineup in the league.
Through the hard work of the entire staff—plus, the savvy skill work of American Player Development Coach, Chris Hines—the younger players were motivated to work persistently to overcome their lacking experience. The entire team is now ready to compete and perform at the highest level in Chinese basketball.
Looking ahead to the playoffs
With the regular season now complete, the top 8 teams begin their race for the Championship Mou Zuoyun Cup. Who will win it all?
The Xinjiang Flying Tigers ended up in 1st place with their fast-paced game and solid road victories. The Guangsha Lions grabbed 4th, thanks to high quality coaching and a gritty defensive style. One of the teams from which most people didn’t expect success was the Shanghai Sharks, claiming the 3rd spot as the Tigers finished 2nd.
In an ironic twist, the foreign coach for Shanghai just happens to be Brian Goorjian, the Hall of Fame coach who parted ways with the Tigers last year. Now that Shanghai and Guangdong sit on the same side of the playoff bracket, there’s a good chance the two teams could meet in the semi-finals.
The Tigers have exited the playoffs in the semi-finals each season for the past three years. If any group can do it, this is the team that can finally break the disappointing streak and barrel into the finals.
If you haven’t been paying any attention to the season so far, don’t miss the next couple weeks of action. It’ll be an incredibly exciting spurt of games that’ll be over in a flash. Now, help us cheer our troops to victory.