Beijing Newspaper Stands by Yi Story

Published 12:00 am Monday, December 26, 2005

BEIJING – A Beijing newspaper on Thursday was investigating a story it published this week, quoting Chen Haitao _ owner of the Guangdong Tigers basketball club _ saying forward Yi Jianlian would “definitely not” sign with the Milwaukee Bucks.

Yi was drafted No. 6 two weeks ago and is expected to be the fourth Chinese to play in the NBA.

The Chinese-language Beijing News said it stood by its story, but a top Guangdong club official said it was untrue and the club had not talked with the newspaper.

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Wang Jin, chief sports editor with the newspaper, told the Associated Press on Thursday that its story was accurate. He said the reporter involved conducted a telephone interview with Chen, who was quoted saying Yi might return to the Chinese Basketball Association.

Wang said it was unclear why club officials deny having talked with the newspaper.

Liu Hongjiang, a club vice president, said club officials had not talked with the newspaper.

“The reporter never interviewed anyone at the club,” Liu told the Associated Press. “The reporter used second-hand information he heard somewhere.”

Liu said he spoke later with the reporter and “expressed strong anger.”

“The club supports Yi playing in the NBA and is very willing to work with the Bucks,” Liu said. “We are waiting for any chance to cooperate with the Bucks.”

Liu said he believes Milwaukee is “not a suitable team for Yi, but this is not the same thing as saying he will not play with Milwaukee.”

Tuesday’s report in the Beijing News was picked up widely by foreign reporters, including the Associated Press. The story was one of several in the Chinese media since the June 28 NBA draft suggesting Yi did not want to play for the small-market Milwaukee club.

Basketball has a big following in China, where Yi is expected to approximate the stardom achieved by compatriot Yao Ming.

A 2.13-meter (7-foot) power forward who played last season with Guangdong in the CBA, Yi had his first meeting earlier this month with Bucks general manager Larry Harris and coach Larry Krystkowiak.

His agent, Dan Fegan, has pushed for a trade and wants Yi in a city with a large Asian influence _ or at least a larger city.

A service of the Associated Press(AP)