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Yi Jianlian will carry China’s national flag in Olympic Opening Ceremonies

Jul 25, 2012, 3:09 PM EDT

China's basketball player Yi Jianlian po Getty Images

They’ve got 1.3 billion people and they choose Yi Jianlian?

Yes. Apparently so. Reports out of China say that the washout NBA player will carry China’s national flag into the Opening Ceremonies of the London Olympics Friday night. (Thanks to Dan Devine at Ball Don’t Lie for finding this.)

This news leaks a day after a Chinese official said the flag bearer would be “tall, handsome and famous.” Yi certainly is tall (7’0”). Handsome is eye of the beholder stuff.

For NBA fans this is stunning because Yi has never lived up to his status as the No. 6 pick overall, or of being the next star out of China, even though he has shown flashes of talent. Last season he was playing on a minimum deal in Dallas and only got off the bench in garbage time. Right no he is an unrestricted free agent drawing little interest.

But his fame in China should not be questioned. A couple years back I had a long conversation with David Thorpe (Executive Director of the Pro Training Center and ESPN.com analyst) when he was working with Yi and he was stunned by the popularity Yi had, with Chinese media and fans following him. Thorpe also thought Yi was very athletic and talented, if he could just mold that into the NBA style of play.

He hasn’t. Which is why this still seems odd. Yao Ming carried the flag at the Beijing games and that made a lot of sense, he was an elite player and was wildly popular around the globe. Pau Gasol is carrying the Spanish flag and he is a two-time NBA champion, four-time NBA All-Star, Rookie of the Year, decorated international player and the best hoopster Spain has ever produced. And he’s leading a team with serious medal hopes heading into London.

Yi? Well, he’s got the gig, no matter if we all roll our eyes or not.

  1. sunsation3413 - Jul 25, 2012 at 3:16 PM

    Dang Kurt….hard up for news today?

  2. moseskkim - Jul 25, 2012 at 3:26 PM

    Hahahaha great start to the story. 1.3 billion people and you choose Yi jianlian? Lolol Kurt u are the best! China has so much talent and will undoubtedly be #1 or 2 in olympic medals. I don’t understand how Yi is #1. Guess it speaks to how big bball is in china.

  3. dunkindan - Jul 25, 2012 at 3:52 PM

    How about JR Smith? oh wait…

  4. adzs - Jul 25, 2012 at 4:15 PM

    Woow Liu Xiang must feel pissed…didnt yao carry the flame the last time aswell…dude must be tired of basketball players stealing his spotlight, especially in this case one who will soon be considered a bust (if he isn’t already…

  5. fanz928 - Jul 25, 2012 at 5:32 PM

    China can choose whoever they want and you should just respect them I wonder who will carry the American flag mj Kobe , lebron , or Kurt?

  6. cktai - Jul 25, 2012 at 5:42 PM

    A tiny bit of research would have shown that from 1984 onward, China has always chosen basketball players as flag bearers (Wang Libin, Song Tao, Song Ligang, Liu Yudong 2x, Yao Ming 2x). Yi Jianlian might not set the league on fire, but he is the only Chinese player currently in the NBA(ish), so it was always likely that he would be the flag bearer.

  7. lakerluver - Jul 25, 2012 at 6:19 PM

    I watched this dude play a couple of times in his rookie season and thought he’d be pretty good. Not a superstar but decent. Dang, guess I was wrong.

  8. jwreck - Jul 25, 2012 at 7:10 PM

    One of the best sentences I’ve read on an NBC Sports site in years. They should put Yi’s picture next to the word underwhelming in the dictionary.

  9. papichulo55 - Jul 25, 2012 at 7:26 PM

    Makes you understand Linsanity, doesnt it.

  10. numba1recx19 - Jul 25, 2012 at 8:59 PM

    He’s a pretty good player though

  11. patsfanvt - Jul 26, 2012 at 3:04 PM

    how is this guy not better than he is?

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