Breaking down barriers
Mavs to welcome Wang amid strained relations
DALLAS (AP) -- Although the start of Chinese center Wang Zhi Zhi's career with the Dallas Mavericks is set against a suddenly politicized backdrop, assistant coach Donnie Nelson said Tuesday his career will be good for the team, the NBA and the country.
"It has broken down barriers, and I think done a great service for the two countries," Nelson said. "It's an opportunity to build a bridge between our two countries through sports. The misconceptions that I had when I went to China -- me, over three visits -- having to break bread with the common people ... that's really how I judge a country, rather than its assets or prominence."
Wang, the Mavericks' second-round draft pick in 1999, will be on the active roster for a Thursday home game against Atlanta, becoming the first Asian to join the NBA.
While immigrants in Dallas said Wang's signing and scheduled debut were great for basketball and the Asian-American community, they had little to do with the strained relations between the countries after a U.S. surveillance plane collided with a Chinese fighter jet and the American crew was taken into custody.
Bob Wang, a mechanic and Taiwanese immigrant who is not related to the basketball player, said Wang Zhi Zhi may draw Chinese reporters to the United States, and perhaps help them shed impressions of this country as an aggressive, imperialist power.
"At least the Chinese media can come over here and get to know the United States much better," said Wang, 48. "But I don't think the spy plane issue will be resolved by Wang coming over here."
Standing outside the suburban Dallas Chinese grocery store where a day earlier Wang Zhi Zhi strolled the aisles buying dried noodles and green tea, engineer Davy Yuan, 37, said simply: "Basketball and politics are totally different."
Wang is expected to sign a two-year contract worth about $800,000 when Mavericks owner Mark Cuban and agent Bill Duffy, who also represents Mavericks guard Steve Nash, meet Wednesday.
The Mavericks aren't counting on any meaningful contribution from Wang this season, but he has been impressive in scrimmages with Mavericks assistant coaches Greg Dreiling and Morlon Wiley over the past week.
Even Wang, also an officer in the Chinese military, realizes it could be some time before he's able to become a productive NBA player.
"Of course, once I reach America, there'll be a period when I'm not used to it," Wang has said. "But I'll narrow the gap as quickly as possible because I'm the first to go and carrying lots of people's hopes. I'll strive not to disappoint people and do my utmost to prove my worth.
"I think it should be OK. After the first step, the rest should be easier. The first step is hardest."
And if Wang will serve as a sort of diplomatic bridge for the two countries, it may be helped by his returning home often.
His army-run team, the Bayi Rockets, have said Wang is expected to return in the fall to play in the Asian Games, which would keep him from reporting to the Mavericks until December.
Chinese army officials initially refused to release its star when Dallas drafted him in 1999. But in early March, the army finally agreed to let Wang play for the Mavericks for the rest of the season.