You might be shocked to hear that a regular season game between the Houston Rockets and Milwaukee Bucks in 2007 had more TV viewers than the Super Bowl. Why?! When Bucks lottery pick Yi Jianlian played his first game against Yao Ming on November 9th of 2007, between 150-250 million people in China watched it on one of the 13 channels showing the game. To put those numbers in perspective, the 2006 Super Bowl had about 93 million viewers in the US.
The Rockets won the “Chinese Super Bowl,” behind 28 points and 10 boards from Yao, while rookie Yi had a decent line of 19 points and 9 boards.
Yi’s performance, along with his early play in the season, drew some rave reviews from players around the league, teammates and Coaches – Del Harris called him the most athletic 7- footer in the league! He went on to win NBA Rookie of the Month the following month and was selected to play in the Rookie Challenge later that season. Unfortunately, his season ended early with a knee injury and then the Bucks sent him packing in the off-season to New Jersey for Richard Jefferson.
He spent two seasons in Jersey before being traded to Washington, where he only spent one season before ending up in Dallas (playing mainly for their D-League team) for his final season in the NBA.
Yi has spent the last four years back with the Guangdong Southere Tigers and picked up right where he left off, racking up All-Star games, three MVP awards and another championship.
Then in August of 2016, a decade after the media was labeling Yi “The Next Yao Ming,” the Lakers brought Yi back to the states. Less than two months later, before the season even started, the Lakers waived Yi at his request.
“Yi was productive in practices and games with us, and was a consummate professional both on and off the court,” said General Manager Mitch Kupchak. “However, he felt that the minutes and opportunities he’d be afforded here were not in line with his goals and ambitions, and that he’d be better off in a different situation. We appreciate his efforts and wish him great success as he goes forward with his career.”
During the preseason, Yi averaged just three shots a game in 11 minutes of playing time.