You might be shocked to hear that a regular season game between the Rockets and Bucks in 2007 had more TV viewers than the Super Bowl, but when Bucks lottery pick Yi Jianlian played his first game against Yao Ming on November 9th of 2007, about 200 million people in China watched it on one of the 13 channels showing the game; 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 Ming, while rookie Yi had a decent line of 19 and 9.
The 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 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 2 seasons in Jersey before being traded to Washington, where he only spent 1 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 4 years back with the Guangdong Southere Tigers and picked up right where he left off by racking up All-Star games, 3 MVP awards and another championship.
On August 17th of 2016, a decade after the media was labeling Yi “The Next Yao Ming,” ESPN is reporting the LA Lakers are in the process of bringing him back to America and the NBA with a 1-year deal worth around $8 million. Considering Yi was already the 5th richest athlete in China with an estimated net worth of $2.4 million, this contract would put him at #2, behind tennis player Li Na.
Now let’s just hope Yi has more fun in LA than Jeremy Lin did.