Liu Wei suits up for Kings in vying to become first ever Chinese NBA guard
King-Sized Challenge

By John Hareas

SHANGHAI, China (Oct. 13, 2004) -- They are a study in contrast. Two players returning home to Shanghai this week, one as an international superstar while the other is hoping to earn an NBA roster spot. One is listed at 7-6 and 306 pounds while the other is barely 6-3 and 198 pounds.

Teammates and good friends who only months ago played side by side in China’s Olympic gold medal quest in Athens now find themselves on opposite teams when the Sacramento Kings and Houston Rockets tip off the NBA China Games at Shanghai Stadium at 7:30 p.m. on Thursday night.

Liu Wei played next to Yao Ming on the Chinese National Team and on the Shanghai Sharks.
Rocky Widner
NBAE/Getty Images
While the preseason showcase marks the triumphant homecoming for Yao Ming, the two-time NBA All-Star and first player ever selected No. 1 overall hailing from an international league, his Chinese National Team teammate, Liu Wei, is looking to make history of his own, as the first Chinese guard in the NBA. Thursday night’s game will mark the first time both former Shanghai Shark teammates will face each other and some old habits may be hard to break.

“One thing I am concerned about is when I get a rebound, I probably would pass the ball to him,” said Yao.

The 24-year-old point guard was invited to Kings camp in July after having spent the last seven seasons playing for the Sharks. Liu, who has averaged any where from 10 to 15 points in the Chinese Basketball Association, considers it an honor to play against a man he has called his friend since age 12.

“I’m a very big fan of Yao’s,” said Liu. “It’s a very special opportunity in my career to not only play against him but to wear a Sacramento King jersey.”

And like a good friend, Yao offered Liu some sage advice in trying to make the team.

“Yao told me to give 100 percent effort all the time throughout camp,” said Liu. “That’s what I’m doing.”

It appears to be paying off. Although Liu didn’t see any action in the Kings' first preseason game last Sunday night versus Golden State, his quickness and ability has opened some eyes among his peers, which could lead to some minutes in front of the hometown fans on Thursday night.

“This is my first time seeing him and playing against him,” said Mike Bibby, the Kings starting point guard and measuring stick for Liu in camp. “I didn’t know what to expect when he came into camp. He’s doing well. He makes good decisions with the ball and he’s quick.”

This isn’t Liu's first experience playing against NBA competition. In addition to the Olympics, he and Yao were members of the National Team that played the Golden State Warriors in an exhibition game in the Bay Area in 2002.

Despite not speaking English, Liu's adjustment to learning the Xs and Os in English was enhanced by his experience playing for the National Team head coach and Dallas Mavericks’ assistant Del Harris last summer. Liu says his learning curve has increased a great deal from just his short time in Kings camp.

“I have better sense of the game, trying to lead a team and setting up plays for my teammates,” said Liu. “I have a learned a lot from the Kings coaches and my teammates have been very helpful in encouraging me to succeed. I approach practices with much more confidence.”

Liu's preseason audition will consist of five more games after Thursday’s tip-off in his bid to join other Chinese basketball pioneers, Wang Zhizhi, Mengke Bateer and Yao, to suit up in the NBA. Yet, even if he doesn’t make the final roster come November 2, Liu says he won’t give up his goal of playing in the league. But, he isn’t looking too far ahead right now. There is still too much too savor and enjoy with the NBA taking center stage in Shanghai and Beijing this week.

“It is a big thrill to have the NBA in Shanghai and a big positive for China in general,” said Liu. “It speaks to the popularity of the sport. And to possibly play against Yao, someone I respect a great deal, would make it that much more special for me.”