High praise for Liu; Juwan on 'Fab Three;' Yao's year-round commitment
China Games Notebook

By John Hareas

Friendship, what friendship?

Friendship is one thing, competition quite another. That was apparent when reporters asked Juwan Howard and Liu Wei about playing against friends, Chris Webber and Yao Ming, in the China Games.

Juwan Howard and Tyronn Lue (R) at the Great Wall.
Bill Baptist/NBAE/Getty Images
“Chris and I are pretty good friends,” said Howard who played with Webber at the University of Michigan for two seasons and later with the Washington Wizards for four more. “We have a really good relationship but when it comes to playing against each other, we are both competitors and we’re both tying to win and the friendship is put to the side. It’s two guys out there trying to win and doing whatever it takes to win.”

It was obvious with one NBA game under his belt that Wei is no longer awed with the prospect of facing his friend and former Shanghai Shark teammate.

“I think the moment I knew that I was going to play against Yao Ming in China I was very excited but now I have already calmed down and I don’t think there is any difference in playing against Yao and the Rockets than any other NBA team.”

High praise for Liu’s debut

The stat line may have read 2 points on 1-for-4 shooting, 1 assist, 3 rebounds and 3 personal fouls in 19 minutes of action but it’s obvious that the statistics don’t tell the entire story of Liu Wei’s debut, at least not according to Houston head coach Jeff Van Gundy.

“I thought he played very well,” said Van Gundy. “I thought he played with great confidence and had a good sense of what Sacramento was trying to run. I thought he was aggressive looking for his shot, quicker than I expected. I was really impressed with how he played last night. I thought he handled himself extremely well.”

Juwan on “The Fab 3”

Here is a new NBA trivia question: Who is the first NBA player to call Wang Zhizhi, Mengke Bateer and Yao Ming – the first three Chinese players in the NBA – his teammates?

Answer: Juwan Howard.

The 6-9 power forward, who is now playing on his fifth NBA team in his 15th season, began his pioneering odyssey in Dallas when he played with Wang Zhizhi during the 2000-01 season when the 7-1 center became the first Chinese player to debut in the NBA. The following season saw Howard suit up as a member of the Denver Nuggets where he teamed with 6-11 center Mengke Bateer, the second-ever Chinese player to play in the NBA. Howard, who now teams with Yao in the frontcourt, has great respect for all three players.

“What impresses me the most about all three players is that they are all skilled, fundamentally sound, can shoot the basketball and know how to play the game the right way,” said Howard. “I’m impressed overall with their talent. They’re showing in the NBA that they have the confidence to play at the highest level and that’s the NBA in my opinion.”

Dinner reservation on hold

Liu Wei after his first game with the Kings.
Bill Baptist/NBAE/Getty Images
Yao Ming and his parents pulled out the red carpet in hosting a team dinner for the Rockets in Shanghai the other day, so would Liu Wei do the same for his Kings teammates? Not so fast.

“Yao Ming is very familiar with his teammates but as for me, I still need more time to get to know them and my coaches better,” said Wei. “As for the treating my teammates and my coaches, if they refuse me, it will be a face-losing situation for me,” he joked. “If there is an opportunity, I would treat them as a host.”

Yao’s Deep Rooted Quality

Is Yao Ming more vocal now that he is playing in the NBA? A reporter asked the two-time NBA All-Star if playing in the NBA has caused him to be more emotional and assertive than when he played in China.

“There is an old saying in China, it is easy for you to change your environment but it is difficult to change your character,” said Yao. “I think that it is deep in my own character, those emotional things. Maybe in China, I’m more modest but I think the open environment of the NBA has triggered my deep rooted quality.”

Yao’s year-round commitment

An 82-game regular-season schedule along with the preseason and postseason games and an NBA player can be pretty tired at the end of an eight-month season. Throw in a commitment to your country’s national team and it’s perfectly understandable if Yao is looking for a little R& R. Well, help may finally be on the way for the 7-6 center.

Yao, who took a month off last year between commitments and three weeks this year, said talks are in the works to help him earn a little more vacation time.

“The China Basketball Association is coordinating with the Houston Rockets to see whether we can adjust the schedule so that I will not be so tired throughout the season,” said Yao. “I think it will be better for my national basketball team and for the Houston Rockets.”

Lasting impression

Both teams arrived in Beijing in the early morning hours on Friday yet the overwhelming reception given by the fans in Shanghai made such a lasting impression, that Mike Bibby is still talking about it.

“It was great to play in front of such enthusiastic fans,” said Bibby, who scored 17 points in 29 minutes of action. “I was very impressed with the overall response. It’s the first time that I’m playing here and I didn’t know what to expect. The fans really love the game and have treated us great.”