Doubts grow over Tracy McGrady's future as Eagles flop
After seven losses in a row and losing their fan base, observers wonder if the Qingdao club can hang on to their prized possession much longer
Ex-NBA star Tracy McGrady arrived in China to a hero's welcome but after seven straight defeats and the sacking of his coach and a high-profile teammate, the media are wondering how soon he will leave.
The two-time NBA scoring champ is still attracting away fans in droves but with his team, the Qingdao Eagles, now bottom of the 17-team mainland league, home crowds are beginning to dwindle.
McGrady, 33, is the biggest recruit to date for the Chinese Basketball Association (CBA), but now finds himself with the league's only winless team.
However, he insists he did not come to China to win games at a canter.
"I didn't expect to come here and win a championship in the first year," McGrady said, after scoring 37 points in the Eagles' 116-102 loss to the reigning champions, the Beijing Ducks, on Sunday.
"I am not trying to do what I once did in NBA and that's not what I am here for. I am actually here to help these guys to become better basketball players," he said of his young teammates.
Despite a frenzied welcome by away fans, teams have come out inspired against McGrady, smothering him with defensive schemes and forcing his inexperienced teammates to shoot, a formula that has worked again and again.
The losing streak has taken a toll on attendance, with swathes of empty seats visible at Qingdao's home court at their last game there on Friday.
Meanwhile, the club have fired their Korean head coach, Kang Jung-soo, and McGrady's teammate, the ex-NBA centre D.J. Mbenga, who won two NBA championships with the Los Angeles Lakers in 2009 and 2010.
Media are now openly questioning whether McGrady, known as "Mai Di", will stick it out in China, despite game averages of 24.3 points and 5.6 rebounds.
"Winning games is not easy, will he lose confidence?" said a headline in Shandong's Peninsula Metropolitan Daily.
"Eight years ago McGrady scored 13 points in 35 seconds, eight years later he has seven straight losses," the Shenzhen Special Zone Daily said. "How can he stand it?"
McGrady is not the only ex-NBA All Star having difficulties. Gilbert Arenas, formerly of the Washington Wizards, has played only six minutes for the Yao Ming-owned Shanghai Sharks before being sidelined through injury.
But Beijing's Stephon Marbury, who played a starring role in the team's run to the 2012 title and was the league's biggest ex-NBA player until McGrady's arrival, urged the newcomers to be patient.
"For myself, I was motivated by not winning," said Marbury, who played for unsuccessful teams in his first two years on the mainland.
"I wanted to win here because I knew if I could win here it would lead to changes, but it's hard when you are playing on a team that is not winning," he said.
"I just stayed patient and kept working on it. I wanted to be there, I wanted to play basketball here in China."
Nearly 30 former NBA players are now playing in the CBA, raising standards and making basketball even more popular, with more than 700 million Chinese reported to have tuned in last season.
The CBA's popularity has prompted the Swiss sports marketing company InFront to sign a reported US$270 million, five-year deal to continue to manage the league.
The Chinese sportswear giant Li Ning has also signed a five-year sponsorship deal with the CBA, for a reported US$321 million.