Olympic springboard: China basketball star Yi Jianlian signs up with NBA’s Los Angeles Lakers

The 28-year-old from Guangdong province averaged 20.4 points and 6.6 rebounds in five games in Rio de Janeiro

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 23 August, 2016, 9:51am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 23 August, 2016, 10:46pm

Yi Jianlian, who is fresh off an appearance with the Chinese national team at the Rio Olympics, has signed a contract with the Los Angeles Lakers, the NBA team announced on Monday.

Yi, from Guangdong province, averaged 20.4 points and 6.6 rebounds in five games at the Olympics, which wrapped up on Sunday.

“We’re excited to have a player of his worldwide accomplishments,” said general manager Mitch Kupchak. “We look forward to bringing him to training camp and hopefully having him make an impact on our team.”

Yi, 28, joins a team that have been at or near the bottom of the NBA the past several seasons. To compound their woes, the Lakers lost their top player when future Hall of Famer Kobe Bryant retired at the end of this past season.

The Lakers declined to release details of the contract.

Yi is a former first-round draft pick of the Milwaukee Bucks in 2007. He has not played in the NBA since 2012 and has spent the past four seasons playing for the Guangdong Southern Tigers in the Chinese Basketball Association.

His international career includes winning three gold medals at the Fiba Asia Championships (2015, 2011, and 2005) and a gold at the 2006 Asian Games.

China’s basketball team had a disappointing Olympic campaign, failing to win a game in Rio for the second Olympics in a row, with Yi getting little help from his teammates.

They were hammered 119-62 by the USA. China also failed to win a game at London 2012.

Not since Yao Ming, who played nine seasons in the NBA and was considered responsible for jump-starting China’s passion for basketball, has China produced an elite-level player.

Two Chinese players were selected in this year’s draft, with Zhou Qi going 43rd to the Rockets and Wang Zhelin 57th to the Memphis Grizzlies.