Jimmer Fredette Has a Decision: Immortality in China or Role Player in America

Joon LeeStaff WriterApril 20, 2017

The Shanghai Sharks Jimmer Fredette, left, is defended by the Houston Rockets Eric Gordon (10)  in the first half of an NBA basketball exhibition game Sunday, Oct. 2, 2016, in Houston. (AP Photo/George Bridges)
George Bridges/Associated Press

Jimmer Fredette was surprised by how easy the transition was. He knew what he was getting into when he made the decision to move across the world from Denver to Shanghai. He'd spent a significant amount of time mulling over the decision to move to China, talking to several players about the transition, and the Shanghai Sharks, Fredette's Chinese Basketball Association team, set him up with a nice apartment. The research, the conversations and the accommodations all made the landing a bit smoother.

The food, however, would prove to be one of the toughest parts of the move.

Chinese food in China is wildly different from Chinese food in America, and Panda Express classics like General Tso's chicken and fortune cookies are nowhere to be found. Initially, cultural culinary differences didn't prove to be a problem. In Shanghai, the world's most populous city, Fredette could find anything he wanted to eat. When the Sharks began to hit the road, though, Fredette soon understood why he'd been warned.

"Once you got to different cities, it was like, 'Oh, I don't know what I'm going to do,'" Fredette tells Bleacher Report. "It was like, 'Pizza Hut—should I order that again?' I ate a ton of hard-boiled eggs and a lot of rice. I haven't eaten that since I've gotten home [to the United States]."

Whatever difficulties Fredette had with food, however, didn't hinder his abilities on the court. The former BYU star and 10th overall pick in the 2011 NBA draft, now known as the "Lonely God" overseas, tore up the CBA. He averaged 37.6 points per game while shooting 47.4 percent from the field and 39.6 from beyond the arc, and he took home both the all-star game and league MVP awards. The accolades, combined with Fredette's 73-point performance in a February regular-season game, stirred up memories of Jimmermania, which swept the country during Fredette's senior year at BYU in 2010-11.

Interestingly, Fredette's numbers in the CBA compare favorably to several players who went to China and returned to the NBA. Cleveland Cavaliers guard JR Smith averaged 32.4 points per game on 49.7 percent from the field, while Wilson Chandler averaged 26.6 points on 45.7 percent from the field. The game in China perfectly suited Fredette's strengths. The CBA favors quick guards who are confident in their scoring abilities. Deep threes are taken regularly, and when an offensively skilled player travels overseas, they are given "the greenest of green lights," according to Andrew Crawford, writer for Chinese basketball website Shark Fin Hoops.

"Someone like Jimmer who is confident about his shot, that's perfect for him," Crawford says. "You can't be a shrinking violet in Chinese basketball. You're going over there and they're paying the money that they are, you have to be able to shoot and you have to be confident about your shot."

Fredette wanted an opportunity to showcase his abilities after toiling on the ends of NBA benches and D-League (now G-League) rosters for years. Fredette spent most of 2015-16 playing for the Westchester Knicks, scoring 21.1 points per game while shooting 45.8 percent, but he couldn't find the right opportunity stateside for 2016-17.

Feeling he'd accomplished all he could in the D-League, Fredette began looking overseas. When Jackson Emery, Fredette's teammate from BYU, heard his friend was heading to China, he was surprised.

"I was thinking a little more Europe. I thought he'd fit them better in terms of their lifestyle and wouldn't be as much of a culture shock," Emery says. "Once [Fredette] started talking to me about the shorter season, the money paid, the endorsement opportunities and the marketshare, it made more sense. He definitely made the right move."

Fans in China fell in love with Fredette and his performance for the Sharks, the former CBA home for Hall of Famer Yao Ming. The adoration of Fredette overseas reminded Emery and former BYU teammate Noah Hartsock of the madness of Jimmermania.

"It brought back Jimmermania a little to the States," Hartsock says. "Hopefully next year we'll see a 120-point game. That's what I'm waiting for. He's still Little Jimmo to us."

Fredette, while considering options for next year, reportedly turned down a couple of 10-day contracts as opportunities to audition late in the season. His actions thus far indicate he's positioning himself for an NBA return. Thinking back to the heat of Jimmermania, Emery said that Fredette's career certainly hasn't gone as many teammates and friends expected.

"At the time, you had guys like Kevin Durant tweeting that he was the best scorer in the world. When you get guys like that tweeting, it's funny," Emery says. "Steve Kerr, that's the type of guy you thought Jimmer would be and the career he'd have. It's about fit and timing, and it hasn't felt like he's had the right fit or timing. That's why he's taking the time and thinking about it."

Emery, now a sales manager at Domo, a software company in Utah, sees Fredette as a business opportunity for any NBA team willing to take a chance. Beyond what he brings to the court, what Fredette brings with fans in the seats and jersey sales still holds value.

"Obviously he knows he's not Russell Westbrook ... but he thinks he can be Raul Neto for the Jazz. He can bring five to 10 minutes, hit some shots and contribute," Emery says. "I'm a Utah Jazz fan and I wondered why teams wouldn't bring in Jimmer to sell jerseys at the very least. There is value from what he can do on and off [the court]."

"I compare him to Tim Tebow. People didn't want to play around with the Tebow circus. You feel like there's a similar sentiment around Jimmer."

A return to China, however, could prove to be equally, if not more, lucrative. Foreign players can become legends in the CBA, as evidenced by the success of Stephon Marbury, who now has a museum in Beijing and is a naturalized citizen of China. Crawford says Fredette could prove to be equally successful if he continues playing at a high level.

"There is a legacy of overseas players coming over and committing themselves to a team and it goes over really well in that city," Crawford says. "If Jimmer came back and stayed in Shanghai and kept the success going, he would create an enormous legacy."

Those are the two paths present-day Jimmer Fredette can choose from: a chance to potentially become a bench player in the NBA, or an opportunity to become a legend halfway across the world.

"I envisioned myself being a great basketball player in the NBA. I felt like I had the skill set to be able to do that," Fredette says. "I can shoot the ball and score the ball in today's NBA with the three-point shot. I had some great times in the NBA, I had some not-so-great times, but it's something that I've continued to work towards and not let it keep me down."

 

All quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.