Yi Jianlian vs. Yao Ming: The Game for a Billion People

Jon BrossCorrespondent INovember 8, 2007

IconThis Friday night, the Rockets take on the Bucks in a game that may blow the ratings ticker through the roof.

I'm not sure all 1.32 billion people in China will be tuned in to watch Yao Ming take on Yi Jianlian—but I know the matchup is great for both the NBA and the game of basketball.

After a year of headaches, David Stern finally has a reason to smile.

Yao and Yi will carry the hopes of an entire country with them onto the court. They're playing to show the world that the Western Hemisphere doesn't have a monopoly on premier basketball talent.

The NBA has witnessed a steady influx of international players in the last 10 years—but did anyone really believe in 1997 that we'd be watching two Chinese players square off within a decade?

Friday night will be the first of many Yi-Yao battles. For now, it's clear that Yao has the advantage—thanks mostly to his five years of experience with the Rockets.

IconYao also benefits from playing the 5. There are few dominant centers in the modern NBA. The power forward position is far more competitive—as Yi had discovered in his matchups with quicker opponents.

As it stands, Yao is averaging 21 points, 11 rebounds, and two blocks over his first five games this season. Yi has posted nine points, four boards, and three assists a night while adjusting to life in North America.

Numbers aside, though, the rookie has shown flashes of promise.

Yi played like a man possessed in his last outing against the Raptors, draining outside shots, driving to the hoop, and out-rebounding the Toronto big men. He also held Andrea Bargnani, last year's No. 1 pick, to just five points.

Yi has posted double-digit point totals in each of the Bucks' last two wins, helping to spread defenses on the perimeter and open the post for Andrew Bogut.

Yao will be an All-Star again this season, but Yi will undoubtedly join him in the near future—and may well challenge Kevin Durant, Al Thornton, and Co. for Rookie of the Year honors.

All told, China should be proud of its two NBA ambassadors. Both Yao and Yi are amazing players who represent all that is good in a new era of basketball.

Here's hoping Friday night is a sign of better things still to come.