Since its inaugural 1995-96 season, the Chinese Basketball Association (CBA) has seen exponential growth in popularity and became a place where former NBA players have continued to call home.
Yao Ming’s impact on connecting the NBA and Chinese markets when he was drafted in 2002 was groundbreaking and something the league took and ran with. During Yao’s eight-year NBA career which spanned from 2002 to 2011, the league utilized his presence and status to grow the brand and sport of basketball in China and he became the trailblazer to bridge the gap from the East to the West.
As millions of Chinese basketball fans latched on to NBA basketball, the league supported the craze with the NBA Global Games making annual stops in China in which preseason games have been and will continue to be played in Chinese cities such as Shanghai, Beijing, and Shenzhen. In October 2017, two games between the Philadelphia 76ers and Dallas Mavericks were played in Shanghai and Shenzhen. The Golden State Warriors, Houston Rockets, Washington Wizards, and Toronto Raptors embraced Chinese culture when they donned Chinese New Year themed jerseys in 2017.
China has become such a profitable and growing basketball market that a number of notable NBA players have made the jump to the CBA. Whether their careers weren’t panning out in the NBA due to skill, age, or salary—or in some cases due to the 2011 NBA lockout—imports like Stephon Marbury, Tracy McGrady, Gilbert Arenas, Metta World Peace, Kenyon Martin, Michael Beasley, Jordan Crawford, and most recently Jimmer Fredette have became CBA stars.
The next player who plans to make the jump from the NBA to the CBA is former G-League and Big 3 standout Xavier Silas.
Selected by Tri-State with the No. 4 overall pick (later traded to Ball Hogs), Silas was the youngest player taken in the Big 3’s inaugural draft on April 30, 2017. While drafted at 29-years-old, most of Silas’ peers in Ice Cube’s three-on-three basketball league were a decade his elder and had far more professional experience and success. While most of the veterans were lacing ‘em up in front of a high capacity crowd for the first time in years, rekindling their triumphant pasts, Silas’ dream of being what his peers once were was and still is real, mainly because he’s been so close so many times.
— BIG3 (@thebig3) January 22, 2019
Silas, now 30-years-old, has struggled to remain on an NBA roster since going undrafted in the 2011 NBA Draft. A 2012 stint with the Philadelphia 76ers, an NBA Training Camp invite with Washington in 2014, and most recently a 10-day contract with the Boston Celtics—where he became the first Big 3 player to sign a contract with an NBA team after playing in the league—at the tail end of the 2017-18 season was the closest Silas got to solidifying a long-term spot on a roster.
The 10-day contract with Boston catapulted Silas back into the league he had worked on rejoining for six years. As the news broke, he tweeted out a motivational message of what it meant to him to be back, including the counted days he spent eagerly waiting to return.
Looking to play in China, Silas hopes to follow in the footsteps of former NBA star Stephon Marbury and become a CBA legend.
“I want to become a legend in China.. the next big thing,” Silas vowed. “I hope to be remembered there in a good way and as a hard-working player. I’ve been [there] twice to visit and I’ve always loved the culture. I love the challenge of going there to succeed and win. It’s something I would love to be a part of in my career.”
Just because Silas hasn’t called an NBA city home for an extensive period of time does not mean he doesn’t have the skills to be great.
Silas has made a career for himself in the G-League where his long-distance shooting and versatility has allowed him to become one of the league’s most valuable pieces. Silas spent parts of five seasons in the G League, including each of the last three years. The 6-foot-5, 198-pound guard averaged 18.4 points and 4.1 rebounds on 43.8 percent shooting as a member of the G-League’s Northern Arizona Suns in 2017-18. Silas ranked 23rd in points per game (18.4), fourth in three-pointers made (154) and shot an impressive 39.1 percent from beyond the arc. Silas also became just the fourth player in G-League history to have multiple seasons with 120 or more made three-pointers. In February 2018, USA Basketball announced Silas was one of 12 G-League players head coach Jeff Van Gundy selected to participate in the FIBA World Cup Qualifying first round, second-window games.
Comparing himself to Shanghai Sharks (the CBA team Yao Ming once played for and now owns) guard and former NBA standout Jimmer Fredette, Silas feels the CBA is looking to sign players who specialize in scoring the rock.
“Jimmer [Fredette] and I were first and second in the nation in scoring when we were in college,” Silas said of his days of averaging 22.3 points per game in 2010-11 for Northern Illinois, which was good for first in the Mid-American Conference (MAC). “I’ve always been a scorer. It seems they’re looking for that in China and that’s what always has come natural to me.”
Jimmer Fredette’s brother, TJ Fredette—a mentor to Jimmer Fredette and one who helped shape his game as a kid has grown accustomed to the Chinese culture through his younger brother—says Silas’ skills and work ethic would fit perfectly in the CBA style. TJ Fredette also stresses that former NBA players who accept the Chinese culture as well as playing to their highest potential are two factors which will get the fans to adore their imports.
“In China, they love scorers, hard-workers, and guys who can shoot the ball,” TJ Fredette said. “The way [Xavier Silas] shot in the G-League at a high percentage, as well as his training habits and driving ability, would put him in a great position to succeed there. Being that strong wing player, [his opponents] would have a hard time covering an athletic wing like Xavier [Silas]. Being able to play the one, two, or three would be a great advantage for him.”
TJ Fredette also stresses that former NBA players who accept the Chinese culture as well as playing to their highest potential are two factors which will get the fans to adore their imports.
“When NBA players go over there, they have the potential to be loved,” TJ Fredette said. “The fans look to the NBA guys to be the ones that bring the most to the team from a basketball standpoint; the guy to teach the Chinese players some things. They see the former NBA players as someone they want to get behind. But, it’s up to the players to allow their new teammates and fans to get behind them. If [a player] goes out there, meets people, talks to people, experiences the culture, and be a part of it, they’ll love you. You have to produce on the court, as well.”
TJ Fredette feels that, besides the NBA, the CBA is the place to be for professional basketball players. TJ Fredette has experienced his brother Jimmer Fredette playing in both leagues since he burst onto the NBA scene in 2011 and arrived in China in 2016.
“In my opinion, the CBA is the next place to be, other than the NBA due to it being the second highest paying league in the world and due to it having one of the shortest seasons in all of professional basketball. Sometimes guys playing in Europe have to be away from home 10 months out of the year and that can be tough. Also, because China is the biggest market in the world, it can even offer some opportunities off the court that the NBA cannot offer.”
In his first season with the Shanghai Sharks in 2016-17, Jimmer Fredette averaged 37.4 points, 8.0 rebounds, 4.3 assists, and 1.7 steals, shooting 47.7 percent and 40.4 percent from three-point range, good for CBA International MVP. Last season, Jimmer Fredette followed suit with another impressive season where he averaged 36.9 points while shooting 45.0 percent and 41.3 percent from beyond the arc. He was named an All-Star in both seasons.
Silas has gone through some highs and lows since going undrafted in 2011. His resilience and drive allowed him to get this far in his basketball career, and he isn’t stopping now. China is in sight. If there’s a CBA team looking for a knockdown shooter and someone who is eager to succeed and one who will embrace the Chinese culture, they know who to call.
“I know I can do it,” Silas said with confidence. “I’m ready to make the jump and start the grind.”
The talk of the NBA world prior to the 2019 NBA Trade Deadline was New Orleans Pelicans fo…