I had a rather interesting conversation with Lakers rookie Sun Yue, who made his NBA debut last night, scoring four points in a little over five minutes of action.
One of the things we’ve all been wondering is why Sun has been a bit resistant to playing in the D-League this year as other Lakers rookies (Jordan Farmar, Coby Karl) have done in the past.
“I’m not saying anything about the D-League is bad,” Sun said Sunday night. “I just think, when I signed the contract and put my name on the paper, that was an NBA contract. I think the NBA will help me improve much faster.”
Having traveled to China for the Olympics last summer, and made a few friends along the way, I thought I’d solicit their opinions on the matter and see if something else is going on. After a few emails, here’s what I’ve come up with:
Basically, when Sun came over to the NBA, it was a very big deal back in China. He has been flanked by reporters from China all season. Not exactly the Yao Ming treatment, but it seems like at least a few times a week, a media outlet from China is in town, asking him questions.
In other words, there is quite a bit of interest in his career, and his success or failure.
A trip to the D-League then, might be seen as a demotion or failure. And in Chinese culture, a “loss of face” is to be avoided at all costs.
The other issue here is that Sun Yue is a pretty confident, spunky kid. He speaks English well enough to crack a joke, which shows a high level of mastery and intelligence. And every time we are let in to watch, he seems to work very hard in practice.
I really believe that he prefers to stay with the Lakers and work on his game with the team. He’s not as concerned about playing time in games, because he is almost always a part of the 5-on-5s at practice.