It's only been a few months, and yet J.R. Smith's(notes) brief time as a member of the Zhejiang Chouzhou Golden Bulls has already provided enough drama to fill up some entire careers. After Smith went down with what appeared to be a serious knee injury last weekend, various employees of the franchise, including general manager Zhao Bing, started to talk about how difficult J.R. has been to work with. It's natural to wonder why a player would want a second residence when the team had already paid for a suite and personal chef, but it's also fine to call Zhejiang out for not knowing who they were dealing with. Anyone who's followed the NBA in recent years knows that Smith isn't the most reasonable person in the world.
Once Smith's MRI results showed he was fine, his situation with the club became even more complicated. Because, as all professional people do, Zhao Bing decided it was time to question if Smith was ever injured at all. From Jon Pastuszek at NiuBBall.com (via EOB):
After the game, Smith, who was unable to walk on his own, refused to be taken to a nearby hospital in DongGuan, insisting that he instead be taken back to the team hotel. According to a Sina Sports report, once back in the hotel, the club agreed with Smith that he would have an MRI done in Yiwu, the city where the Golden Bulls are based out of, and scheduled him to fly back with the team the next day accordingly. If results showed that there was a major injury, then Smith would be allowed to fly back to the United States to undergo the next step in the recovery process.
But early yesterday morning, team general manager, Zhao Bing, received a surprising bit of news: Smith was not going back with the team to Yiwu visit with team doctors like he had originally agreed to. Instead, he had already boarded a plane to Beijing.
The change in itinerary went directly in the face of the Zhao, who told him under no circumstances was he allowed to get on a plane out of Yiwu. Smith had made up his mind, however, and once word got back to Zhao that Smith had landed in the capital, he went on Sina Weibo (Chinese Twitter) to publicly warn Smith of the potential consequences for his actions.
"The club has looked into the situation and we have agreed to warn J.R. about his trip to Beijing," Zhao tweeted. "We hope he can come back to the team as soon as possible, otherwise he will have to face the consequences."
Soon after seeing Zhao's comments, Smith responded on his own Sina Weibo, tweeting "My main goal is to get healthy! If you can't understand that then maybe you should pick another profession!"
Wow, what a great working relationship for everyone involved! As you can probably tell from the fact that the parties involved were indirectly tweeting at each other like children, their employment agreement was near its breaking point.
Then, thankfully, a magical angel swooped in to make everything better. His name is Starbury, although he's known in some circles as Stephon Marbury(notes). Here's Pastuszek again, this time at SheridanHoops.com (via PBT):
The club was exasperated. A document to terminate the contract was in preparation. Although the contract is guaranteed, if Smith broke the rules more than twice, the team has the right to end the contract without any compensation. [...]
At that moment, Smith realized the danger of the situation. He needed help badly, and Stephon Marbury gave him a hand.
Marbury joined the CBA in 2010, and became the most popular player in short time. He loves China and has made many friends here. Smith learned that one of Marbury's friends is very close to the Zhejiang club, so he asked for help.
Marbury and his Chinese friend said yes to his request. At first, the club was tough and insisted it would terminate Smith. Then, they agreed to give him another chance, but he had to apologize for his behavior and promise to improve.
Smith did in fact apologize, which means he'll now live in standard hotel rooms with his teammates instead of opulent suites. I hope J.R. is still OK with that when he learns his room service just got downgraded significantly.
As ridiculous as this story is -- fake knee injuries, beef on Chinese Twitter, Stephon Marbury as savior, J.R. Smith doing anything, etc. -- it's also a nice lesson that the world of foreign hoops is much more different than what NBA players are used to in America. Teams expect a lot of imports, both in terms of on-court performance and leadership qualities among their teammates and the community at large. One of the reasons Marbury served so well as a peacemaker here is because he has embraced that role fully.
On the other hand, Marbury also views China as the next step in his career rather than a brief fling. For someone like Smith, it's very difficult to view the China Basketball Association as a serious venture when the plan has always been to hop back to America as soon as the lockout ends. Some level of respect is needed, clearly. But it's also hard for a foreign player to assume so many responsibilities when he has so little at stake.
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