- The Washington Times - Saturday, June 8, 2002

Much has been made of the many obstacles keeping Yao Ming from playing in the NBA, most prominently that he will have to pay dearly for permission to leave his club in the Chinese Basketball Association.
But there is more trouble brewing. Although the prospective No.1 overall pick in the NBA Draft on June 26 has chosen Eric Zhang and professor John Huizinga as his U.S. representatives, Yao's Shanghai Sharks club this week failed to approve them. The decision could keep Yao in China indefinitely.
"We select the best choice of agent for Yao," said Sharks general manager Li Yao Min. "Will Eric Zhang be the person in the U.S. making the decision for Yao? No. Eric has nothing to do with our club. He doesn't represent Yao."
Zhang currently is in Shanghai, where he is attempting to curry favor with the Sharks.
Neither Zhang nor Huizinga has experience in the field of sports management, but they had expressed hope that their academic background would be a reasonable starting point. Zhang, a 28-year-old business student, is an ex-boyfriend of Yao's second cousin. Huizinga is deputy dean of the University of Chicago's prestigious Graduate School of Business.
Zhang and Huizinga have had high-profile talks with the Houston Rockets, the Chicago Bulls and the New York Knicks. Those meetings are said to have gone well, but it is hard to gauge whether the meetings accomplished anything in the light of the Sharks' negative attitude toward both.
Whether a coincidence or not, it is worth noting that the Rockets, who hold the first pick in this year's NBA Draft, announced Tuesday that team representatives might travel to Shanghai to see if they could guarantee Yao's release.
For the past several years, leading U.S. sports agent Bill Duffy was considered to be Yao's U.S. agent. Based on Li's comments, it appears Duffy was never a candidate for the job.
"We don't know about Bill Duffy because he has not contacted us and we have not contacted him," Li said. "I have heard that he has said that he is representing Yao Ming."
Who then will represent Yao? According to Li, the decision was made three years ago. In 1999, the Sharks awarded Evergreen Sports of Cleveland the right to represent Yao.
"In 1998, I took Yao to the U.S., Li said. "When we came back, we reported to the leaders about the interest in Yao Ming. After this time, 14 sports agencies came over to Shanghai to discuss the possibility of representing Yao. We chose Evergreen because at the time they were very sincere.
"We were impressed by their sincerity," Li continued. "In order to develop Yao, they had rented out an athletic club with a gym. They hired 10 players to play with Yao, they rented the coaches, a training staff, a nutritionist, physiotherapist. They had language instructors available to teach him English at all times of the day and night. At the time, they had organized the very best program. We were impressed because it was very detailed."
Now, however, the Yao situation looks much murkier. Under the present scenario, it appears as though he is not going anywhere. On the other hand, the Sharks have shown their cards. Zhang and Huizinga are out, and the Yao representational sweepstakes are back on.
Whether or Yao leaves China and the Sharks remains to be seen. One thing is certain, though: In Li's words, "the final decision will be made in China."

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