Yi Jianlian is finally going to play for the Milwaukee Bucks.
Yi, the sixth overall selection in the NBA draft in June, signed a standard rookie scale contract with the Bucks in Hong Kong on Wednesday. The club also gave his former team, the Guangdong Tigers, money in the deal, but declined to discuss details.
A contingent of Bucks officials that included owner and Sen. Herb Kohl met with Yi's family and Chen Haitao, owner of Yi's Chinese professional team, over the last day to finalize the deal.
"We had a very successful trip here," Kohl said from Hong Kong. "We came with the hope, but not the certainty that we would, in fact, be able to sign a contract with Yi."
Later, the group, including Yi's parents, went out to dinner.
"It sort of cemented the relationship in a human and social sort of way," Kohl said. "He has wonderful parents, which is not surprising because he's a wonderful guy. And we sit here very pleased and happy."
The Bucks could not say when the 6-foot-11 power forward would be in the United States or meet with American media, but Kohl expects him to be in Milwaukee at the start of training camp on Oct. 1, or shortly afterward.
Yi, 19, said he was very happy, too, after months of saying nothing publicly.
"Today's agreement means I finally, formally enter the door of the NBA," Yi said in Chinese to the media contingent at the signing in Hong Kong. "This will be a great challenge for me. I know I will have a lot of opportunities, but also a lot of difficulties. But I'll do my best."
On draft night, Yi Jianlian said he was surprised he was picked for the Bucks, but thought he'd play for them.
After the interview, he said nothing more while he was in the U.S., leading to speculation that he would never show up.
"Certainly Mr. Yi and his representatives want him in Milwaukee as soon as possible," general manager Larry Harris said.
His agent, Dan Fegan, had pushed for Yi to be drafted or traded to a city with a large Asian influence -- or at least a larger city.
According to Census data, there are only about 27,500 people of Asian descent living in the city more famous for beers and bratwurst than cultural diversity, but the Bucks continued to say that it had little to do with Yi's situation.
With the Olympics in Beijing next summer, Chinese officials wanted assurances that Yi, who played on China's 2004 Olympic team and 2006 world championship team, would get significant playing time against the NBA's best players in an effort to sharpen his skills for those games.
"Certainly from our standpoint, we're very committed to making him the best player that he's going to be, we made that very clear," Harris said. "You're talking about a young man that obviously has a lot on his shoulders, not only for himself, but for his country and with the Olympics being in Beijing, we understand those situations."
After months of uncertainty, the Bucks finally signed Yi Jianlian on Wednesday.
Kohl said that they came to Hong Kong at the request of Chen and Yi's handlers, but the Bucks maintained the deal was not done when they got on a plane on Tuesday.
"I'll say they were very appreciative, all of them, of the effort that we made in coming here," Kohl said. "That to them was an indication of our commitment to Yi. When you get on a plane and go half way around the world at the invitation of the team owner, Mr. Chen, you're not doing that for any other reason except you're commitment to the individual. In this case, Yi and his career."
"He impressed us," Kohl said of Yi. "There's going to be no question about his character, about his work ethic, about his desire to do good for himself and his team and his country."
There's no guarantee Yi will make the same impact as Yao Ming, his national teammate selected by the Houston Rockets with the first pick in 2002.
Last season, Yi posted career-high averages with 24.9 points, 11.5 rebounds and 1.8 blocks in 30.7 minutes for the Tigers of the Chinese Basketball Association.
But there are questions about his defense, strength and age, and while he flashed some skills with Team China in the Summer League in Las Vegas, he also showed he had a lot to learn, being pushed around by first and second-year players instead of the NBA's elite.
The Chinese Basketball Association lists Yi's birthday as Oct. 27, 1987, but he has long been rumored older. Kohl said Yi told them he was 19, and the Bucks liked his determination when discussing what type of impact he'd like to have on the court.
"Talking with him over the last 24 hours, there's no doubt in my mind that he's going to become the player he thinks he wants to become," Harris said. "There's no doubt in our mind this kid is going to be a special person, a special player and we're going to do everything we can and we're committed to making sure that he becomes the player he wants to be."