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Thursday, April 19, 2001
Wang signs two-year deal with Mavs

DALLAS – Wang Zhizhi was smiling and holding up his No. 16 Dallas Mavericks jersey when Don Nelson slapped him on the back and offered his first bit of coaching.

"Rebound!" Nelson said with a laugh Wednesday as he celebrated the highly anticipated, hard-earned signing of the first Asian-born player in NBA history.

The 7-foot-1, 255-pound Wang is the latest in a long line of international projects undertaken by Nelson and his son, Donnie, a Dallas assistant coach who was instrumental in this barrier-breaking deal.

"I'm very excited," Wang, 23, said through an interpreter. "I also feel very calm because finally I can play in the NBA."

The Mavericks made Wang a second-round draft pick in 1999, then began trying to get him released from his Chinese Army team, the Bayi Rockets.

Several visits by the Nelsons helped. Also, officials in Beijing want good publicity to help its bid to host the 2008 Olympics and they realized that allowing Wang to play in the NBA would in turn improve China's national team in international competitions.

As part of Wang's two-year deal -- believed to be for the rookie minimum of $316,969 per season -- he'll be allowed to return to China this summer to compete in the East Asian Games, the Asian Championship and the World University Games.

"He will miss training camp and the first month of next season. This is very important to them," Nelson said.

Wang probably won't take too much NBA experience with him.

Because the Mavericks are fighting for playoff seeding, Nelson said Wang will watch most of the final eight games from the bench. Dallas clinched its first playoff berth in 11 years on Tuesday.

Yet there's a good chance Wang will make his debut Thursday night when the Mavericks play Atlanta. The Hawks are one of only two teams with losing records left on the schedule and the only one Dallas play at home.

"He's probably a bit nervous and scared, we need to make him feel at home," Nelson said. "We don't expect he's going to play a lot, but he needs experience to be comfortable."

On Wednesday, Wang went through his first practice. He worked out with bench players and assistant coaches as the starters got a day off following their playoff-clinching victory in Houston.

Still, Wang got a pretty good idea of the NBA's full-contact style, which he described as "cruel."

"Mentally, I have to be ready because the NBA is a very physical game," said Wang, who after practice admitted he was "not in great shape now, a little tired."

Longtime NBA veteran Mark Bryant came away impressed.

"He's definitely got some skills," Bryant said. "I didn't think he was going to be that good. It's going to take him some time, but I don't think he's that far behind."

Wang played center in China, but Dallas will use him as a power forward. That will allow him to float to the wings and fire his smooth left-handed shot without taking a pounding in the paint.

Wang's range extends to about the 3-point line. He's fond of using the backboard from all angles, even directly in front of the rim.

"It's a good way to shoot," he said.

The Mavericks have become the NBA's melting pot. Other foreigners on the roster include Dirk Nowitzki of Germany, Steve Nash of Canada, Eduardo Najera of Mexico and Obinna Ekezie of Nigeria.

Add Wang and Dallas can have a United Nations lineup. Owner Mark Cuban joked that the Mavericks will be in great shape "if we ever have to play anybody in soccer for a tiebreaker."

The Mavericks hope Wang will blossom into a star the way Nowitzki has. In only three years, the 7-footer has learned the language and the game well enough to be leading the team in scoring and rebounding.

While Nowitzki knew more English when he arrived, Wang is trying. Among the few phrases he already knows is: "American food is good, I like the Texas steak."

Mavericks officials declined to talk of the political tension between the United States and China stemming from the emergency landing of a U.S. spy plane on Chinese soil. Wang also was told not to discuss it.

"It would be my wish that some way we could be a positive influence on that," said Nelson, whose international talent hunting began in the 1980s with Sarunas Marciulionis of the then-Soviet Union.

For Donnie Nelson, seeing Wang in a Mavericks uniform culminated a bizarre recruiting process that included a ceremonial toast featuring mashed snake organs.

"No more trips," he said. "Mission accomplished."

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 Don Nelson introduces Wang Zhi Zhi as the newest Dallas Maverick.
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 Wang Zhi Zhi makes his entrance into the NBA official.
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