Last Chinese-born player leaves NBA as Yi Jianlian departs Dallas

China's Yi Jianlian has left the Dallas Mavericks after a five-year stay in the United States.

Story highlights

  • Yi Jianlian, the last Chinese-born player in the NBA, leaves the Dallas Mavericks
  • Yi has signed a one-year contract with China's Guangdong Tigers
  • NBA star Dwayne Wade told CNN basketball still trails soccer as the world's favorite sport
  • Jeremy Lin of the Houston Rockets has boosted the NBA's Asian profile

The NBA is without a Chinese-born player for the first time in 12 years, after it was announced Yi Jianlian has signed a one-year deal in his homeland.

Yi failed to earn a new contract with 2011 NBA champions Dallas Mavericks, and he has returned to China to join former team Guangdong Tigers.

"It's a huge pity to spend his prime years on the bench in the NBA without being trusted," Guangdong general manager Liu Hongjiang said of Yi in a statement.

"He wants to play and we can provide an ideal stage."

Yi carried the flag for China at the recent London 2012 Olympics, his third appearance at the Games.

Dwyane Wade reflects on diversity in NBA
Dwyane Wade reflects on diversity in NBA

    JUST WATCHED

    Dwyane Wade reflects on diversity in NBA

MUST WATCH

Dwyane Wade reflects on diversity in NBA 01:45
Lin: I'm thankful for what New York did
Lin: I'm thankful for what New York did

    JUST WATCHED

    Lin: I'm thankful for what New York did

MUST WATCH

Lin: I'm thankful for what New York did 02:42

His departure is a blow the league, which is looking to take advantage of the potentially lucrative Asian market.

Current NBA star Dwayne Wade, a champion with Miami Heat earlier this year, told CNN that basketball still trails football as the world's favorite sport.

The popularity of the NBA in China skyrocketed when center Yao Ming joined the Houston Rockets in 2002.

The first Chinese-born player to take to the court in the NBA was Wang Zhizhi, who made history by joining the Mavericks in 2001.

The NBA's profile in Asia has been boosted by the emergence of Jeremy Lin, a Taiwanese American who shot to global fame with a string of standout performances for the New York Knicks during the 2011-12 season.

Lin, 24, has since left the Knicks to join the Houston Rockets.

        U.S. Sport

      • SOCHI, RUSSIA - FEBRUARY 23:  Sidney Crosby #87 of Canada celebrates after scoring his team's second goal in the second period during the Men's Ice Hockey Gold Medal match against Sweden on Day 16 of the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics at Bolshoy Ice Dome on February 23, 2014 in Sochi, Russia.  (Photo by Martin Rose/Getty Images)

        Can ice hockey go global?

        With a growing audience boosted by the drama of ice hockey on show in Sochi at the Winter Olympics, can the sport capitalize on its popularity?
      • Jason Collins makes his debut on the Brooklyn Nets against the Los Angeles Lakers on February 23.

        NBA's first openly gay player

        Jason Collins became the first openly gay man to play in the NBA, wearing a Brooklyn Nets uniform in a game against the Los Angeles Lakers.
      • FOR USE ON CNN PHOTO BLOG ONLY

        A front seat to every Super Bowl

        When the Super Bowl kicks off in New Jersey, photographer John Biever was there. Just as he was for all of the 47 other Super Bowls.
      • Sergio Pinales, one of the original Compton Cricket Club players.

        Cricket teaches Compton kids

        A cricket club based in Compton has turned neighborhood boys into gentlemen on the pitch. CNN's Paul Vercammen reports.
      • Beyonce performs during the Pepsi Super Bowl XLVII Halftime Show at Mercedes-Benz Superdome on February 3, 2013 in New Orleans, Louisiana. (Photo by Christopher Polk/Getty Images

        Does sport need a soundtrack?

        Music is becoming an increasingly big part of sport, whether on TV or at the stadiums -- but what does it add, asks CNN's Don Riddell?
      • Robbie Rogers plays for Los Angeles Galaxy in Major League Soccer.

        Coming out - the aftermath

        What is life really like for a gay sports star after they come out? U.S. footballer Robbie Rogers tells all.