Beijing wheels out basketball star to back bid


With his Nike endorsements, rich salary and 2.12-meter (7-foot-1 ) frame, the Dallas Mavericks’ Wang Zhizhi makes an imposing advertisement for Beijing’s Olympic bid. Wang, the first Mainland China-born player in the NBA, threw his considerable weight behind the Chinese capital on Wednesday as the race for the 2008 Summer Olympics neared its climax. “Beijing will be the greatest fun for athletes. They’ll get the best food and the best living conditions,” Wang told reporters. “Why not let Beijing hold the Olympics?” Wang’s presence in Moscow added star power to Beijing two days before the International Olympic Committee votes Friday on the 2008 host city. Wang faced some competition for the spotlight. Paris, Beijing’s main rival along with Toronto, said it expected French soccer star Zinedine Zidane to arrive on Thursday. The other two bidding cities, Japan’s Osaka and Istanbul, Turkey, are thought unlikely to win. “Mainly I’m here for publicity. I’ll fulfill whatever duty I’m given,” said Wang, who met a throng of reporters in front of a stand promoting Beijing’s bid. “It’s like the smell of gunpowder before a war. Each city is competing, showing its best face to the world,” he said. China’s army team waited two years before releasing Wang, its star center, to the Mavericks for the end of this year’s NBA season. His transfer underscored Beijing’s arguments that two decades of capitalist-style economic reforms have made China more open, freer and raised living standards. Wang’s mother played for China’s national basketball team in the 1970s, and his father played for a Beijing team. “But in their day there wasn’t as many opportunities as there are now,” Wang said. The 24-year-old said his contract provides for an annual salary of US$300,000, more than many Chinese can hope to earn in a lifetime. Wang said he expects to return to the NBA next season. Chinese government officials are hoping to win IOC members’ support by arguing that a Beijing Games would speed change in the world’s most populous nation. Wang said the Olympics would “give our country, our city, a great opportunity to develop.” But critics of China’s human rights record say Beijing doesn’t deserve the Olympic honor. Some fear that if the Chinese capital is picked, communist leaders would further stifle dissent and round up Beijing’s migrants, beggars and other “undesirables” — as they routinely do — to make the games run smoothly. Wang said human rights criticisms of Beijing were unwarranted. Echoing Chinese government arguments, he said Beijing’s foreign critics don’t understand China. “Every country should have an equal chance to hold the games,” Wang said. “As an athlete I don’t think there’s any difference playing basketball in Beijing, China, or in the United States.”