It’s a long way to extend a professional basketball career, but for a host of former NBA players, some well-known and other’s not so much, playing in the world’s most populous country has been a boon to their careers.
In fact, many are superstars with huge followings in China, where they were mostly bench depth or flash-in-the-pan hoopsters in North America.
Jimmer Fredette, at one time a golden boy in the NCAA, grabbed a huge headline for a performance in a game in November, just in case anyone forgot about him. He poured in 50 points and one was one assist short of a triple double as his Shanghai Sharks beat the Sichuan Blue Whales 114-105 in Chinese Basketball Association play last November.
Fredette is but one of many semi-famous (some even very famous) former NBA players still trying to earn a living playing basketball — even if it is all the way around the globe.
We’ve got a whole list of 20 forgotten — or at least ignored — former NBAers who brought it in the CBA.
20. Andrew Nicholson – Guangdong Southern Tigers
Not many Canadians have been first round picks in the NBA, which makes Andrew Nicholson’s story very compelling. He didn’t starting playing basketball until he was around 16 and missed a good chunk of development time before his senior year of high school. The Mississauga born power forward performed at a high level, though, garnering a scholarship to St. Bonaventure of the NCAA. He played four great season with the Bonnies and was taken 19th overall by the Orlando Magic in 2012. For four years he was a reliable bench depth forward behind the likes of Glen Davis, appearing in 247 games and making 36 starts (28 of them in his rookie season). A big four year contract he signed with Washington at the start of the 2016-17 season portended his exit from the league, as he was traded to Brooklyn and then Portland, who waived him last summer. He signed with Guangdong and played all 46 games with them, averaging 22.2 points and 8.3 rebounds per game.
19. Von Wafer – Jilin Northeast Tigers
The best way to describe Vakeaton Quamar “Von” Wafer’s NBA career would be “vagabond.” Drafted 39th overall by the Lakers in 2005 after two pretty good NCAA seasons with Florida State, Wafer would play for seven different NBa squads, including the Clippers, Denver, Portland, Houston, Boston and Orland0. Interestingly, after his best season with the Rockets in 2008-09 (9.7 PPG in 63 games), he ended up spending a year in Greece before playing parts of two seasons back in the NBA with the Celtics and Magic. Orlando waived him in 2012 and he joined the Xinjiang Flying Tigers and played 34 games during the 12-13 campaign, averaging 26.4 points per game. The well-traveled Wafer then split time between Russia and the NBA D-league until returning to the CBA last January with Jilin. This season with the Tigers, Wafer ended up 11th in league scoring with 29.9 points, kicking in 5.7 rebounds and 4.2 assists.
18. Carl Landry – Jilin Northeast Tigers
Riding shotgun this past season with the aforementioned Von Wafer was former NBA All-Rookie Second Team member Landry. A standout with Purdue, the 6’9″ power forward was selected 31st overall by the Seattle SuperSonics in 2007 and dealt at the draft to Houston, where he performed well enough in 42 games to be named All-Rookie. Like Wafer, he too was well-traveled, playing 513 games with five different clubs. Over the course of his career, which ended in 2016 when he was waived by Philadelphia, he registered 10.8 points per game and 4.9 rebounds. He missed a season rehabbing from a wrist injury and signed with Jilin in August 2017. In 36 games this past season, Landry finished 18th in CBA scoring at 26.7 PPG, along with 11.2 rebounds, good for 13th overall.
17. Courtney Fortson – Zhejiang Lions
Courtney Fortson had one of the shortest NBA careers of any on this list, but Arkansas Razorbacks fans probably remember him very well. He is one of not-so-long list of Razorbacks to have ever scored 30 or more points in a game and recorded just the second ever triple-double in school history when he dropped 20 points, added 12 assists and pulled down 10 rebounds in a win over North Carolina Central. After two seasons with Arkansas, the point guard went undrafted and spent six seasons bouncing around the D-League and Europe, with one 10-game stint in the NBA split between the Clippers and Houston during the 2011-12 season. In those 10 contests he played an average 9.5 minutes and chipped in 3.5 points, 1.5 rebounds and 1.0 assists per game. He inked a deal with Zhejiang in 2016 and after a superb 2017-18 year was named CBA MVP. He was eighth in scoring with 30.5 points per game and first by a wide margin in assists with 11.0.
16. Jamaal Franklin – Sichuan Blue Whales
As much as Jimmer Fredette is a scoring machine in the CBA, he and many others should be in awe of former Memphis Grizzlies draft pick Franklin’s one-game scoring massacre. While playing with Shanxi in 2016-17, he recorded the first 60-point triple-double in the history of the CBA, with 61 points, 12 rebounds and 11 assists in a win over Beijing. Franklin’s journey to the CBA and notoriety started with San Diego State and then the NBA, when he was drafted 41st overall by Memphis in 2013. The shooting guard would play just 21 games with the Grizz, though, and then three with Denver in 2014-15 before being waived in 2015. He ended up with Guangdong for the 2015-16 campaign and dominated after going back to the NBA D-League and returning to the CBA with Shanxi. In 19 games for the Zhongyu, he averaged a triple-double with 33.9 points, 10.8 rebounds and 10.3 assists. This past season with the Blue Whales, Franklin was seventh in league scoring at 31.5 points and also contributed 9.4 rebounds and 5.2 assists.
15. Eugene “Pooh” Jeter – Tianjin Ronggang
Pooh Jeter has spent so much time outside the U.S. playing basketball that he picked up another passport, courtesy of the government of Ukraine (whose team he helped qualify for the FIBA World Cup in 2013). The L.A. native played NCAA ball at the University of Portland, went undrafted in 2006 and then drifted about in Europe, playing professionally in Ukraine, Spain and Israel until 2010. That’s when he caught a break, signing with Sacramento in the summer of 2010. From there the point guard would see action in 62 games (one start), averaging 4.1 points and 2.6 assists per game while averaging 13.8 minutes of playing time. He wasn’t extended by the Kings in 2011, so returned to Europe, playing all over the place before ending up in China with Tianjin. In 38 CBA games this past season, Jeter finished 10th in scoring with 30.0 PPG, along with 6.2 assists.
14. Tyler Hansbrough – Guangzhou Long-Lions
The University of North Carolina Tar Heels basketball program has turned out its fair share of studs over the years. Tyler Hansbrough was one of them. He was NCAA player of the year in 2008 and won a championship in 2009. He seemed destined for a long and fulfilling NBA career after being chosen 13th overall by Indiana in 2009. Yet, after seven seasons playing mostly off the bench with the Pacers, Toronto Raptors and Charlotte Hornets, he finds himself in China. A veteran of 428 NBA games, the last of them with Charlotte in 2016-17, Hansbrough now mans the power forward position with the Guangzhou Long Lions. In 40 games, including two post-season contests with the Long-Lions Hansbrough placed 32nd in CBA scoring with 20.8 points per game, along with 9.9 rebounds.
13. Brandon Bass – Liaoning Leopards
It’s quite fitting that “The Animal” now plays for the “Leopards.” Brandon Bass, who spent 12 years in the NBA, most recently with the L.A. Clippers in 2016-17, signed a one year, $2 million contract with Liaoning to keep his career going. Bass made 283 starts in 758 NBA games, starting with New Orleans, who drafted him 33rd overall in 2005 out of LSU. He enjoyed his best years with the Boston Celtics from 2011-12 to 2014-15, where he started 224 of 304 contests and averaged 10.6 points and 5.5 rebounds per game. With the league champion Leopards, Bass finished just ahead of Tyler Hansbrough in scoring with 21.0 points per game and 9.5 rebounds in 51 total games.
12. Terrence Jones – Qingdao Eagles
Just like Tyler Hansbrough at UNC, Terrence Jones was a big man on campus with Kentucky earlier this decade, winning a title in 2012 with the Wildcats and then going 18th overall to Houston in that year’s draft. Once his NBA career with the Rockets got rolling during the 2013-14 campaign, Jones had his best season, scoring 12.1 points and adding 6.9 rebounds per game in 76 games (71 starts). The rest of his too short career was marred by injuries and illnesses. He played with New Orleans and briefly for Milwaukee last year, but after receiving no offers stateside, signed a one-year, $2 million pact with Qingdao. And in his debut for the Eagles, he went on a tear, finishing with 48 points and 20 rebounds. Jones made 18 of 28 shots from the floor, including 4 of 5 three-pointers, to go with four assists and three steals. However, he played just nine games in the CBA before being released by the Eagles due to a confrontation with a coach. Still, he averaged 22.3 points and 11.2 rebounds per game.
11. MarShon Brooks – Jilin Northeast
At one time, former Providence College superstar MarShon Brooks was tabbed as “the next Kobe Bryant.” That kind of pressure, plus all the expectations it carried with it, pretty much ensured that Brooks would have a brief NBA career. He was all Big East as a senior in 2011 with the Friars and set a conference record with 468 total points, breaking a previous mark set by UConn’s Donyell Marshall. Brooks was subsequently drafted by the Boston Celtics in the first round, 25th overall, who then swapped him for the 27th pick and a 2014 selection to the New Jersey Nets. Brooks turned in a decent rookie season (12.6 points, 2.3 assists) but he quickly faded from view and was gone from the NBA in 2014. He was a CBA All-Star last season and in 36 games with Jilin, averaged a ridiculous 36.6 points and 7.2 rebounds per game. That kind of production got him noticed, enough to sign a 10-day contract with the Memphis Grizzlies late in the 2017-18 season. He might stick around, after scoring 20.1 PPG in seven contests.
10. Jonathan Gibson – Qingdao Eagles
Riding shotgun with former NBAer Terrence Jones in Qingdao was Jonathan Gibson, who has had an outstanding international pro career and a cup of coffee in the NBA. Gibson, a point guard, was never drafted after a great collegiate career at New Mexico State (which ended in 2010) and thus took his talents to Europe and the Middle East. He played in Turkey, Iran, Israel, Italy and now China. He had a brief stay with Dallas after setting the summer league on fire in 2016, playing in 17 games last season and finishing with 6.2 points and 1.5 assists. He wasn’t tendered any offers this year and signed for a second time with Qingdao. With the Eagles Gibson played 38 games, finishing fourth in scoring with 33.7 points and 4.7 assists per game. He parlayed that success in garnering a brief deal with the Boston Celtics near the end of the NBA season.
9. Brandon Jennings – Shanxi Zhongyu
Of all the players on this list, the NBA career of Brandon “The Pterodactyl” Jennings initially held the most promise. A high school sensation, Jennings was the Naismith Prep Player of the Year in 2008 and instead of going to college, went to Europe to hone his skills (he had to be 19 before being eligible for the NBA). He did well overseas and in 2009 was picked 10th overall by Milwaukee in 2009. He started all 82 games in the 2009-10 season and made the All-NBA Rookie Team after scoring 15.5 points per game, 3.4 rebounds and 5.7 assists. He was a solid starter for six seasons, but skill fade got the better of him starting in 2015 with Detroit and after a so-so 2016-17 season split between the Knicks and Washington, he signed with Shanxi in the off-season. He played a total of 13 games with Shanxi, finishing 15th in scoring with 27.8 points, 5.1 rebounds and 6.8 assists per game. He finished the year with a second stint in Milwaukee, getting into 14 games and scoring 5.2 points and 3.1 assists.
8. J.J. Hickson – Jiangsu Tong Xi
There was a time early in his NBA career that PF J.J. Hickson shared a front court with LeBron James. Hickson was drafted 19th overall in the 2008 draft by the Cleveland Cavaliers and by his third season, he was a significant contributor. In his best NBA campaign (2010-11), he scored 13.8 points per game for the Cavs, adding 8.7 rebounds and 1.1 assists in 80 games (66 starts). He was traded to Sacramento in 2011 and would have two more decent seasons, one with Portland in 2012-13 and the other the next season in Denver. Hickson bounced a round a bit more and by 2016 saw the writing on the wall. He played with Fujian of the CBA last year before signing with Jiangsu this season. Hickson was a prolific rebounder with Jiangsu this past season, pulling down 14.7 per game, second in the league. He also poured in 29.6 PPG to sit 12th overall.
7. Dominique Jones – Jiangsu Tong Xi
His teammate at Jiangsu, J.J. Hickson, seemed to have a gilded path to the NBA before he ended up in China. Dominique Jones, though, harbored few illusions of NBA greatness, pretty much from the get-go. A star at the University of South Florida, Jones was taken 25th overall in the 2010 draft by Memphis, who immediately flipped him to Dallas. It was with the Mavs that he found out his skills as a swing man weren’t quite going to cut it in the NBA. He bounced between Dallas and the D-League for three seasons, playing a total of 80 games for the Mavericks. Without a contract in 2013, he went to China and has played for four different teams there, with stints in Puerto Rico and Iran mixed in. Jones was just behind Jiangsu teammate Hickson in CBA league scoring with 28.9 points per game, adding 6.9 rebounds and 5.3 assists.
6. Sonny Weems – Zhejiang Chouzhou
In basketball terms former Toronto Raptor and Phoenix Sun’s swing man Clarence “Sonny” Weems has seen and done it all. In addition to his time in Toronto and Arizona, the Arkansas Razorbacks grad also had cups of with Denver and Philadelphia. Internationally, Weems has played in Lithuania, Russia, Israel and now China with Zhejiang. His time with the Raptors marked his best basketball in the NBA, where he played 128 of his 183 NBA games and put up 8.3 points, 2.7 rebounds and 1.6 assists per game. Zhejiang was the beneficiary of Weems’ talent so far this season, as he finished sixth on the CBA scoring ledger with 31.7 PPG, as well as 8.0 rebounds and 5.9 assists in 38 games.
5. Luis Scola – Shanxi Zhongyu
Big Argentine Luis Scola is another of those guys on this list who seemed to have it all early on in his NBA career, only to see that shine dull in short order. Drafted 27th overall by San Antonio in 2002, Scola wouldn’t play in the NBA until 2007 with Houston, who traded for his rights from the Spurs. In short order the Buenos Aires native became a fixture in the Rockets front court, making the All-NBA Rookie team in 2007-08 and recording 14.5 points and 7.7 rebounds per game in 386 games with Houston. For the remaining five seasons of his NBA tenure, though, Scola played with five different clubs, the last being the Brooklyn Nets in 2016-17. He played with former NBAer Brandon Jennings at Shanxi and had a great first season, scoring 27.8 points per game (16th overall) and adding 13.8 rebounds (sixth in the CBA) in 37 contests.
4. Jared Sullinger – Shenzhen Leopards
Even as a star with Ohio State and later a little bit as a force with the Boston Celtics could Jared Sullinger ever claim to have scored 50 or more points in a game. In one of his first games earlier this CBA season, Sullinger poured in 55 points and added 18 rebounds for a massive double-double in a loss to Xinjiang on Nov. 3. After leading the Buckeyes to the Final Four in 2012, Sullinger, a sophomore, declared for the draft and was taken 21st overall by the Celtics. Nagging injuries, however, would limit the overall effectiveness he showed at Ohio State and by the end of the 2015-16 season the Celtics cut him loose and he signed with Toronto for one season. He missed the first half of the 2016-17 campaign rehabbing from surgery and after 31 games he was traded to Phoenix, who waived him a day later. Sullinger found his groove again with Shenzen this season, recording 30.1 points to finish ninth in CBA scoring. He also added a league high 16.6 rebounds and 1.4 blocks per game.
3. Ty Lawson – Shandong Golden Stars
It’s kind of odd that a still effective sixth man like PG Ty Lawson had to go to China to find pro basketball work this summer. Lawson, originally a very effective point guard with Denver for six seasons, had a bounce back year with Sacramento in 2016-17, registering 9.9 points and 4.8 assists in 69 games (24 starts). Originally selected 18th overall by Minnesota in 2009, Lawson averaged 12.7 points and 6.0 assists in 551 total NBA games, but arrests for DUI and subsequent suspensions checkered his career. But, we can’t feel too sorry for the Tar Heels alumnus, as he signed a lucrative one-year, $2.4 million pact with Shandong. Lawson was excellent with Shangdong, recording 25.5 points and 6.5 assists per game in 46 contests. So excellent that the Washington Wizards signed him for the playoffs, where he played five games and averaged 5.8 points and 3.0 assists.
2. Jimmer Fredette – Shanghai Dongfeng
It shouldn’t take too long for “Jimmer-Mania” to take hold in China. James Taft “Jimmer” Fredette was a sensation at Brigham Young University, becoming the NCAA Division I scoring leader and Collegiate Player of the Year in 2011. An excellent shooter, Fredette was drafted 10th overall by Milwaukee that same year and flipped right away to Sacramento. Even though his jerseys did outstanding business in Kings’ merchandising outlets, Fredette never caught on there as a full-time player, nor in subsequent stops with Chicago, New Orleans and the New York Knicks. In all, before heading to China, Fredette played in 235 games, starting seven and logging 6.0 points and 1.4 assists. As we detailed in the opening paragraphs, Fredette’s ridiculous scoring in the CBA does have precedent, as he once scored 52 points in a NCAA game (a BYU and MidWest Conference record). Other than CBA superstar scorer Darius Adams, there was no former NBA player who had more points this season than Fredette (36.9), who also chipped in 5.5 assists and 2.0 steals per game.
1. Stephon Marbury – Beijing BeiKong
At 40, Marbury is the elder statesman of former NBA players plying their trade in China. Unlike many foreign players, Marbury was a legitimate star in the NBA, making the All-NBA Rookie Team in 1997 and being named two-time All-Star and two-time All-NBA Third Team member. He finished his 846-game NBA tenure with 19.3 points per game average, 7.6 assists and 1.2 steals. Starbury has continued his excellence on the court in China since going over in 2010, winning three CBA championships and being a finals MVP and six-time All-Star. He joined his fourth CBA team the BeiKong (Fly Dragons) this year and after 36 games announced his retirement from basketball. In those 36 contests Marbury contributed an average 14.9 points and 4.8 assists.