Matt Beyer is currently the only westerner who is licensed to work as a sports agent in China. His company, Altius Culture, which Beyer founded and for whom he is its’ managing director, remains a critical access point for many America players looking to play in the Chinese Basketball Association. He was also a color commentator on Chinese television for the 2014 NBA finals. Before arriving in China, he spent time with the Milwaukee Bucks as the chief translator with Yi Jianlian.
Andrew Crawford: What kind of guy of was Yi?
Matt Beyer: Well I was there when he was trying to prove a point in his rookie season. Even then Yi was a very professional guy; always working hard in training and keeping in top condition. He didn’t really let the personal side of that job affect him.
AC: His arrival in the NBA was a bit of a circus; the chair stuff, the age issue, the hype and the pressure to be the next Yao- did you get the sense that he was ready or able to handle the pressure?
MB: I absolutely think he was ready to handle the pressure. I mean he was groomed to be ready for the NBA- that was everyone’s expectation of him from the beginning. What people don’t remember was that he was going from being China’s best player to going to a league where he had to prove himself whilst being under a spotlight that no other rookies were under.
AC: Do you guys still stay in touch?
MB: I still continue to work with Guangdong [Yi’s team] so we still see each other, yes. We’re not hanging out and doing things as friends but we have a professional relationship; we’ve known each other for seven, maybe eight years so we have that connection and recognize that we’ve both been a part of each other’s life.
AC: Thoughts on the rule change with regard to foreigners in the fourth quarter?
MB: I understand why the league wants to have foreigners playing but be less of the focus in the fourth quarter. However, I don’t understand why the CBA needs to change the rules on such a regular basis. It’ll certainly change things in the league with regard to the involvement of Chinese players in the fourth quarter but there still has to be a redevelopment of how players are coached in the long-term. I think the league has to look at the deeper issues about getting stronger Chinese players rather than focus on who touches the ball in the fourth quarter.
AC: Can you give an example of what you mean?
MB: Well there have been an increasing number of players being sourced into the league from outside the traditional government system; players coming back from playing in the NCAA for example. Right now there’s a lot of ways to develop domestic talent that are being explored but it’s going to be a long gradual process. Chinese talent is going to take ten, fifteen, maybe twenty years to be on par with European prospects and that time frame is going to be decided by the opportunities for normal kids in China to play outside of school hours. Chinese basketball can’t just take isolated pools of fifty kids from every state in the country and try to make them into great players anymore. Talent comes from all places and sometimes can’t be identified at a very young age. Right now the system for talent in China doesn’t facilitate good development, especially in guards. Look at Jeremy Lin; that wouldn’t happened with a Chinese player because they are still using things like biometric stats to predict talent. The important thing is getting players involved in recreation basketball, high school and college and then how teams scout and engage those young players.
AC: Obviously having a strong Chinese roster is important but there also seems to be a trend of the CBA shifting to a guard driven style. Do you think this is a trend or a coincidence?
MB: It depends on the team; if the team needs 75% of their scoring through foreign players it makes sense to have a shooting point guard but if you have a strong local roster you need more well-rounded overseas players.
AC: There is also a shift in the kind of players coming into China- mostly young guys who’ve played overseas before who haven’t been in the NBA- why do you think this shift is?
MB: It’s a focus on people who are practically suited for the CBA. That may be guys who have performed in the European leagues and showed they have the right profile for the CBA- so someone who scores a lot but also someone who proactively wants to come to China. You don’t want to sign someone who doesn’t want to come and only does it for the money. Teams can’t take the risk by bringing in someone who doesn’t care about winning and is only in China for the paycheck. It might not be a shift but it shows a realization in the league that big names don’t translate into wins.
AC: So do you this means the end of targeting of big names or do you think some teams will still want to bring in guys with name recognition?
MB: Oh yeah, they’ll always be teams that will be interested in signing big names. Look at the Guangdong Tigers and Emmanuel Mudiay. I think Mudiay is going to be an excellent player but at the end of the day, the Tigers could have gone out and got an accomplished Euroleague player instead. The thing is, Guangdong already have good players like Yi and a number of other national team players but they are also about to move into a new arena. Having an exciting guy like Mudiay will help generate ticket revenue as well as giving them another solid player.
AC: In your eyes, what is the biggest adjustment process for the Americans in China?
MB: The food is probably the biggest thing. I don’t really see too much else unless it’s a player whose only been in the NBA and has a problem with the travel and the hotels or people not speaking perfect American English. For those people, to be honest, they probably should not come to China or probably travel internationally either. But it’s mostly the food; for whatever reason, Chinese food doesn’t agree with some players’ palates.
AC: The Chris Daniels situation in Liaoning has obviously been a big news story. Ultimately, other players will still go to teams with histories of not paying their Americans, because its hard to walk away from a solid paycheck. But in your experience as an agent, would you be reluctant to send your guys there?
MB: You always have to look at team politics and their legacy with regard to how they treat players. As an agent, you’re well informed enough to know who the offenders are and I would be wary of teams that have a bad record. You don’t want a situation when you go to FIBA because even then the player still isn’t getting the money for six months, maybe a year. Although a player is still protected by the contract, it’s a pain to have to go to tribunal. It taints the player’s reputation and you have to waste a lot of time on the case; it’s just messy.
AC: Do you think there’s a correlation between good front offices and successful teams?
MB: Absolutely. I’m biased here because I’ve done some deals with the Guangsha Lions [a medium-sized CBA team that consistently makes the play-offs] but everyone is on the same page and everyone does what they say they will. There’s no hiding; A is A, B is B and if there is a problem, we work it out together. Working together in a streamlined fashion for a common goal is not what drives many of these [less achieving] teams; there are a lot of power struggles internally that hinders the whole point of this, which is to win basketball games.
AC: Finally, what is your opinion on the future of the CBA?
MB: I think there will be more players gradually coming into the league from outside the state system; maybe Chinese players who’ve been sent to play high school, or college basketball in America that come home. Maybe you see some guys come in from the Chinese college system but I think ultimately the rigid state system [wherein players are found and coached by their local sports bureau and then promoted into that province’s CBA team] is going to come closer to expiring. I think you’ll also see a growing domestic free agency trend where local players move around a lot more. That in turn will probably lead to more trades within Chinese basketball.