If I asked you who was the first Chinese player to start in the NBA, perhaps you would say Wang ZhiZhi. He was the first Chinese player in the NBA. You would be wrong. Maybe you would say Yao Ming. After all, he is the best Chinese player in history. Again you would be wrong.
That honor would belong to Mengke Bateer.
Bateer started 10 games with the Denver Nuggets in 2001-02, averaging 5.1 points and 3.2 rebounds in 27 games. The next year he signed with the Spurs and played in 12 games, averaging 0.8 points and 0.8 rebounds. More impressively, he also managed to record a PER of -8.4. I didn’t think a negative PER was possible, but Bateer proved me wrong.
Like many 12th men, Bateer had size. He stood 6’10” and weighed 300 pounds, which also meant that he was slow. It also meant that he could set solid picks, which his Wikipedia page highlights, calling him an “accomplished screen-setter”. It also describes him as a good passer because he once recorded six assists. Whoop-de-doo.
I barely remember Bateer playing, partly because he only played 46 minutes for the Spurs on 02-03, but that was enough to get him a ring. Even better, it meant his translator, Jimmy Chang, received a ring. I actually remember Chang better than I remember Bateer. It was like a game for me, trying to sport Chang sitting next to Bateer behind the bench.
Bateer only played one more season in the NBA, appearing in seven games for the Toronto Raptors. Since then he played for the Huntsville Flight in the NBDL and then moved back to China to play for the Beijing Ducks and the Xinjiang Guanghui.
However, I find two of his other accomplishments more interesting. He was the first person to carry the torch in the Torch Relay this past summer, which is a great honor. Then there is this video on youtube, which he made during an offseason, and it is the ultimate Bateer moment. At :43 it looks like he is wearing Uggs, those hideous boots girls wear at college campuses. Then at :52 we have a 13-year-old smoking a cigarette. Then Bateer escorts this girl around China. Why? I’m not really sure. But the highlight comes at 2:00 when out of nowhere Bateer picks up a man significantly smaller than him and slams the man through a pool table. It doesn’t fit in with the rest of the movie at all, but it’s there. I actually have no idea what the movie’s about, probably because I don’t understand Mandarin. There are subtitles, but most of the movie is singing.
Maybe there should be an addition to Bateer’s wiki page – an accomplished screen-setter, passer and actor.