Finding a super-sized bed to sleep in or a car with a suitably generous amount of legroom are not generally details a sporting club must consider when negotiating the acquisition of a new player. But then again, Liu Chuanxing is not your average athlete.
Standing at 7ft 5in (226cm), the China international will become the tallest player in National Basketball League history when he makes his first appearance for the Brisbane Bullets this coming season. The 22-year-old, already given the moniker “Big Liu” by his new club, arrived in Australia last week.
Having emerged from a two-week stint in hotel quarantine, where he had the time to get to know his new teammates by searching their profiles online, Liu took part in his first training session with the Bullets on Monday.
Interest has been suitably piqued by his presence, not only due to the clear novelty factor of his stature (he was asked what size shoe he takes – 18, for the record) but also for the impact a player of his size could potentially have on the game in Australia. Already capped by China, the young centre’s imposing figure is an entirely unknown entity in the NBL and how opposition defences deal with his size remains to be seen.
“He’s a big fella,” said Bullets point guard Jason Cadee, who has been assigned to look after his new teammate and make him feel welcome. “He moves pretty well for someone so big.”
Liu, who does not yet speak English, will also be shadowed by a translator during his time in Australia, although once he steps onto the court communication will pose a different hurdle to overcome. Cadee said it would take time, but the use of hand signals, certain words and names would be employed at the outset.
“The language barrier is probably going to be one of the most difficult things, just trying to translate and talk to him on the floor,” Cadee said. “But if we can keep it simple enough I think he’ll be able to help us.
“He’s going to make people look very small, he’s so big. He’s a presence. I don’t know if he’s going to be a guy who we see play 20 or 25 minutes, but if we can get him to play 10 or 12 minutes and be effective and get him in positions to be successful he’ll be a presence on the floor.”
The Bullets, and Cadee in particular, have been helpful in welcoming Liu as he embarks on his Australian adventure. “The club has helped me with the whole trip, from quarantine,” Liu said. “Jason is a very good guy. He has tried to make me fit into this team as soon as possible.”
Liu has had a space allocated to him next to Cadee in the locker room and Bullets assistant general manager Sam Mackinnon indicated there may even be some efforts made from the English-speaking squad to learn Mandarin in an attempt to make assimilation easier.
Speaking through his interpreter on Monday, Liu said he would do his best to break down the language barrier, but he was not expecting it to be easy at first.
“It’s a little bit hard to remember their names first time,” he said. “This is my first time in Australia, so it’s a new environment. It takes some time to get used to it. But I will learn a little bit of English and remember all of their names. Right now, I remember most of them.”
At Brisbane airport after Liu touched down on Australian soil last week, Mackinnon pointed to the commercial benefits of having Liu on board and said the player’s ability to attract a crowd was there “for all to see today”.
“Most importantly for the club, we think he can play basketball and that’s where he’s going to be a massive asset for us,” Mackinnon said. “It’s great to have him here. He’s a big fella and has a unique skills set to go with that. So he has the whole package and we’re glad he’s with us.”
The move is the result of months of planning as Liu’s acquisition was organised over a series of online calls, with the difficulties posed by Covid and the player’s particular requirements presenting unique challenges.
“We met him a few months ago,” Mackinnon said. “Zoom calls, talking about the opportunity with the Bullets, what he would need – like a translator. Liu was happy to come by himself but there are little things like, what kind of car does he get around in? What kind of bed does he sleep in? He’s a big guy.
“Now we have him here he gets to do what he’s great at – and that’s play basketball.”
Liu will be joined in the NBL by his compatriot Zhou Qi, after the former NBA player was also unveiled on Monday by South East Melbourne Phoenix. Zhou, who stands at 7ft 1in (216cm), played 12 games off the bench for the Houston Rockets between 2017 and 2019 and still harbours hopes of returning to play at the highest level in the US at some stage.
The retired Sam Harris, who played for the Perth Wildcats, Singapore Slingers, and Adelaide 36ers, was previously the tallest player in NBL history, standing at 7ft 3in (221cm), while Melbourne United’s David Andersen (6ft 11in or 211cm) was tallest on Australian courts last season. The tallest player to ever grace an NBA court was Romanian Gheorghe Mureșan, who was 7ft 7in (231cm).