But basketball is still going strong and now more than ever change is afoot at the Chinese Basketball Association (CBA).
The greats of the past may not be on the court today, but Yao Ming, one of the biggest names in the sport, is calling for the league to decentralize its decision-making process.
"Now, the basketball association is the only decision-maker, while (the clubs) have very limited influence on making any major rules, despite the presence of the committee,” Yao told Xinhua, as reported by China Daily. “Usually, we just follow along with whatever they decide."
After making his mark playing for the Houston Rockets between 2002 and 2011 and making the NBA All-Star team eight times, Yao started out in the CBA with the Shanghai Dongfang Sharks. Now back in Shanghai, he is the owner of his original team.
“I bought the Sharks to give them a boost and do something on behalf of Chinese basketball,” he said in 2010.
While the Sharks did not have a stellar record in the recently finished season (finishing 14th out of 17 teams), Yao is on a mission now that is about more than just winning on the court. In recent days, he has been outspoken about the need for the league to shake up its leadership structure to breathe new life into the organization.
"We are running this more like a government than a professional league," Yao told People’s Daily Online recently. "The management rights should return to the league committee, which is composed of club representatives. That would allow policies to truly be made based on the actual situation and need of clubs.”
Zhejiang Lions manager Ye Xiangyu agreed with Yao, telling China Daily, “I think it's time for some radical changes, like releasing all rights to the clubs. It's the time to establish a league council made up of the owners, like the NBA's board.”
In one instance, the CBA imposed a cut on the length of its season in 2009 to allow the national team enough time to prepare for global tournaments such as the Olympics and world championships. However, Yao and other owners think that the shortened season is just not long enough.
"It's like you made a movie with a huge budget, but they only allow you to screen it twice," Yao said. "That's bad for the investors."
And these days, that is precisely what the former Houston Rocket is.