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BEIJING - A group of former NBA players led by one-time All-Star Stephon Marbury hope to woo fans with high-flying dunks, fast breaks and stellar play when the Chinese Basketball Association league opens Friday.
Besides Marbury, fellow former NBA All-Star Steve Francis, one-time NBA slam dunk champion Fred Jones and high-scoring shooting guards Ricky Davis and Mike Harris have all signed on to Chinese clubs for the 2010-2011 CBA season.
Observers will be keen to see whether Marbury, who captivated the league last season with his three-point shooting for the Shanxi Brave Dragons and his MVP honours at CBA All-Star Game, can shine for his new team in Foshan.
In an effort to kick off sales of his "Starbury" shoe line to China's 1.3 billion people, Marbury in November re-signed with Shanxi.
But the 33-year-old, who made national headlines in the US for his ugly spat with the New York Knicks a few years ago, last week was unceremoniously dumped for salary "reasons" and an inability to guarantee fitness.
That did not deter the former Knick, who immediately signed with rivals Foshan Dragon Lions.
Resurrection will also be the watchword for Francis, who will suit up this season for the Beijing Ducks and is known throughout China as "Folaoda" ("Big Brother Fo") for when he played with Chinese superstar Yao Ming on the NBA Houston Rockets.
It is uncertain whether the legs of the often injured 33-year-old once known as "Stevie Franchise" will carry him to higher heights, especially with the bottom-dwelling Ducks.
The nine-year NBA veteran, who averaged 19 points a game over his career, has still not arrived in Beijing and is expected in the capital next week after the 32-game season starts.
The signings come after the CBA waived a 60,000-dollar monthly salary limit on foreign players, a move aimed at attracting better talent and in turn generating more fan excitement and injecting new energy into the league.
"The only thing I can say is that Francis' salary is not the highest of the CBA foreign players -- he is not even among the top few players," Beijing Ducks official Yuan Zhao told the China Youth Daily of Francis' reported 800,000-dollar contract.
Jones, 31, a seven-year NBA veteran who played for many teams including the Knicks, will lace up his sneakers with reigning CBA champions Guangdong Hongyuan, winners of six of the last seven league titles.
The 31-year-old Davis, an 11-year NBA veteran, will take his 13.5 points a game average to the Jiangsu Dragons, as the club seeks to win its first-ever CBA championship after years among the league's elite.
The most important signings could accrue to the deep-pocketed Xinjiang Guanghui, a club in westernmost China's Xinjiang region that has made the CBA finals the last two seasons.
Xinjiang signed former Sacramento Kings shooter Quincy Doubie for a 1.4-million-dollar salary and former NBA power forward James Singleton for a contract "above the NBA minimum," according to the China Youth Daily.
The two Americans will play with former San Antonio Spurs seven-footer (2.12 meter) centre Menk Bateer and Zhang Qingpeng, a point guard on the Chinese national team.
The new salary rules reflect a league that continues to enjoy widespread popularity in China and which is starting to become a commercial success despite many clubs still operating in the red.
"Last season income at several clubs approached or surpassed 10 million yuan (1.5 million dollars)," top league official Liu Xiaonong told reporters last week.
"According to the final accounts for last season, league income (17 teams) was up 80 percent while expenditures increased by 19 percent and losses were reduced by 66 percent over the 2008-09 season (16 teams)."
League sponsors for the coming season include US footwear giant Nike, Dubon Insurance Company and telecommunication equipment maker TCL Corporation.
According to Liu, over 400 million people watched CBA games last season at one time or another, while the just completed 2010 Asian Games championship game between China and South Korea attracted 120 million viewers.