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Home  /  Inside China  /  NBA in China - From the TV to the Streets, from Sports Fans to Everyday People
NBA in China - From the TV to the Streets, from Sports Fans to Everyday People print version
While Yao Ming is on the verge of retirement, no risk lies over the popularity of NBA in China. Besides of clever marketing, the talent of NBA stars inspires Chinese even in places that other American culture icons fail to do so.
Millions and millions of yearly revenues, live broadcasting in numerous TV channels (including the national sports channel CCTV5), Chinese sponsors constantly knocking at the door and jerseys sold like bao-zi (steamed bun), all facts that demonstrate the economic significance of NBA in China and vice-versa. Like the British Premier League in Football (soccer) or even US movies and fast-food chains, Chinese eyes will often look for the developed, internationally acclaimed source, as a symbol of quality and modernity. Still, the popularity of the NBA seems to exceed beyond this simple equation.

How did it begin? Many are unaware of the fact that Yao Ming (姚明) wasn't the first Chinese in the NBA (Wang Zhizhi in the beginning of the century), though Yao became the first eastern giant to really make an impact in professional American basketball. Live coverage of most of his games with the Houston Rockets, millions of jerseys with his name sold in China and abroad and mostly a concentrated dose of national pride, have all allowed him to pave the road for expansion of NBA popularity in China.

After a couple of years of injuries, there's doubt whether Yao Ming could make a meaningful comeback, but the success of NBA in China cannot be restrained. The fact that Yi Jianlian (易建联) is still putting nice numbers in his team the Milwaukee Bucks, as well as the national hope that more Chinese basketball talents will reach the top league, keeps the NBA a solid ground for bubbling Chinese patriotism, though seeing the NBA success in China as a synonym of national patriotism is ignoring China's youth aspirations, which often aren't linked to national pride.

LeftLA Clippers player Blake Griffin's victory in the 2011 NBA All-Stars Slum-Dunk Competition isn't an isoteric news item, but only in China it could appear on the first page of a respected newspaper, here covering Shandong's Qilu Wanbao (齐鲁晚报).

Right: The Chinese NBA derby between Yao Ming and Yi Jianlian, in days when the former was still in great Shape.


NBA is a well promoted and attractive western product, and as such its success within mainland China is hardly unprecedented, but the scope of its success perhaps is. For every Chinese who enjoys eating Big-Macs there is another who insists that Chinese cousin is much more profound and tasty than this western excuse of a meal; for every Chinese who enjoys a Hollywood action movie, there is another who is certain that Chinese Kong-fu films display much more impressive skill. When it comes to NBA, besides being a product of the worlds' most appraised popular culture producer, it is (perhaps unlike American football or baseball) also a magnificent display of physical technique, which many young Chinese view as something that cannot be compared to anything else (独一无二 duyiwuer).

This combination of an attractive western symbol and display of talent, which many Chinese (who have learned to esteem physical talent displays through kong-fu and acrobatics) truly appreciate, makes the NBA's popularity one big step more advanced than any other sport league in China.

A report from last September stated that the jersey of LA Lakers player Kobe Bryant was the most sold NBA shirt in China in the prior year, while Yao Ming was only in 10th place (though this is also due to the fact that many Chinese already purchased a Yao jersey in the past). Kobe is the most popular player in China at the present, while Michael Jordan remains an all-time favorite. Stardom, success and athletic abilities make the two so favorable in China (as well as anywhere else on the planet), though many Chinese youngsters have their alternative favorites.

The government invests more and more money in basketball courts in both big cities and undeveloped regions, and meanwhile more Chinese youth play basketball than any other team or individual sports. And probably more than in any other place on the globe - Playing basketball on the court, anywhere in China, is directly linked to one's NBA aspirations, realistic or fantastic as they might be.

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