Thursday February 27, 2020


February 20, 2015

The NBA announced a US$500 million, five-year deal with Chinese Internet giant Tencent Holdings Limited to carry games, highlights and other league content on its digital platforms.  Basketball, following in the footsteps of  ping pong, became an important vehicle for U.S.-China sports diplomacy in recent years.

Ping pong diplomacy opened the door to U.S.-China communication, paving the way to an ice-breaking visit to Beijing by President Richard Nixon. Now basketball is cultivating massive people to people exchange between the two countries. These intensive and large-scale U.S.-China basketball interactions date back to 2002 when then 22-year-old Chinese athlete Yao Ming was drafted by the NBA. Every year, dozens of Chinese sports journalists came from China to Houston to cover Yao Ming’s Rockets games.

These journalists ended up reporting more than just game scores. They also wrote about American life and culture. In addition to creating a bridge for fans between American and Chines, Yao used his influence to help bring NBA stars such as Steve Nash to play charity games in China, raising funds for children with HIV/AIDS, as well as poor children in rural areas. Yao also brought his friend Shaquille O’Neal into the Chinese spotlight during a Lunar New Year celebration.

Another featured American basketball icon is Stephon Marbury (known as “Ma Zhengwei” in China, which means “Political Commissar Ma”). The former NBA All-Star led the Beijing Ducks basketball team to victory in two CBA (Chinese Basketball Association) championships in three years.

Marbury’s popularity in Beijing, and the whole of China, is enormous. He has more than 3.5 million followers on his Weibo account, a Chinese Twitter-like social media site. There is a book and  musical (ticket ranging from $US30 to $US310) about him, and a movie under works. He is a Beijing honorary resident, has his own bronze statue, writes a first-person column for the state run China Daily newspaper, and more. Marbury engaged in Beijing local life by taking subways to team practice, jogging with elderly people in the popular Temple of Heaven, and attending “crosstalk” shows (“xiang sheng”), which is generally popular with Beijing locals only.

With the help of Yao and Marbury’s enormous popularity, China has become the NBA’s largest overseas market. With more than 300 million people playing basketball in China, NBA China has more than 93 million followers on its social media platforms, NBA data showed. The league has staged 18 games in China, with the Brooklyn Nets and Sacramento Kings playing in the latest pair of games in October 2014.

Moreover, together with the NBA Yao Basketball Club, NBA China is working on a partnership with China’s Ministry of Education to teach basketball as part of the curriculum in physical education classes around the country, providing basketball instruction to young Chinese kids. Chinese culture is being promoted in the U.S. through basketball as well. The Huston Rockets just announced the team will wear specially designed Lunar New Year uniforms, exposing American fans to this important Chinese holiday. Besides, Basketball Without Borders (BWB) is already a step in the right direction promoting even more interaction and exchanges between Chinese and American youth.

Ping Pong diplomacy took the first step toward US-China diplomatic relations normalization. Now, the U.S. and China are ready to carry on U.S.-China Consultation on People-to-People Exchange, from ping pong to basketball, to build ever-strengthening relations between the two countries. Can China and the U.S. work together to do more than just creating miracles like Yao and Marbury?

For more information on this topic, consult the following sources:

CBS News“Stephon Marbury is now a settled superstar in China”

China Daily“NBA China CEO sees the sport proliferate”

China Daily“Yao Ming “ambassador” talks about diplomacy”

The New York Times“N.B.A. Signs Deal With Chinese Internet Giant”

NBA“Chinese Lunar New Year Uniforms”

NBABasketball Without Borders, Asia 2014 Recap”

The Beijinger“Yao Ming to Serve as Beijing 2022 Games Bid Ambassador”

LA Times“Stephon Marbury: From NBA bad boy to Chinese celebrity”

Brookings35 Years of U.S.-China Relations: Diplomacy, Culture and Soft Power”

搜狐体育“腾讯获NBA五年网络独播权 5年签约或达5亿美元”

新浪体育“马布里北京大兴买房 称余生留中国回美国只是度假”


Compiled and edited by Stella Ran Zheng