Yes. Basketball is the biggest sport in China. More than 300 million Chinese are active basketball players. Basketball has grown in popularity thanks to Yao Ming, loosened policies, and the cheap cost of getting started.
After the United States of America, China is the world’s largest basketball center. In China, the NBA is the country’s most popular sports league with more than 150 million followers.
Also, China’s own basketball league, CBA, is growing in popularity since its founding in 1995.
Let’s dive deeper into China’s relationship with basketball.
Numbers on Basketball in China
To understand how big basketball is in China, let’s look at some numbers and statistics on where the sport is today:
- 300+ million active basketball players
- 150+ million followers of the NBA on social media
- 16 titles won by Chinese Men’s National team
- 6 Chinese nationals have played in NBA
These numbers grow by the day and are probably higher at the time, you read this post. The conclusion is clear; basketball is big and growing in China.
Why is Basketball So Popular in China?
The main reasons why basketball has become so popular in China over the years are the following:
- Yao Ming: The most popular Chinese basketball player through time. His fame and success has boosted Chinese basketball interest since his arrival in the NBA in 2002 for the Houston Rockets.
- Chinese policies opened up and were reformed in the late 80s. This allowed for more American concepts like the NBA to enter the country, where especially Michael Jordan and Allen Iversen were Chinese favorites.
- Basketball is a fairly cheap game both in terms of the establishment of outside courts and gear needed to play (a basketball, really). Therefore, most Chinese schools, even in rural areas, have a basketball court.
- David Stern, the commissioner of the NBA, gifted the broadcasting rights to China for free in the 80s—in order to market the league abroad.
- Later, Tencent, a Chinese media company, bought the rights to broadcast NBA in China for half a billion dollars. By then, it’s clear that basketball had become a commercial success in China.
- China’s growing economy allows a growing middle class more time to watch TV and cultivate an interest in sports. This too contributes to the popularity of the sport, the professional leagues, and the players in them.
- The Chinese Army, People’s Liberation Army (PLA) has a tradition of using basketball to build team spirit and comradery. With more than 2 million members, this has helped grow the popularity of the sport.
Chinese Players in the NBA
China has had several nationals play professionally in the National Basketball Association. Some of the most famous Chinese basketball players are:
The most famous Chinese basketball player of all time. He played in the Shanghai Sharks when he played in CBA. And joined the Houston Rockets when he came to NBA in 2002.
Yao Ming is not only the most popular basketball player but the most popular Chinese athlete in general. To many Chinese, he represents a new China that is more open, modern, and confident.
Yao Ming was the tallest active basketball player in the NBA with his 7’6″ (2.29m). To learn more about the man, read my article on Yao Ming.
Zhizhi is a former professional basketball player who is now the coach of Bayi Rockets, which was also the team he played for when he was actively playing in the CBA.
Zhizhi was the first Chinese national to play in the NBA. Here, he played for Dallas Mavericks, Los Angeles Clippers, and Miami Heat.
Jianlian is a professional basketball player who plays for the Guangdong Southern Tigers in the CBA. He also played in the NBA for several American teams before moving back to the Chinese league in 2012.
Jian Lian has been part of the Chinese national teams for years and started to represent his country at the Olympics from the age of 19 in 2004. In 2008, he was ranked #4 on Forbes’ China Celebrity 100 in income and popularity.
CBA: The Chinese NBA
CBA stands for the Chinese Basketball Association. It was established in 1995 and is the top-tier basketball leagues in the country.
Several CBA players have made the move to the NBA and played professionally abroad as well as for the Chinese National team.
On professional teams in CBA, there’s a limit for how many foreign players can play on the team. However, multiple American players have played on Chinese teams such as Stephon Marbury, Tracy McGrady, And Gilbert Arenas.
In addition to the CBA, Chinese basketball also consists of the NBL (National Basketball League) and the WCBA (Women’s Chinese Basketball Association).
A famous Chinese player, Jeremy Lin, has returned to play in the CBA for the Beijing Ducks. In the US, he became a phenomenon as “Lin-sanity” based on an amazing streak of games in the NBA.
In recent years, Chinese basketball has become huge. Some argue that the NBA has more fans in China than in the US.
And with 10-20% of the NBA’s yearly revenue coming from the Chinese market, it’s part of the Associations’ core strategy to focus on China and expand the business there.
Many historic events have helped bring basketball to China, such as American YMCA workers in the early days.
Today, most Chinese schools and playgrounds have a basketball court. And when you only need a pair of shoes and a basketball, it’s accessible for even poor Chinese families to join in.
It would be no surprise if Chinese nationals start to constitute a larger part of the professional landscape in the NBA too. As more Chinese kids get into the sport, the talent base grows, which results in increased competition and a higher level.
The future is bright for Chinese basketball and basketball in general. I’ll keep an eye on all Chinese players entering the media spotlight in the upcoming years. That’s for sure.
Yao Ming Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yao_Ming
Basketball in China: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Basketball_in_China
Sport in China: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sport_in_China