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Basketball in China Part II: The Evolution (2)

By Li Zhenyu (People's Daily Online)

15:43, July 23, 2012

A Historical Perspective

Long before the NBA arrived, missionaries and revolutionaries helped make the game ubiquitous here in China.

Introduced to China over a century ago by YMCA missionaries just a few years after the game's 1891 invention in Springfield, Massachusetts, basketball has seeped into the fabric of Chinese lives.

Some of the first groups that embraced basketball in China were college students and western-minded scholars.

In the 1920s, the game was very popular among urban students.

In 1935, basketball was declared a Chinese national pass time.

At that time, members of the Red Army was encouraged to play basketball for lifting spirits and exercise.

Until the NBA arrived in early 1990s, basketball had come to feel so intrinsically Chinese, most people did not even associate it with America.

Chinese Version of NBA

Before 1995, basketball careers were fostered mainly with State support. But, although competitive leagues had been developing rapidly, State funding could not be sustained, hindering further growth. Consequently, the game was professionalized.

In 1995, a Chinese version of the NBA, namely the Chinese Basketball Association, CBA for short, came into play.

After years of cultivation and development, the league has significantly improved, with a number of high-caliber players sprang up. Among those were Yao Ming, Wang Zhizhi, Yi Jianlian, Mengke Bateer and Sun Yue who have played in the NBA.

During the 2007 NBA All-Star Game, the player who received the most votes was neither Lebron James nor Kobe Bryant. It was Yao Ming, the first Chinese-born athlete to play successfully in the NBA.

Yao retired from basketball on July 20, 2011, leaving behind giant footprints on the NBA court.

The Chinese basketball authorities, previously fearing that players who go abroad will never return, now encourage players to get overseas experience, as China looks to raise its level of international competitiveness.

The CBA not only encourages local exports, but also welcomes foreign imports.

Being coordinated by both local sports committees and businesses, the clubs in the CBA are able to work with foreign investors, bring in foreign players and coaches, and freely trade players with other clubs.

In 1996 James Hodges became one of the first Americans to play in the CBA.

As the league becomes more professionalized, quite a few well-known international players have joined the CBA. Notable players include NBA All-Stars Stephon Marbury, Steve Francis and Kenyon Martin.

Some foreign players are a crucial part of their teams. A few have NBA experience. Many have played at American universities with good teams and have some experience playing in Europe, Argentina, Turkey or Israel or some other place.

Over the last decade, over 200 international players have participated in the CBA.

As of right now, the CBA has grown to be the No.1 basketball league in Asia, and some believe, within ten years, China will become one of the top four basketball powers in the world.

Li Zhenyu authors the "Beyond Gold" column for People's Daily Online.

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