NBA to usher in Lunar New Year

Updated: 2013-02-08 14:26

By Chen Weihua in Washington (China Daily)

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NBA to usher in Lunar New Year
Consul General Sun Guoxiang (center) from the Consulate General of the People's Republic of China is invited to the NYSE on Thursday to ring the bell to open the market and celebrate the Lunar New Year. Yang Qi / Xinhua

Washington Wizards tips off holiday festivities on Friday

With starting point guard John Wall back on the court after a knee injury, the Washington Wizards are getting in shape, especially at home, and the team's rejuvenation may get a further boost from Lunar New Year festivities this weekend.

A total of 23 games will be televised and streamed live in China over eight consecutive days. When the NBA launched its New Year events in 2012, with 21 live games and two in-arena celebrations, 96 million Chinese watched on television and over the Internet.

This year's Lunar New Year, also known as Spring Festival, the most important for the Chinese, falls on Feb 10.

When fans throng to the Verizon Center in the heart of the US capital's Chinatown on Friday night to see the Wizards play the Brooklyn Nets, they may be surprised by the game's festive Chinese touch.

People dressed as the 12 animals represented in the Chinese zodiac, plus two in panda costumes, will greet fans and hand out gifts at arena entrances as the Year of the Snake approaches.

Regardless of what one might think of snakes, Chinese believe the Year of the Snake means steady progress and attention to detail. However, focus and discipline are needed to achieve a goal. In China it's also believed that people born in the Year of the Snake are thoughtful, wise and approach problems rationally and logically.

Before Friday's tipoff, about 100 students, in colorful costumes, will perform traditional Chinese dances on the Verizon Center court.

Also accompanying the game will be demonstrations of Chinese calligraphy and traditional Chinese musical instruments. At halftime, a martial arts team show will show its skills, said Ruyi He, president of the Coordination Council of Chinese American Associations.

The council is teaming up with the Wizards to make this year's Chinese New Year celebrations the biggest ever involving an NBA team.

When players step onto the court, they'll be wearing red warmup shirts adorned with a golden Year of the Snake design and the words "Chinese New Year Celebration".

The Verizon Center festivities are the start of a week of celebrations of Lunar New Year at several arenas of NBA teams.

This year, besides Washington, celebrations will also be held in the home arenas of the Chicago Bulls, the Golden State Warriors, the Miami Heat and the Toronto Raptors, while the Boston Celtics and the Los Angeles Clippers will have signage around their home courts commemorating the Chinese holiday.

"Chinese New Year is the most important festival for our fans in China, and we are happy to once again celebrate with them and their families," said David Shoemaker, CEO of NBA China.

The league has gained popularity among Chinese since the mid-1980s, and particularly with Yao Ming's debut with the Houston Rockets in 2002 and the signing in 2007 of Yi Jianlian, who played for the then-New Jersey Nets and the Wizards for two years.

China is now by far the largest NBA market outside the United States. The league has a comprehensive website in Chinese and has conducted numerous activities in China to promote its sport. Michael Jordan, Lebron James, Kobe Bryant and Dwayne Wade are household names in China. .

In the 2012-13 season, a record 26 former NBA players are on the rosters of Chinese Basketball Association teams, including James Singleton, who played for the Wizards last season, as well as Tracy McGrady, Stephon Marbury and Gilbert Arenas, a three-time NBA all-star.

Last October, when the Heat and the Clippers played exhibition games in Beijing and Shanghai, the NBA and a Chinese investor announced plans to build a giant sports and entertainment complex on 800 hectares in Tianjin, a port city just 30 minutes by train from Beijing. The $1.5 billion facility will include NBA-style courts, a fitness center, an NBA-themed cafe, a restaurant, an interactive gaming area, a children's zone and other features.

While Wizards fans enjoy Chinese New Year celebrations, former NBA star Peja Stojakovic, who was born in Serbia during the Year of the Snake, will tip off festivities on Friday by hosting a viewing party in Beijing for the Celtics game against the Los Angeles Lakers.

The NBA's success in China is linked to the Wizards, which as the Washington Bullets paid a historic visit to the country in 1979, a year after winning the league championship. Led by team owner Abe Pollin, the Bullets were the first NBA team to set foot on the Chinese mainland.

A Wizards delegation, including Hall of Fame center Wes Unseld, a star of the 1977-78 NBA champion Bullets and a future coach of the team; all-star Caron Butler and guard Randy Foye and 7-foot-7 (2.3-meter) Romanian Gheorghe Muresan paid a return visit to China in 2009, 30 years after the ice-breaking trip.

Bob Dandridge, a Bullets player who went to China in 1979, told China Daily on Tuesday that he was impressed by the courtesy and respect the team was shown during its visit.

Dandridge, then 31, was stunned by the number of people riding bicycles in China. "It was amazing to see 1,000 bicycle riders in one block in front of the hotels and we didn't see people running into each other," he said.

Dandridge also marveled at the sight of the Great Wall. "You are in one part and you see the extension, but you never see the end," he said. "It's like an endless wall. It was one of those experiences that you never forget and that stays with you for your lifetime."