Reporter Journal / Chen Weihua

At Beautiful China Night, Wizards owner reveals strong China ties

By Chen Weihua (China Daily USA) Updated: 2016-11-21 13:00

It's not unusual for the Verizon Center arena in Washington to have a strong Chinese vibe since it's located right in Chinatown.

Its huge sign is bilingual in English and Chinese. Chinese culture and heritage has been celebrated there for years in the Wizards games during the Chinese Lunar New Year, which falls on Jan 28 in 2017.

On Saturday, a lion dance and kung fun performance were staged before the game and during halftime in a Beautiful China Night event as part of the closing ceremonies for the 2016 China-US Tourism Year.

Li Jinzao, chairman of the China National Tourism Administration, credited the trip to China in 1979 by Washington Bullets (the former name of Wizards) for triggering China's love for basketball. The Bullets were the 1978 NBA champions and the trip took place the same year China and the US formally established diplomatic ties.

The Wizards lost 111-114 to the Miami Heat on Saturday night.

At Beautiful China Night, Wizards owner reveals strong China ties

"Today, many Chinese youth learn about the United States through basketball, and many Chinese tourists go to the arena to cheer for their favorite teams when travelling in the US," Li said before joining other dignitaries in the lion dance eye-dotting ceremony and later kicking off the game.

Li received a personalized Washington Wizards jersey from Ted Leonsis, founder, chairman and CEO of Monumental Sports & Entertainment, which owns the Wizards, the Washington Capitals and other businesses.

The 59-year-old businessman has been to China 11 times, he told the press on Saturday.

He described the Bullets' trip to China in 1979 as a great honor. "Now we also own a hockey team, the Washington Capitals, hopefully to be the first NHL team in China, because we want to be very, very supportive of China's Winter Olympics," he said. Beijing will host the 2022 Winter Olympics, making it the first city to host both the summer and winter Olympics.

Leonsis has strong ties to China not just in business. He recalled as a Georgetown University student about 40 years ago, Henry Kissinger, who was teaching at the school then, told them to "love and embrace China a China that will one day be the greatest power on earth and a fantastic neighbor and partner."

He called it destiny that he himself now serves on the board of directors of American Express. Kissinger had served on the board since 1984 and still remains an advisor.

Leonsis has extensive business ties with Chinese companies. Alibaba is a big investor in Groupon, a company where Leonsis served as chairman and is now on the board. He also has close ties with Chinese internet company Tencent, including the Riot Games purchased by Tencent and in streaming NBA games. He was in Beijing to open the China office for American Online, a company he was once an executive with.

Little known about the businessman is the fact that he is also a filmmaker, and the producer of the 2007 film Nanking, which is about the 1937 Nanking Massacre committed by the Imperial Japanese army in Nanjing, China's capital at the time.

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