Two worlds collide to lure more hoop fans

Updated: 2016-09-14 07:10

By Xu Jingxi(China Daily)

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 Two worlds collide to lure more hoop fans

Clockwise: China's swimming Olympic champion Sun Yang, singer and actor Kris Wu (Wu Yifan), former NBA All-Star players Stephon Marbury (No 3) and Tracy McGrady take part in an exhibition game over the weekend in Shanghai. Provided to China Daily

What would happen in a basketball game if the two competing teams were made up of a mixture of professional stars, popular singers and actors as well as an Olympic gold medal-winning swimmer?

The question was answered on Saturday as the worlds of sports and entertainment met at Shanghai's Baoshan Gymnasium in what was, in every sense, an all-star clash in the celebrity Super Penguin basketball game, hosted by Chinese tech titan Tencent.

The noise from the capacity 6,000 crowd was deafening, as fans of both the basketball stars and entertainment idols urged on their heroes.

The game itself yielded some surprises, one of which involved swimmer Sun Yang, who won a gold and a silver medal at the recent Rio Olympics, being crowned MVP.

Host Tencent expects that by combining sports and entertainment, they can bring basketball to an even larger audience.

In addition to Sun, the stars were well and truly out, with ex-NBA stars Tracy McGrady, Chauncey Billups, Jason Williams and Stephon Marbury, who is now leading the Chinese Basketball Association's champion Beijing Ducks, as well as Los Angeles Lakers player Metta World Peace meeting once again on a basketball court.

Popular Chinese singers and actors including Kris Wu and Jam Hsiao also showcased their basketball skills in front of screaming fans.

Last year, Tencent's online video platform signed a $500 million agreement for a five-year deal with the NBA to be its exclusive digital partner in China, streaming live NBA games and delivering NBA content to computers and mobile devices throughout the country.

The social-networking giant runs QQ and WeChat, two of the most influential messaging apps in China, and it knows full well that the star power of entertainment icons can raise the sport's profile and draw more fans to arenas.

For example, Tencent's vigorous recommendation played a role in the NBA's selection of Kris Wu as the first Chinese-born participant in the NBA All-Star Celebrity Game this year.

The Chinese-Canadian singer and actor has more than 20 million followers on Sina Weibo, China's version of Twitter. His appeal to young people, especially young women, was evidenced by the remarkable increase of female viewers of the Celebrity Game. While female viewers would typically make up around 10 percent of the viewership of a regular NBA game, they made up around 20 percent of the audience for the Celebrity Game on Tencent's online video platform, according to Zhao Guochen, general manager of operations of Tencent's sports department.

Tencent was the first Chinese media company to livestream the NBA All-Star Celebrity Game, and the Super Penguin contest is its very own domestic version of the Celebrity Game.

To tap the business potential of the fast-growing sports industry in China, Tencent is trying to evolve from a broadcasting platform for sports to a content creator and an organizer of sporting events, said Tina Ma, general manager of Tencent's variety show business department.

"We want to reach younger fans for sports, so we launched Super Penguin to organize sporting events targeted at this demographic, as well as entertainment fans who will be drawn to the sport through the participation of their favorite entertainment idols," Ma said.

Jam Hsiao, a singer from Taiwan, rocked the stage at the opening show and also impressed the audience with his fast dribbling.

"I participated in the celebrity game because I want to show to my fans my passion for basketball and urge them to take more exercise and play more sports, not just basketball," he said. "Because physical exercise is a really good way to aid relaxation when you are under pressure at work or in life generally."

Marbury enthused about the mixture of stars participating in the game, adding that it would help spread the popularity of the sport.

"You bring the entertainment world into the basketball world, so you have two different audiences that are both involved (in) and watching the game. Many entertainers are enthusiastic about playing basketball. They will bring their fans to the game," Marbury said.

Besides, in the era of the internet, an increasing number of Chinese athletes have become stars through the force of their personalities and not just their medal-winning exploits.

Sports fans have recently been drawn to online discussion platforms to discuss entertaining incidents such as the funny facial expressions pulled by Chinese swimmer Fu Yuanhui while giving unexpectedly frank answers to journalists at the Rio Olympics.

Another swimmer, Sun Yang, surprised everyone by scoring 22 points and grabbing 18 rebounds in the Super Penguin game. The 198-cm tall Sun went all out and played as a powerful center in the game, despite sometimes lacking some of its necessary subtleties.

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