Wizards kick off NBA’s Chinese New Year celebration

January 28, 2013
I was born in the Year of the Horse. (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)
I was born in the Year of the Horse. (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)

Located in the heart of the District’s Chinatown, Verizon Center will once again serve as the tip-off point for the NBA’s in-arena celebrations for the Chinese New Year when the Wizards host the Brooklyn Nets on Feb. 8.

The game will be among 23 games televised live and streamed on Chinese Central Television, the nation’s state-run international broadcaster, and other Chinese network partners during an eight-day celebration of the Year of the Snake.

“It’s almost impossible to overstate the importance of Chinese New Year, it really is the most important festival,” David Shoemaker, NBA China’s chief executive said in a telephone interview. “This year is the largest international tribute ever that the NBA has put on with our Chinese New Year celebration.”

The Wizards franchise has a long history with China, dating back to when late owner Abe Pollin led the NBA’s first venture to the nation in 1979. Washington will be one of five teams that will host events at their venue to honor Chinese culture. Chicago, Golden State, Miami and Toronto will also participate. Boston and the Los Angeles Clippers will have in-arena signage to recognize the holiday, which actually begins on Feb. 10.

“The Wizards are really setting the pace on this,” Shoemaker said. “We’re very, very pleased to see that.”

The inaugural event was held last year, when the Wizards hosted Boston and the league scheduled 21 televised games. Shoemaker said the success of the festivities – which attracted an estimated 96 million viewers – encouraged him say, “We must do it again and we must do it bigger and better.”

All 24 teams playing on Feb. 8 will wear specially designed shooting shirts and the league will conduct several online and social media promotions throughout the week. CCTV will broadcast three double-headers from Feb. 12-14, headlined by a rematch of the NBA Finals between Miami and Oklahoma City. Former NBA star Peja Stojakovic, who was born in the Year of the Snake, will host a viewing party on Feb. 7 to watch the Los Angeles Lakers play Boston at the house of a fan and celebrate a traditional New Year’s eve dinner.

“What I would like to do is create engagement on both sides of the ocean, for our fans in the United States and our fans in China,” Shoemaker said. “Just as the fans of the NBA get excited to see the Christmas day lineup, they’ll begin to have the same affection for the Chinese New Year and look forward to it every year.”

With Yao Ming retiring in 2011 and Yi Jianlian returning to China after five seasons in the NBA, the league doesn’t have a Chinese-born player for the first time in 12 years. But the NBA continues efforts to expand its reach in the world’s largest nation by is promoting an NBA training school, working closely with the Chinese Basketball Association to develop and train coaches.

It also began working in collaboration with Yao, who will have a yet-to-be-determined role in the festivities. “I believe that the league, the NBA still has a very big influence in China,” Yao said. “Basketball is a very popular sport, all over the world. Everybody loves to play it.”

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