With their arena located in the heart of Chinatown, the Washington Wizards are set to take part in the NBA’s inaugural celebration of Chinese New Year beginning on Sunday with their game against Boston at Verizon Center.
The game will be broadcast live in China on CCTV, which along with other Chinese networks has partnered with the league as it seeks to expand its reach into the world’s most populous country at the start of the lunar calendar’s Year of the Dragon.
The Wizards are one of two teams (Golden State is the other) that will feature in-arena activities honoring Chinese culture. Some of the activities include calligraphy, table tennis and tai chi demonstrations as well as a performance from the Wong People Chinese Lion Dancers.
“The goal is to give back to our fans in a fun and meaningful way through exciting live games, customized programming, special player greetings and a variety of fan events in China and the U.S.,” Heidi Ueberroth, the NBA’s president of international development, wrote in an e-mail. “It is a program that we would certainly like to continue and expand upon in the coming years.”
Players from Washington and Boston will wear specially designed Chinese New Year shooting shirts, and former Bullets great Bob Dandridge along with Chinese officials are scheduled to participate in the waking of the lions ceremony. Dandridge was part of the 1978 Bullets championship that visited China in 1979 with a delegation that included then-owner Abe Pollin.
China is the NBA’s No. 1 market outside the United States, according to the league, which estimates more than 300 million Chinese play the basketball. More than 1,300 NBA games were shown in China last season.
The league also is promoting basketball development in China with the first NBA training school. The CBA Dongguan Basketball School in the country ages 12 to 17. Those students receive tutelage from a former NBA coach as well as an NBA curriculum. The NBA additionally is in the third year of a joint coaching program with the Chinese Basketball Association to develop coaches in China.
The NBA received a huge bump in China when Yao Ming was a rookie in 2002-03. Ming retired, though, and is pursuing other interests after playing just five games last season, and the league is searching for a new Chinese superstar around which it can market to the country.
“Yao was a transformational player and unbelievable ambassador for the game,” Ueberroth wrote. “He helped build a bridge between our two countries which in many ways paved the way for this type of event.”
Chinese basketball fans were hoping Yi Jianlian would emerge as the next standout player from China, but the No. 6 overall pick by Milwaukee in 2007 has been slow to develop. The 7-foot Yi spent last season with in Washington, where he was a fan favorite, and has played in four games this season with Dallas.