7 Reasons Why You Should Start Paying Attention to Chinese Basketball

Basketball in China

The world’s most populous nations is now its most basketball-mad. As a fan and bettor, you need to start paying attention to China.

China’s meteoric rise has dominated headlines and political debates for the past decade. No longer a backward, impoverished nation of peasants, the People’s Republic is now punching its weight on the international stage.

China boasts the world’s second largest economy and a military that can finally measure up to Western standards. By all hard measures of power, the Middle Kingdom is gaining on the US as the world leader, and fast.

But when it comes to soft power, China is still lagging. Its pop culture is confined mostly to its own borders and the millions of ethnic Chinese scattered around the globe, whereas America, European, and even Russian cultural products are consumed worldwide.

There is one area, however, where China is catching up. And that’s in the game of basketball. Roundball has long been a favorite athletic pursuit among Chinese, and over the past two decades they’ve built one of the world’s best professional leagues.

The Chinese Basketball Association

The game of basketball was the only foreign athletic import to survive the Cultural Revolution of the 1960s. Mao himself was a fan of the game. Its popularity increased even more after 1987, when the NBA began broadcasting games for free on Chinese television.

American stars Michael Jordan and John Stockton gained serious followings, and later players such as Kobe Bryant, Kevin Garnett and Lebron James became massive celebrities. In 1994 the government launched the Chinese Basketball Association, the country’s first-ever professional league.

• Yao was the first-ever Chinese basketball star
• Former NBA players Stephon Marbury, Andrey Blatch and Metta World Peace play in China
• Emmanuel Mudiay signed a $2.5 million contract with the Dongguan Southern Tigers

In the association’s early days the quality of play was extremely poor, but as the country’s economy grew, teams could invest more in facilities and player development. Most importantly, teams started shelling out money for American players. Former NBA player John Spencer was the first American to hit Chinese shores in 1996, and many more have followed since then.

China eventually produced some world-class athletes of its own; MengkeBateer, Wang Zhizhi and Yao Ming each reached the NBA during 2001-2002, and Yao was the first Chinese basketballer ever to become a legitimate star. The Chinese Basketball Association is largely dominated by American imports sprinkled with a few Europeans, but there are more and more quality homegrown players.

The Series

The CBA is now the world’s second-best basketball league after the NBA. The league has no shortage of quality players. It has no shortage of weird storylines either, ranging from the mildly amusing to the utterly jaw-dropping. Here are a few reasons why, as a basketball fan or sports bettor, you should tune in this season:

#1: Emmanuel Mudiay’s Chinese gamble

The year 2014 brought major fanfare to the CBA when 18-year old prep phenomEmmanualMudiay announced that he would forgo a scholarship to play at SMU and instead sign a $2.5 million contract with the Dongguan Southern Tigers of the CBA.

Mudiay is considered the top under-20 prospect in the world and a leading candidate to be selected first overall in the 2015 NBA Draft. But was coming to China really the right decision?

#2: The CBA is the world’s most insane sports league

The quality of the CBA has improved by leaps and bounds since its inaugural season 20 years ago. But it still retains a lot of its initial weirdness. In some ways—the league is home to a motley crew of guys like God Shammgod, Metta World Peace and Stephon Marbury—that’s a good thing.

In other ways—atrocious officiating, teams refusing to pay player salaries, and stat-lines that belong in a video game—things could stand to improve. All-in-all, the CBA brings a weird factor that the NBA could never hope to match.

#3: Basketball became the biggest sport in China

Basketball has a unique history in China that dates back more than 100 years. The sport survived the Cultural Revolution and its popularity picked up steam during the late 1980s when the NBA made a concerted effort to market to Chinese consumers.

A true watershed moment, however, was Yao’s arrival in the NBA in 2002. Yao was the first-ever Chinese sports star in America, a man who became a trans-Pacific celebrity and an ambassador of the game. Yao has done more than anyone to bring the CBA and NBA together.

#4: The hard facts about betting on basketball in China

Chinese gambling laws prohibit sportsbetting in all of its forms, and 2014 saw a serious state crackdown on illegal gambling. These measures don’t seem to do anything to deter sportsbettors, however.

The Chinese people spend roughly $160 billion betting on sports annually, much of which is wagered on CBA and NBA games. And several leading international online sportsbooks cater specifically to Chinese players, even making their websites accessible in Mandarin.

#5: The best Chinese Basketball Association players and teams

The CBA offers tons of great options for online and mobile betting, featuring a full cast of competitive teams and exciting players. If you’re considering placing wagers on CBA lines or props, don’t overlook this list of seven top teams and players.

#6: The CBA is no longer a dumping ground for washed-up American stars

John Spencer wasn’t exactly a hot commodity in American basketball when he chose to sign a contract with a CBA team in 1996. Neither were the guys who followed him, including re-treads like Ike Austin and Lamond Murray as well as young guys trying to make it like Chris Andersen and God Shammgod.

Fast forward a decade and a half, and the picture looks a lot different. Future superstar Emmanuel Mudiay came over to China, as did Andrey Blatche, who forwent a big contract offer by the Brooklyn Nets.

#7: The players who will determine the future of Chinese basketball

To date only five Chinese-born players have ever graced the NBA: Yao, Yi Jianlian, Wang Zhizhi, MengkeBateer and Sun Yue, and among those, only Yao had a successful NBA career.

It’s high time that the People’s Republic produced a new star to carry Yao’s torch. Luckily for basketball fans everywhere, there are some electrifying young talents coming through the pipeline, led by 7-footers Wang Zhelin and Zhou Qi.

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