The Young Men’s Christian Association introduced basketball to China in the mid 1890s. More than a century later, Chinese hoops player Yao Ming became a cross-cultural celebrity when a US professional team chose him as the number one pick in the National Basketball Association’s 2002 draft. Yao was not the first Chinese to play pro basketball in the US—two men and one woman preceded him—but perhaps more than any other single event, his arrival illuminates China’s growing importance in the global sports marketplace.
Although basketball has been an important component of Chinese sports throughout its modern history, played in Republican and Communist eras alike, only recently has the game truly gained the status of a national sport. Its potential as a route to international recognition now over-shadows that of table tennis, while its popularity as both participant and spectator sport certainly rivals that of soccer.
In political terms, basketball already is a vehicle for Chinese regional assertion through the Asian Games, with men’s and women’s teams regularly winning regional championships over the past two decades.
In economic terms, basketball is seen as an emerging profit centre for both Chinese and multinational capital. The NBA already has a large fan base among young Chinese consumers, while China’s professional men’s league, launched in 1995, has attracted commercial sponsorship from a range of domestic and foreign companies. With foreign-born players increasingly important on NBA teams, and China recognized as a logical source of talent, the Chinese pro league is acquiring additional practical and symbolic significance as a training ground for world-calibre players.
Polumbaum, Judy (2002). ‘From Evangelism to Entertainment: The YMCA, the NBA, and the Evolution of Chinese Basketball’. Modern Chinese Literature and Culture 14.1 (Spring):178–230.

Encyclopedia of contemporary Chinese culture. . 2011.

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