Videos

How the NBA became China’s favorite sports league

Apr 26, 2019

China is crazy about basketball, and if there’s any way to gauge just how basketball-crazy China is, look no further than the NBA’s account on Weibo, China’s Twitter.

The account has over 33 million followers, six million more than the NBA’s account on actual Twitter.

And last June, when the NBA playoffs were streamed on Weibo, the account had more than two billion views.

“Basketball has never been more popular in China,” NBA China chief David Shoemaker said during a 2017 announcement to open the NBA’s first basketball academy in China.

NBA China chief David Shoemaker (left) with Chinese NBA legend Yao Ming in Hong Kong in 2017.
NBA China chief David Shoemaker (left) with Chinese NBA legend Yao Ming in Hong Kong in 2017. / Photo: Nora Tam/SCMP

The real game-changer for the NBA came in 2015, when it signed a five-year partnership worth a reported $500 million with Chinese tech giant Tencent, the NBA’s largest international partnership to date.

Tencent, which boasts over 900 million online users, was given digital broadcasting rights for all NBA content.

Now, viewership on Tencent is double the average viewership of NBA games, according to a 2017 report by sports marketing company Mailman.

The 2017 NBA Finals attracted nearly 200 million viewers from China on mobile alone.

(Watch: How Hong Kong built its own pro wrestling league)

The NBA is now the most-followed league in China online. It’s seven times more discussed and has five times more followers than the top three European soccer leagues combined, according to Mailman.

The official NBA account on WeChat, China’s most popular messaging app, is now the most followed sports account on the platform and attracts a million total reads per month.

The potential for the NBA to expand even further in China is staggering. Among young Chinese, learning how to play basketball has become a rite of passage, something former NBA star Kobe Bryant understands.

Kobe Bryant visits China once a year to give basketball classes and do other promotional activities.
Kobe Bryant visits China once a year to give basketball classes and do other promotional activities. / Photo: AFP

“It’s huge,” Bryant said during the 2017 NBA academy announcement. “The NBA did wonders for me as a child. It inspired me to dream and helped me become creative.

“I’m very excited that the kids here also have that same opportunity to learn the history of the game, to put themselves in the shoes of their heroes.”

Watch our video to learn more about how basketball came to China.

Adapted from an article first published in the South China Morning Post.

SportsBasketballNBA (National Basketball Association)Yao MingKobe Bryant

Credit

Host and Producer: Dolly Li

Animation: Marisa Cruz and Ray Ngan

Videographer: Nicholas Ko

Mastering: Victor Peña

Journeys: