The Ultimate Guide to the Game of Basketball in China

The most prevalent sport in China is basketball, and Chinese people love it from pick-up games to live-streamed tournaments, in every shape and form. In fact, when you pass by a public sports complex in China on any given day, you’ll likely find a lot of people playing basketball in courts, and lots of people watching, too. The popularity of basketball in China has been supported by the Chinese Basketball Association, which hosts professional games in China.

If you are a fan of basketball and you’re curious about the game of basketball in China, then you’re in the right place. Today, we are giving you the ultimate guide to the game of basketball in China.

History of Basketball in China

In 1895, the Youth Men’s Christian Association or YMCA bought basketball to China, which is the same year that they established the first YMCA in Tianjin. This was four years after the first game of basketball was played at Spring Field College in Massachusetts, United States of America. Since the sport does not require many resources to be played, its popularity spread quickly. Its growth throughout China spread rapidly that it was an event in the 1910 and 1914 National Games, which was only 15 years after the first YMCA in China.

The popularity of basketball in China can also be because of the heavy involvement of the YMCA in the preparation of the events due to the failings of the Late Qing Dynasty. China began competing internationally in basketball during this time. It started in 1913 with the First Far Eastern Championship Games. This event was held in Manila, Philippines, where three countries competed, namely China, Japan, and the Philippines. Basketball was then voted upon by the citizens of China to be one of their two national sports together with ping pong in 1935.
In 1949, after the formation of the People’s Republic of China, the country looked to sports, including basketball, as a way to create diplomatic relations. This started within the Socialist Bloc, where China sent teams to compete against other socialist nations, including Romania, Hungary, and Czechoslovakia. In 1959, it eventually spread to other countries such as France and Switzerland.

In the 1970s, post ping pong diplomacy, teams were eventually traveling around the world, including the United States. In 1984, China won its first Olympic medal in Los Angeles, when the women’s team brought home a bronze medal after winning against Canada.
With the rise of the National Basketball Association’s popularity, the sport has reached its maximum popularity in China, as well. And this is largely because of Yao Ming becoming a hall of fame player in the United States.

The Chinese Basketball Association League

The Chinese Basketball Association or CBA is a national professional basketball league in China that a lot of people follow. It features old-school, up-tempo basketball that also has a lot of American players. It is the first-tier professional men’s basketball league in China and widely regarded as an outstanding professional men’s basketball league in Asia. The CBA league started in the 1995 to 1996 season. But it should not be confused with the Chinese Basketball Association (organization), which was created in June 1956, and represents China in matters involving FIBA, the sport’s governing body.

Aside from CBA, there are also other Chinese basketball leagues, such as the National Basketball League or NBL, the Chinese University Basketball Association or CUBA, and the Chinese High School Basketball League or CHBL. And before, there was also a league called the Chinese New Basketball Alliance or CNBA, one of whose most prominent teams was the Beijing Sea Lions. However, it only lasted for just one winter from 1996 to 1997.

Structure of the CBA League

There are currently 20 teams in the CBA league. The regular season is divided into 38 rounds. Each team plays each other twice, once at home and once on the road for a total of 38 games. There are eight teams that make the playoffs. The first round and semi-finals are both best-of-five, and the finals are best-of-seven. There’s also the CBA All-Star Weekend, which is held between the end of the regular season and the beginning of the playoffs.

Each basketball team can register up to two non-Asian or foreign players. And the worst five teams from the previous season are allowed to register a third Asian foreign. However, the Bayi Rockets are exempted because they are not allowed to have imports due to their affiliations with the People’s Liberation Army.

For the non-Asian players, they are allowed to play a combined six quarters per game. For example, if import A played in the entire first quarter and import B played in the entire second quarter, that would be a total of two quarters. Then, if they take the court together for the entire second half, it means that they would play two quarters each in the second half, making it a total of six combined quarters.

However, there’s an exception when playing against the Bayi Rockets. It’s because teams are only allowed to play their imports five combined quarters, and there’s only one import that is allowed to play in the fourth quarter. Foreign Asian players are also included in this rule.
Yao Ming playing basketball

Non-Chinese Players Who Played in the CBA League

Mihail Savinkov from Uzbekistan was the first non-Chinese player to compete in the CBA. He joined the Zheijang Squirrels in the inaugural 1995-1996 campaign of the league. Then, in the 1996 to 1997 season, James Hodges was the first Americans to play in the CBA. His signing with the Liaoning Hunters helped pave the way for many other imports from the United States to follow in the succeeding years.

Other notable foreign pioneers included John Spencer, who joined the Jiangsu Dragons in the 1996 to 1997 campaign, and David Vanterpool, who signed a deal with the Jilin Northeast Tigers the following winter. He also helped the team move up to the CBA in time for the 1998 to 1999 season.

There are also notable foreign players or imports who played in the CBA, including former NBA All-Stars, namely, Tracy McGrady, Stephon Marbury, Steve Francis, Metta World Peace, and Gilbert Arenas. Aside from them, there were also several NBA veterans who would become CBA All-Stars, including Aaron Brooks, Lester Hudson, Michael Beasley, Jimmer Fredette, Kenyon Martin, Al Harrington, J.R. Smith, Shavlik Randolph, and Randolph Morris.

Notable People in Chinese Basketball Game

Just like in the United States and many other parts of the world, there are also notable people in China when it comes to the game of basketball. Here are some of them:

  • Wang Zhizhi

    He’s a retired professional basketball player and the current head coach of the Bayi Rockets. He is very popular because he’s the first player from China to compete in the NBA.

  • Mengke Bateer

    He’s a retired player who played parts of three seasons in the NBA. He also spent the majority of his career competing in the Chinese Basketball Association.

  • Yao Ming

    He’s a basketball executive and retired professional basketball player. He played in the Chinese Basketball Association and National Basketball Association, and the only player from outside of the US to lead the NBA in All-Star Votes.

People in China truly love playing basketball. No wonder why China’s place in the global basketball order has been improving. And today, the CBA is now one of the top leagues of choice for many American and European players who miss the cut in the NBA, which was a bit unimaginable a decade ago.