January 23, 2008

Yao Ming: Just the Tip of the Iceberg

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Though lines to get into Chinese university libraries form around daybreak — students have to scramble to get their work done by 11 p.m. before campus-wide electricity shut downs — plenty of time is reserved for Prison Break, Carrie Underwood and snooker tennis. One extracurricular obsession, however, seems to dwarf them all: basketball. At Southeast University’s central campus in downtown Nanjing, rows upon rows of basketball courts are packed with students scrambling to get a Saturday morning pickup game in. And at The Sun’s meeting with Southeast University students, nearly everyone told us that they played basketball everyday before class. [img_assist|nid=26775|title=On the shoulders of society|desc=An advertisement in the Beijing subway highlights the popularity of basketball in China. Photo: Matt Hintsa|link=node|align=left|width=|height=0]
Basketball is also a profound symbol of Chinese national pride. On CCTV 5, Chinese Central Television’s equivalent of ESPN, most of the cycled highlights revolve around two NBA flagship players and Chinese heroes: Shanghai native Yao Ming of the Houston Rockets and rookie Jianlian Yi of the Milwaukee Bucks. NBA Interviews and public appearances are followed intensely by CCTV 5, and a play by Ming or Yi usually makes it into the daily Top 10. Even at The Forbidden City — home to the emperor and his family for almost 500 years — in the heart of Beijing, a lone basketball court lingers amidst 500 year-old architectural masterpieces. We knew that Yao Ming was good in the paint, but who knew that the Qing emperors had a little jump shot in them?