LeBron and Lakers clinch NBA title — in front of Chinese state TV audience

Society & Culture

For the first time in a year, Chinese basketball fans were able to tune in to the NBA on Chinese state television — just in time to watch one of the country's most beloved teams win its 17th championship.

LeBron James wins NBA championship

After a year of no NBA on Chinese state television, Chinese audiences finally got to watch two games — Games 5 and 6 of the NBA finals, which aired live on Saturday and Monday morning local time.

“On the morning of October 10, the channel of CCTV Sports will broadcast the fifth game of the NBA finals,” CCTV announced on Weibo on Friday night. “Everyone is welcome to watch!”

In a further statement made on-screen, CCTV noted, “During the recent Chinese National Day and Mid-Autumn Festival celebrations, the NBA sent their well wishes to fans in China. We also took note of the league has been continuously delivering goodwill [to China], particularly making positive contributions to Chinese people’s fight against COVID-19 pandemic.”

Chinese state media’s ban on the NBA was a result of Houston Rockets GM Daryl Morey’s pro-Hong Kong protesters tweet on October 4.

The Los Angeles Lakers — one of the most beloved teams in China, thanks in large part to the late Kobe Bryant’s staggering popularity — clinched their 17th championship on Sunday night, beating the Miami Heat 106-93. LeBron James, who called Morey “misinformed” last October, is one of the most popular foreign athletes in China.

While the NBA had been off Chinese state television, it was not absent from Chinese screens entirely. Games were available for Chinese fans to stream via Tencent Sports, which showed up to three  regular season games per day.

The NBA has always been a big part of Chinese society, despite the ban. In January, the death of Kobe Bryant saw the Chinese ambassador to the United States tweet his condolences while mentioning the star’s role in “people-to-people exchanges.”

The following month, the Chinese consul general in New York publicly thanked the NBA for a $1.4 million donation to China to fight COVID-19.

And in May, the league promoted Michael Ma (马晓飞 Mǎ Xiǎofēi) to head of NBA China, making him the first Chinese national in that role.

Chinese state television lifts yearlong ban on NBA games, but nationalists want it to stay


Nike goes big on Chinese esports

Nike has released its first esports commercial for the Chinese market. The U.S. sportswear giant dropped the advert last week ahead of the League of Legends World Championship Finals, currently underway in Shanghai.

The Chinese esports market is booming, with a 55% growth in revenue during the first six months of the year, to more than $10.6 billion.

Nike recently signed League of Legends icon Uzi after the Chinese gamer announced his retirement from the sport.

During the final of the League of Legends World Championships last year, an estimated 104 million fans worldwide watched Chinese team FunPlus Phoenix take home the top prize.

However, FunPlus Phoenix did not make it into the finals this year. Instead, the Chinese representation will come from online retail giants Suning and JD Gaming, who founded esports teams in 2016 and 2017.

Incidentally, Nike is not the only sportswear brand with an interest in this year’s tournament. Chinese sporting apparel company Top Sports also has a team competing alongside JD and Suning.


National Table Tennis Championships conclude

The Chinese National Table Tennis Championships concluded last weekend with current world No. 1 Fán Zhèndōng 樊振东 (in yellow in the video above) defeating Mǎ Lóng 马龙 in the men’s final.

Fan, 23, was forced to come from 3 games to 1 down against the iconic Ma to claim a 4-3 win over the 32-year-old.

The final was a clash between the two outstanding players of their respective generations. Ma, who has been the face of Chinese ping-pong for a decade, showed that the old dog still had some fight left in him after falling behind in the first game.

But Fan pulled it out in the end. “I had been pressed and beaten in the next few games, but I kept telling myself not to give up,” he said post-match. “I had trouble with slow strokes. It’s not easy to adjust yourself in one match. Playing against Ma Long is very difficult; he goes all out in every game, and we all go all out.

“Ma Long’s mastery of seizing opportunities and offense-defense balancing when falling behind is No. 1 in the world. At this time, I had to adjust myself constantly. Get over when it’s difficult, pull through when I can’t handle — this is the most valuable thing I learn in this match.”

Elsewhere, the women’s world No. 1 Chén Mèng 陈梦 continued her unparalleled form this year, securing the singles and doubles titles during the tournament.

The 26-year-old has looked unbeatable at times this year and looks certain for Olympic gold next year if she can overcome her closest rival, Japan’s Ito Mima.

The China Sports Column runs every week on SupChina.