Long before the NBA arrived, missionaries, revolutionaries, and communists helped make the game ubiquitous here.
LeBron James smiles during a photo session with university student volunteers in Shanghai / Reuters
Inside the cobblestone courtyard of the Forbidden City and surrounded by six-century-old palaces lies an unexpected sight for foreign tourists. As they walk under the giant portrait of Mao Zedong and pour through the dark archway of the Tiananmen rostrum, they arrive at two well-maintained basketball courts, their green astroturf and gray concrete clashing with the ancient crimson columns and the dusty yellow tiles.
Basketball is never out of place in modern China. Its ubiquitous presence often surprises first-time visitors, many of whom consider the sport quintessentially western. Ambling in quiet street parks in early mornings or walking by urban high school campuses in late afternoons, one hears chasing steps, a thumping ball, shouting voices, and the silence of anticipation followed by joyous cheers. Driving along unpaved roads on China's inland plateaus and steppes, one starts to notice the basketball stands and hoops flashing by -- lone statures amid wooden shacks and wild grass. Outside the manufacturing plants that sprinkle the nation's east coast, workers swarm into basketball courts after finishing their shifts to stretch the limbs numbed by long hours on the production lines and to break the monotonous daily routine with sweat and laughter.