Chinese Youngsters Celebrate their New Year at NBA All-Star Weekend

Young Chinese fans watching the Celebrity Game

By Athena Liu
Medill Reports

For some young people in China, the Chinese New Year has become a time to get away from daily life and follow their passion. This year, instead of celebrating the festival with their families, some Chinese youngsters traveled to Los Angeles to treat themselves at the 2018 NBA All-Star Weekend.

After a long year working at a bank in Hangzhou, China, Johnny Chen, 27, said he decided to take his girlfriend to do something exciting for the holiday. A self-described huge NBA fan, Chen believed if he ever traveled to the United States, it would be to see at least some of the All-Star festivities.

The couple spent six days sightseeing in LA, watched the Rising Stars Challenge on Friday, then went to the All-Star practice session on Saturday before heading back home.

Although travelling to LA meant not being able to gather with family, Chen said his parents were unexpectedly supportive. He, on the other hand, felt a bit upset upon arriving.

“The games were cool, but the atmosphere of New Year was down here,” said Chen, who also said he was unable to talk to his parents because of the 16-hour time difference.

The trip cost Chen more than $4,500, but he said it paid off when they sat down in the arena and the superstars they had only before seen on television were now in front of them.

“If you are real basketball fan, you know it’s worth it,” he said after watching the All-Star practice.

The NBA All-Star Weekend has long been an essential part of the New Year’s celebration for Chinese basketball fans, but in recent years, some youngsters who are more into pop music joined the group. Their reason? Chinese pop star Kris Wu.

Months ago, Queren Ma, a finance practitioner from Shanghai, bought tickets to the All-Star Celebrity Game without knowing for sure if her idol Wu, who has played in two consecutive Celebrity games, would be back this year.

“You don’t wait until the roster is announced,” she said. “That would make buying tickets harder.”

Ma had never been to the U.S., but said she did not hesitate to book the flight the moment Wu was officially announced to be on the Celebrity Game roster.

What if Wu did not make it?

“I’d sell my tickets then,” she said.

Ma was not a veteran basketball fan. She said she only started watching basketball when she started following Wu.

“He loves basketball and hip-hop,” she said. “I get to learn more about these cultures because of him.”

Ma attended the game with friends from Wu’s fan club and said she was glad that her family approved of her celebrating the Chinese New Year without them.

“I stay with them all the time, so it doesn’t matter to be absent for a few days during the holiday,” she said.

Ma’s parents also went on a trip, and the family shared their travel experiences on WeChat every day.

Ma said she believed as their lives improved in recent years, most Chinese people could travel on the New Year and still connect with families and friends via the Internet. Every day feels like the New Year’s Day, she said, so the significance to do these things on that specific day has become less crucial.

While others were trying to find exciting ways to celebrate the Chinese New Year, Xiaoming Shen had a much less common concern. Having worked in Japan for more than a decade, Shen married a Japanese woman whose family does not celebrate the Chinese New Year.

“I am kind of alone in this,” Shen said.

While trying to find some recreation during the holiday, he said he found out All-Star Weekend would be held in LA this year. Shen then set up a business trip to his company’s LA branch around the Chinese New Year week so that he could spend the weekend watching NBA games.

“My goal was the All-Star game,” Shen said while lining up outside the Staples Center gift shop. He did not get the ticket, but managed to see his favorite basketball player, Russell Westbrook at the practice session open to the public.

“I think it’s good to have some regrets. I may go to Charlotte next year, maybe even Chicago [in 2020],” he said.

Shen said he was still happy about the trip.

“For me,” he said, “the best gift for the Chinese New Year is the freedom to follow my true passion.”


Photo at top: Young Chinese fans watching the Celebrity Game during the 2018 NBA All-Star Weekend. (Athena Liu/Medill)