This year, the Chinese Basketball Association (CBA) will stage its All-Star Game in Nanjing, Jiangsu Province on March 5 after the 40th round of the regular season comes to an end.
According to Li Jinsheng, the league's spokesperson, to avoid simply replicating the way the US' NBA works, the Chinese league will introduce a wuxia spirit into its All-Star Game.
Wuxia is a distinct genre of Chinese literature and filmmaking that is popular among younger generations. Wu means martial arts and xia means chivalry, and wuxia stories usually involve virtuous characters undergoing arduous trials for a noble cause, alongside improbable fight scenes.
"The CBA aims to establish a unique and attractive brand by injecting the wuxia concept into its All-Star Game. We made a Flash film depicting players as kung fu masters to promote it in a fresh and new way," said Zhang Qing, vice director of Zenith Media, the CBA's publicity company.
Off court, the all-star players will also practice principles of chivalrousness by participating in public welfare work, such as teaching basketball in schools for children of migrant workers.
Zhang explained that they hope to cooperate with China Youth Development Foundation to combine basketball with public service. "Children of migrant workers often long for attention. To learn basketball from the stars is conducive to both their physical and psychological health."
To live up to the new season's slogan of "My Team, My Game, My CBA" and include more fans, the organizers have invited some to attend the All-Star Game for free.
"One of the most obvious advantages of the CBA is that it feels a strong affinity for domestic fans, because they can enjoy themselves in various activities held by the association. Although we are incapable of competing with the NBA in technical fields like lighting, we will exert every effort to play to our strengths," Zhang added.
With only several days remaining, a lack of sponsorship is still hindering the upcoming All-Star Game. An anonymous official at the Jiangsu Provincial Sports Bureau said that so far they couldn't find sponsors for the game or the teams and that "the CBA should take the blame."
The association had taken a long time to choose between Xinjiang and Jiangsu to host the game before coming to a decision in February. Xinjiang had promised that it would have no trouble in finding money, but the CBA decided against it on the grounds that it would be harder to get to and had a harsher climate.
"If the association had given us three months to plan, we would have been sure to make it the best game," said the official.
Other difficulties include CBA restrictions on sponsorship sources. The host city is prohibited from deals with companies involved in banking, beverages, sports goods and another four categories of companies who have previously sponsored the league.
In addition, the fact that, at time of going to press, CCTV hadn't confirmed whether it would be broadcasting the game or not didn't help attract sponsors.
Some companies would have got involved with a view to using the players' images to advertise their products. But the association rules say that images of five players must be used alongside each other on the game's publicity materials, but not used on other products.
The Jiangsu official said the CBA had been overly optimistic about the marketing value of the All-Star Game, since it started much later than its US equivalent. Despite the excitement it has created, basketball culture has not yet developed enough in China to guarantee commercial interest.
Liao Shuhui, director of the Jiangsu Provincial Sports Bureau Athletic Administration Center, also said, "We are not very positive about the effect of the game."
While association and local officials struggle to secure sponsorship, tickets for the game are selling like hot cakes, with average 200 yuan (US$24) tickets selling out. The price of a VIP package is 888 yuan (US$107).
Roster for the All-Star Game (voted by fans via sina.com and released on February 25):
Coach: Jiang Xingquan, Min Lulei
Forward: Jiao Jian (Beijing), Sun Jun (Jilin)
Center: Oyedeji Olumide (Beijing)
Guard: Guo Shiqiang (Liaoning), Zhang Yunsong (Beijing)
Coach: Hu Weidong, Li Chunjiang
Forward: Liu Yudong (Bayi), Zhu Fangyu (Guangdong)
Center: Yi Jianlian (Guangdong)
Guard: Liu Wei (Shanghai), Hu Xuefeng (Jiangsu)
(China.org.cn by Li Xiao, March 2, 2005)