China's fans all in for NBA All-Star Game

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A message to show support for China's fight against COVID-19 appeared on the jumbotron at the 2020 NBA All-Star Game in Chicago, Illinois.

China's hoops fans again showed their immense passion for the NBA All-Star Game by casting millions of votes in the online ballot for the annual extravaganza.

With the vote accounting for 50 per cent of the decision on who will start NBA All-Star 2021, players have been feeling the love from Chinese fans raring to see their heroes light up the court at State Farm Arena in Atlanta on March 7.

"A big 'Thank You' to all my fans in China! Cheers to being an All-Star again. Never take it for granted!" wrote four-time NBA All-Star Joel Embiid on Weibo.

The Philadelphia 76ers powerhouse will play as an Eastern Conference starter along with two-time reigning league MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo of the Milwaukee Bucks, Bradley Beal of the Washington Wizards and Kyrie Irving of the Brooklyn Nets.

The East's team captain Kevin Durant announced on Friday that he will miss the game due to injury and is replaced by Boston Celtics forward Jayson Tatum in the starting lineup.

Los Angeles Lakers megastar LeBron James will captain a Western Conference squad whose starters also include Steph Curry of the Golden State Warriors, Luka Doncic of the Dallas Mavericks, Kawhi Leonard of the Los Angeles Clippers and Nikola Jokic of the Denver Nuggets.

"NBA All-Star in Atlanta will continue our annual tradition of celebrating the game and the greatest players in the world before a global audience," said NBA commissioner Adam Silver.

After making the grade for this year's All-Star lineup, the 26-yearold Jokic posted a video on Weibo to express his gratitude to fans in China-although the Serbian's attempts to speak in Chinese proved considerably more difficult than draining a 3-pointer.

"I'm Jokic, Teacher Jo (his Chinese nickname). And go Nuggets! I love you all!" said Jokic, who needed the help of an interpreter to say the simple sentences.

Chinese NBA fans' fervor for the All-Star vote can be traced back to the time when Yao Ming played in the league. The Chinese legend joined the Houston Rockets in 2002 and played his first All-Star game in 2003.

The NBA began offering All-Star ballots in three languages-English, Spanish and Chinese-for the fan vote in 2003. Yao was voted to start for the West ahead of Shaquille O'Neal, who was coming off three straight NBA Finals MVP awards. Yao received nearly a quarter million more votes than O'Neal to become the first rookie to start in the All-Star Game since Grant Hill in 1995.

Yao notched 16 points in the 2004 NBA All-Star Game-his best haul from his eight appearances in the showpiece.

Yao, now 40, described his NBA career as a very important and precious experience that has helped him make many friends all over the world, as well as strengthening the relationship between China and the US.

Yao said that due to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, exchanges between China and the US in politics, the economy, culture and sports have slowed down, and there have been differences on certain issues.

He stressed that these differences are not insurmountable, adding that it is now important to find solutions to these problems.

"Seeking common ground when differences exist in communication will eventually bring mutual respect and trust," Yao said.

That was before he was named NBA Rookie of the Month after averaging 12.1 points and 6.6 rebounds per game in December 2007.

In recent years, Chinese fans have missed having one of their own to cheer in the NBA. However, the significance of the Chinese market has never changed for the league, which always uses the All-Star Game to connect with its fan base in the world's most populous nation.

In 2017, for example, kids from Jr. NBA China were invited on an All-Star Weekend experience in New Orleans; two years later the league used virtual signage during the All-Star Game to wish Chinese fans a "Happy Lantern Festival".

Last year, the NBA acknowledged China's fight against the coronavirus when a message which read "Stay Strong Wuhan" was displayed on the jumbotron at the All-Star Game.

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