Sports / Basketball

A star in the making

By Xu Jingxi In Dongguan, Guangdong (China Daily) Updated: 2014-09-04 07:38

Youngster shines in front of NBA stars at Yao's charity event

Lu Kuan felt like a superstar on campus during the first day of the new semester. The sixth grader at a primary school in suburban Jinan, Shandong province, was surrounded by schoolmates who had watched the broadcast of Sunday's charity basketball game in which the 12-year-old boy played with NBA champion Tony Parker in a top-class arena in Dongguan, Guangdong province.

"Tony Parker passed a ball to me and said 'nice shot!' to me," Lu said of his encounter with the San Antonio Spurs' star guard.

"I've watched him playing basketball on TV and I never expected that I would get the opportunity to play with him. It was surreal. It was like a dream."

A charity project initiated by Yao Ming, China's basketball great, made the dream come true.

Lu was selected into the 10-member representative team from more than 1,000 participants in this year's Yao Foundation Hope Primary School basketball season. The team went onto the court to play against primary school students from Dongguan during a break in the star-studded Yao Foundation Charity Game.

Co-launched in 2007 with NBA guard Steve Nash, the game between star players from the NBA and the Chinese Basketball Association was staged for the fourth time on Aug 31.

The Chinese team, comprising members of the Chinese national junior men's team beat their NBA opponents, led by Parker and twice NBA championship winner Shane Battier, for the first time, 119-100.

But the result was probably the least important aspect of the show, which is aimed at arousing the public's interest through its star power while also raising donations to support the Yao Foundation's charity cause, which is focused on bringing the joy of sports to children in underdeveloped areas of China.

The 2014 Yao Foundation Charity Game raised 7 million yuan ($1.14 million) from ticket sales, charity auctions of jerseys, shoes and basketballs with players' autographs, and donations before and during the game.

"The combination of sport and charity is unique. Charity is not only about donations of money and materials but, more importantly, it is also about hands-on experiences," Yao said.

"And to understand sport, you must throw yourself into it to get personal experiences."

Yao set an "unimaginably big" stage for the children selected from the Hope primary school basketball season to get close to the superstars and enjoy the feeling of running on the court in front of a large crowd.

About 16,000 were present at the event and were very vocal in their support of Lu and the other young players. There are usually no more than 10 people on hand when Lu plays for his school in Jinan.

"When I was a 10-year-old, I wanted to interact with those basketball stars on TV so badly, like any other kid. I want to create such an opportunity for today's basketball-loving kids to not only sit beside basketball stars and watch them play but also to go onto the court where the stars play to experience the excitement for themselves," Yao said.

The passionate charity advocate compared the charity game to the popular Ice Bucket Challenge, an activity to promote awareness of the amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) disease and encourage donations for research.

"(Like the Ice Bucket Challenge) the charity game focuses people's attention on what we do and who we are paying attention to. That is the Hope primary school students," Yao said.

"Unlike children in cities whose time after school is crammed with all kinds of extracurricular classes, children in remote areas have a dull extracurricular life with few opportunities to learn something new or take part in physical exercises.

"So we recruit college students, train them and then send them to these areas as volunteer basketball coaches to bring sport into local children's extracurricular lives. Because I believe that sport not only gives people a strong body but also a better character with a strong will, team spirit, leadership and the positive a attitude towards winning and losing."

For the young participants in the charity game, basketball is an open window for them to learn more about the world. For Yao, it is more about life than just sport, he said.

"Basketball is my friend and it has let me make more friends. The game has received support from Chinese basketball players and NBA players, many of whom I used to fight with side-by-side. Now we have the opportunity for a reunion because of basketball and I'm grateful for what they have done for charity," Yao said.

Battier, Yao's former teammate at the Houston Rockets, praised Yao as "one of the purest hearts" that one could ever come across.

"I had the fortune to have played with him for five years. He always cheered for my charity foundation and I'm glad that I was able to come to support Yao and his foundation which has done great work here in China," Battier said. "It's a tremendous experience."

Parker was impressed by the young Chinese players' performances.

"Actually, I'm happily surprised (by the children). They played really good. They had good ball handling. They played with a lot of energy and were very fun to watch," he said.

The four-time NBA championship winner may be even more surprised down the track when those boys and girls grow up. Lu, who delivered an outstanding performance on Sunday and scored eight points, said the experience has encouraged him to pursue a career in basketball.

"Now I want to become a basketball star and the pride of China like Yao Ming and to play on an even bigger stage," Lu said.

 A star in the making

Chinese basketball great Yao Ming is using his influence to bring children to the courts and raise people's awareness of his charity through hosting the annual Yao Foundation Charity Game. Provided to China Daily

(China Daily 09/04/2014 page23)

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