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Basketball Game Reflects Intricate China-US Relationship

New York Liberty opened its WNBA preseason game against China’s national team on May 9 at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn. Han Xu, a former center of China’s national team, who was drafted by the Liberty and played in the WNBA for the first time, drew a lot of attention. That was not the only connection between the Liberty and China. Its owner Joseph Tsai, who purchased the team in January, is the vice chairman and a cofounder of China’s e-commerce giant Alibaba. In a pregame press conference, Tsai and Wang Xuan, president of the Chinese women’s basketball delegation, talked about the meaning of the game at a time when the Sino-U.S. relationship is going through a critical period.

Tsai said the Sino-U.S. relationship has entered an unusual and critical period. The relationship between the two biggest economies will affect world development over the next few decades. “So I am thrilled that China’s national women’s basketball team came to the U.S. for a tour and chose New York as the first stop,” said Tsai. “People’s interactions can help improve the understanding between the two countries. I am glad to be the host in New York.”

Wang said the relationship between China and the U.S. comes at a special time. And sports is the best embodiment of fairness and justice, and therefore, can often play an important role in enhancing diplomatic relationships. “In the past, ping pong diplomacy has helped deepen the friendship between the people of the two countries and helped the two countries to communicate with each other,” said Wang. “The good wishes of Chinese and American people are the same. They all want fairness and justice and to live a happy life.”

Wang also said that the U.S. women’s national basketball team had won gold medals in the Olympics and in the FIBA Women’s Basketball World Cup. To play against American teams can help the Chinese team discover their own weaknesses and improve. He said compared to its American counterpart, the Chinese team trails behind on basic skills, defense and the application of techniques. But he believes the team will be able to catch up after strenuous training.

Tsai gave high remarks to Han, the new player of the Liberty. “She was a top player in China. I watched the game at the World Cup last year when she played against the U.S. team as a member of team China. She scored 20 points, five rebounds and two blocks. Excellent performance,” said Tsai. “Her extroverted personality can help her cope well with the new environment in the U.S.”

Han, born in 1999, is 6’9’’. In the World Cup in 2018, she played in seven games, scoring an average of 8.3 points, 6.1 rebounds and 1.4 blocks for each game, which won her the titles of “Queen of rebounds” and “Queen of blocks” of the Chinese national team. Han was drafted by the Liberty on April 11 as the 14th pick overall. The Liberty, playing in the Eastern Conference of the WNBA, has never won a final championship. But it has qualified for the WNBA playoffs in 14 of its 20 years, and has played in the finals four times. An investment group led by Tsai purchased the team in January. Tsai also bought 49 percent of the stakes in the Brooklyn Nets in April 2018.

Asked his expectations of the Liberty, Tsai said he didn’t set a specific goal for the team, but “I hope the team can spend some time to build its group culture,” said Tsai. “Collaboration among team members is a must for a team to win a game. Han’s involvement can also help different cultures in the team merge together.”

Tsai also said his priority is to help the Liberty grow its fanbase and boost the value of the team. He said the game at the Barclays Center not only could enhance the understanding between people in China and in the U.S., but also show support to women athletes. “My daughter is a college sophomore and she likes sports,” said Tsai. “It is important for young women to be able to find their role models in the field. The leadership they gain in sports can also be helpful in their careers in the future.”

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