NBA Players In China

Why do NBA Players Go To Play Basketball In China?

In its 76-year-old history, only 4,706 have ever played at least one game in the NBA. We are all familiar with the names such as Michael Jordan, LeBron James, or Magic Johnson who were good enough to spend their entire career in the NBA. However, there were numerous players throughout history who started in the NBA, but for various reasons had to play overseas at some stage of their career.

Usually taken as the main reason, most players are playing for minimum contracts in the NBA. In order to get better contracts, they go to China or Europe and play bigger roles in their teams.

Next to money, one of the main reasons is injuries. To rehabilitate their career, they go to China to play with lower intensity to recover so they could fight for a new NBA contract in the future.

Whatever the reason, there are plenty of opportunities for NBA players looking for work during the winter months!

Reasons Why NBA Players End Up in China

NBA Players In China

Prolonging their Basketball Careers

NBA players see China as a way to extend their basketball careers and play for longer periods of time. This is especially true for older NBA players who have been released or have not been re-signed by NBA teams and are awaiting the end of the NBA lockout.

Former NBA All-Star Stephon Marbury left the NBA league to play in China. He was playing in NBA for 13 years and decided to go to China in 2010 when he was 33 and finished his career as a 41-year-old playing for Beijing Royal Fighters.

Playing in a Lower Pressure Environment

NBA players also travel to China to play in a less stressful environment. This is especially true for NBA players who have had a bad season or have been traded to a team they don’t want to play for.

After the shooting incident, while playing for the Washington Wizards, Gilbert Arena‘s career was on the decline. After trying to stay in the NBA, non of the clubs was willing to offer him a contract, so he decided to finish his career in China in a lower-pressure environment. His last professional season was with Shangai Sharks in 2013, where he averaged 20.7 PPG.

Rehabilitation after Injuries or Surgery

Other times, injured NBA players will travel overseas to complete rehab on injuries that aren’t considered severe enough to necessitate surgery.

Though it can be difficult in some cases because if you’re coming off an injury, your team may only want you fit before allowing you to play again, NBA players will also go for rehabilitation for more serious injuries such as ACL tears.

The most notable example is Greg Oden. The first pick in the 2007 NBA Draft, a player who was selected before Kevin Durant, tried to rehabilitate his career playing in China in the 2015-16 season in order to attempt an NBA comeback for the next season.

Out-of-Work Players/Free Agents

NBA players who are out of work or have been released by NBA teams may find that playing professionally in China is their only option.

It allows them to keep their skills sharp and earn money while looking for another NBA contract.

By the end of his career, Tracy McGrady decided to go to China after getting cut or being offered a minimum contract from NBA teams. In 2012, McGrady signed a one-year deal with the Qingdao DobuleStar Eagles of the CBA. He averaged 25 PPG, 7.2 RPG, and 5.1 APG which helped him to earn a new NBA contract with the San Antonio Spurs.

Enjoy Playing Basketball Overseas

Some NBA players simply enjoy playing basketball in other countries, particularly against different opponents. This is true for many American players who travel to Europe to play.

Although the level of competition is not as high as in the NBA, the experience of playing in a new country can be rewarding. NBA players who travel to China frequently enjoy themselves for this reason.

To give the example, in 2011 during the NBA Lockout, most NBA players went overseas to keep their form. Their contracts had a clause that when the Lockout ends they are free to get back to their clubs in NBA. However, one player liked playing in China and had no such clause. JR Smith played the entire season for Zhejiang Golden Bulls before returning to the NBA and winning the championship with the Cleveland Cavaliers in 2016.

Former NBA Players in China

Throughout the years, many NBA players have played in China. Some saw it as a way to revitalize their careers. Others saw it as a final stop before retiring from basketball entirely. In any case, playing in China has become an increasingly popular option for NBA players seeking new opportunities outside of America’s top professional league.

Most notable players that played in China include numerous All-Stars and First All-NBA Team members such as:

  • Stephon Marbury
  • Tracy McGrady
  • JR Smith
  • Al Harrington
  • Ty Lawson
  • Metta World Peace
  • Kenyon Martin
  • Gilbert Arenas

Is the NBA Popular in China?

The NBA is becoming increasingly popular in China. The NBA has a dedicated channel that broadcasts live Mandarin-language games. This is due to the NBA’s view of China as a massive potential market for its products and services. Over the last few years, the league has invested heavily in marketing and promotion in China, and it appears to be paying off.

Basketball is thus one of the most popular sports in the country. This massive pool of players represents a sizable potential market for the NBA. Furthermore, Chinese companies are beginning to invest in NBA teams.

As NBA-China relations improve, we can expect to see an increasing number of NBA players play in China.

Basketball Leagues in China

NBA Players In China

Chinese Basketball Association (CBA)

The CBA is China’s top-tear basketball league. Founded in 1995, the league consists of 20 teams, split into North and South Divisions. The top 12 finishers in the regular season will advance to the playoffs, which include rounds of 12, quarterfinals, semifinals, and finals.

The most successful team in the CBA is the Guandong Southern Tigers with 11 titles won in the league’s 28-year-old history.

Each club is allowed a maximum of four imported players on its roster but is permitted to play only one of those at any one time on the court.

National Basketball League (NBL)

The National Basketball League is the second tier of Chinese basketball (NBL).

The NBL is regarded as the CBA’s developmental league. Many of the players in this league are prospects aspiring to play at the highest level of Chinese basketball. This league may not have as many high-quality games as the NBA, but it’s still worth watching if you’re interested in Chinese basketball.

Chinese University Basketball Association (CUBA)

Founded in 1996 and launched in 1998, CUBA is the most popular and most competitive college basketball competition in China. The league currently consists of 33 teams, split into 4 divisions. The top two teams from each division qualify for the CUBA Big Eight (quarter-finals).

Similar to that of the NCAA, the rules of CUBA grant eligibility only to amateur players. CUBA was originally intended to mirror the NCAA Men’s basketball.

Yao Ming | The Best Chinese Export to the NBA

Several Chinese players have made their way to the NBA. Yao Ming has undoubtedly been the most successful. He was drafted first overall by the Houston Rockets in 2002 and played eight seasons in the NBA.

Yao Ming is widely regarded as being responsible for the growing popularity of basketball in China. He was a fantastic player who averaged 19 points, 9.2 rebounds, and 1.6 assists per game during his career. He was also an eight-time All-Star and three-time China gold medalist at FIBA Asia Cup.

NBA Players In China

Yao Ming became a co-owner of the Shanghai Sharks after retiring from the NBA in 2011 (the team he played for before entering the NBA). He also founded the Yao Ming Foundation, which is dedicated to assisting China’s underprivileged.

Yao Ming will be remembered as one of the most influential Chinese basketball players of all time – not just in his home country but all over the world!


We hope you enjoyed this blog post about why some NBA players go to China to play basketball! As previously stated, the NBA is becoming more popular in China as a result of the league’s marketing efforts and increased investment from Chinese companies. Thank you for taking the time to read this!


Enter your email to join our community.

Similar Posts