NEW YORK (AP) — Han Xu naturally grew up idolizing Yao Ming, mesmerized by the giant shadow the 7-foot-6 Hall of Famer cast every time he stepped onto an NBA court.
Standing 6-10, Han would like to emulate Yao’s impact – including his influence on the sport in China. She wants to be a leading woman in basketball in her native country.
Han is on his way. Fans can’t seem to get enough of the 22-year-old budding star.
“Han and Li (Yueru) created hype online and offline. Many girls have been inspired by Han and Li, and we have numbers to show that more girls have started participating in basketball at all levels,” said Chinese basketball analyst Michael Yuan, founder from Team Fountainhead. and other types of user-generated content on the Chinese social media platform. »
Han’s highlights have garnered millions of views on streaming platforms in China. Kuaishou, a global social media platform, recently hosted a livestream session with her which generated around 1.6 million views.
Han and the 6-7 Li, who is with the chicago sky, are the latest of half a dozen Chinese players to have spent time in the WNBA. The first to make an impact in the league was Haixia Zheng, who averaged 8.9 points in two seasons with the Los Angeles Sparks in 1997 and 1998 – starting 21 games in his first year.
“Local players like Han Xu and Li Yueru who succeed at the highest level are attracting the interest of passionate Chinese basketball fans and inspiring Chinese youth to play the game,” said Jonathan Li, senior vice president of the NBA China.
Chinese fans discovered Han and Li Yueru during their stints with the Olympic team that finished fifth in Tokyo. But their fan base has grown since both were drafted in 2019 – Han in the second round, Li in the third.
“I was very honored to be able to come here to fulfill my dream in 2019,” Han said through a translator. “At that time, I just wanted to grow gradually, to learn from veteran players who compete in the basketball league at the highest level in the world.
“And I also hoped that I could promote the sport in China with my influence here.”
Like his childhood hero: the 7-6 Yao.
“He had a very successful career in the NBA and he also promoted sports culture in China so that now more Chinese people enjoy watching basketball,” Han said. “I hope I can exert some influence on the WNBA as well, and then transfer my influence to my country and allow more fans to see the performance of a Chinese player.”
Neither Han nor 6-7 Li, who turned 23 in March, were born when Zheng was doing his WNBA thing in Los Angeles.
The Houston Rockets made Yao the first overall pick in the 2002 NBA draft. He has become an ambassador for the game in China and is currently a Chinese basketball executive.
Although Han and Li are still honing their skills, player popularity is on the rise in China.
Han is averaging 9.2 points and shooting nearly 54 percent from the field while playing about 18 minutes per game for the Liberty. Li hasn’t been as successful, averaging just 2 points per game in Chicago.
When they played in New York last month, a handful of Chinese media were present. The player interviews have attracted millions of views in China. They will face off again on Saturday and it will be broadcast live in China.
“The population of Chinese basketball fans is huge,” Li said through a translator. could benefit me and Han Xu, but could also benefit the WNBA.
Han and Li both excelled in the offseason in the Chinese Basketball League which had WNBA players such as Maya Moore and Sylvia Fowles play in it.
“When I was growing up, there were a lot of female WNBA players that I looked up to,” Li said.) all of those aspects, they do a great job. They are excellent.
Han has shown flashes that she could be a dominant force in the WNBA. She scored a career-high 24 points against Las Vegas earlier this month.
“I think it’s a great honor that domestic fans can watch WNBA games on TV in China,” Han said. “I think when the fans in China watch my play in the league, they can get a better idea of the development of the sport in China overseas.”
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