Noel Smith

3 minute read

Playing pick-up basketball games is one of my favorite ways to pass the time in China. When I first arrived, soccer was still the most popular sport in the country. Soon afterwards, basketball charged to the forefront. Although soccer is still popular with the older generation (40+), the younger generation has fallen in love with the NBA and pick-up basketball.

Typical Court

In the U.S. there are really only a few places that people tend to find pick-up games. A local gym (e.g. 24 hour fitness), an outside court, or church ball. In China, a gym where you’d go to work out typically does not have a basketball court, and churches can hardly serve as places of worship without the threat of demolition, much less be a place to play ball. That being said, there are numerous in-door basketball courts spread throughout cities that can be rented by the hour. Prices for these courts range from 100 rmb (~15 USD) to 700 rmb (~110 USD) per hour. In addition to indoor courts there are several outdoor courts where pickup games can be found on a regular basis. Most of the outdoor courts are free, but some do charge a daily fee ranging from 10 rmb (~1.50 USD) to 50 rmb (8.00 USD).

Other than location, there are a few other notable differences between China and U.S. pick-up games. The first difference that one will note is how teams are picked. In the U.S. teams are usually picked in the fairest possible way (i.e. put one tall guy on each team) or there is a shoot off from the free throw line (the first five who make it are on a team). In China the most common way of picking teams is to have everyone stand in a circle while one player holds the ball in the middle and then spins it.

Spinning Ball

The ball is used as a random selector. When the ball stops spinning whichever person the ball’s inflation valve is facing is selected for the first team. Usually the first five players selected are put on a team, and then the remaining players get the ball first.

Another unique difference is that players do not ‘check’ the ball. Typically in a pick-up game in the U.S. when there is a dead ball to start the game one must first check the ball. This entails giving the ball to the defense to make sure they are ready to play. When the defense returns the ball the game starts. In China, all dead balls are taken to the sideline and entered into the game in a more traditional format.

One final small difference is in the interpretations of rules. For example, travelling and carrying tend to be more prevalent in China, but given that most of the pick-up ballers in China learn the game through the NBA, this is to be expected.

Overall, the game is similar to what one would find in the U.S. Basketball has been a great way for me to practice my language skills, make friends, and interact with Chinese people in a non-professional atmosphere (e.g. not in the classroom). It is also one of my ‘comfort’ zones–one of the few places that allows me to forget I’m in China.

For more readings on ball in China see below. 1. 2. 3.

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