Village BA: down-to-earth basketball tournament best advertisement for the sport in China
Village BA
Published: Mar 30, 2023 07:04 PM
Some 30,000 people gather in Taipan village, Southwest China's Guizhou Province on March 27, 2023 to watch the Village Basketball Association. Photo: VCG

Some 30,000 people gather in Taipan village, Southwest China's Guizhou Province on March 27, 2023 to watch the Village Basketball Association. Photo: VCG

China's hottest grassroots basketball game was born in a primitive venue. Located in a river valley surrounded by farm land at a remote village, the "basketball stadium" is in the open air. Audiences knock iron pots and bowls to cheer up for players. Dressing in local ethnic minority clothing, villagers perform folk songs and dances as halftime show. Rewards for winner team are bags of rice, fish, and living ducks and cows.

The special grassroots basketball tournament, originated in Taipan village, Taijiang county, Southwest China's Guizhou Province has become phenomenal since last year. Audiences hailed it as the "Village Basketball Association," or "Village BA," putting it on par with National Basketball Association (NBA), the highest level of basketball competition in the world.

During this year's tournament, which was played out in Taipan village starting on March 27, a total of 30,000 people swarmed into the village, which accommodates only 1,118 villagers. Qiandongnan team took the champion's cup on Monday. When posing for championship pictures, every player carried a bamboo pole on one shoulder, with two living ducks hanging on each side by their feet. At one moment, one duck escaped the string and began to wander around the playground. 

A vendor nearby surnamed Zhang told the Global Times that ladders were sold out that day as those who could not grab a seat can stand on a ladder and watch the game. "Diapers were also sold out…in order to take a good spot, some would sit there all day," said Zhang. 

"It is the pureness of basketball, simple love and passion for the game for sports that really touched me," said Xiao, an audience who drove 1,600 kilometers from East China's Zhejiang Province to Taipan to watch the game. "No big billboards, no ticket, no fancy cheerleaders with long legs. The atmosphere here is no less hot than that of NBA!"

More than 30 million people, who could not make it to the scene, watched the final match online, according to media reports.

Play for 'our own hometown' 

Players in the " Village BA" must be aged between 22 and 40 years old, and hold hukou, or household registration system, in those villages, to prevent teams from hiring outside help.

Luo Taotao is one of them. Aged 24, Luo works as a physical education teacher in a primary school in Bijie, Guizhou, and uses only his spare time to play basketball.

"We [Luo and his teammates] don't really have time to train. Everyone has things to be busy with. For example, some are looking for a job and some run breakfast stalls. So we just play at our own time," Luo told the Global Times. 

Luo said players in the "Village BA" are far away from professional players. "But we are down to earth. And we try everything we can to win," Luo laughed. One player twined towels around his shoes when it suddenly rained during one game, so that he won't slip. 

"We don't have entrance fee, no bonus, and our prizes are things like ducks, honey and fish. Those are close to ordinary people's lives, they love it," Luo said. 

Another player, who requested anonymity, told the Global Times that "we play not for money, for fame, but for our own hometown, as we represent our cities." 

Taipan village's history with basketball can be dated back to 1936, even earlier than NBA. 

"From 1936 to today, the village never suspends its annual basketball games. Without the ball, villagers use clothes to make one; no backboard, they will use two pillars and a plank, an iron ring to make one," Zhang Shoushuang, Party secretary of Taipan was quoted by the Xinhua News Agency as saying in August last year.

As time goes by, basketball players from nearby villages and counties would come to participate. 

Luo said that basketball is popular in Guizhou villages because "basketball stadiums are easy to find…football fields and badminton courts are luxuries we cannot afford."

Despite its simplicity, Taipan village stands firm against the capitals and sponsorships that are flooding in since the basketball tournament went viral. "Won't the game go sour if capitals intervened?" a basketball player in the village named Xiuxiu was quoted by The Paper as saying.

Players compete at the stadium in Taipan village, Southwest China's Guizhou Province on March 25, 2023. Photo: VCG

Players compete at the stadium in Taipan village, Southwest China's Guizhou Province on March 25, 2023. Photo: VCG

Sports for all

Guizhou is not the only place such grassroots basketball tournament is thriving. A Chinese short-video platform held a village basketball game in Quanzhou in East China's Fujian Province last summer. The game was viewed by a total of 120 million times. 

Chen Ran, a Xiamen local said village basketball is popular in rural districts of the city. "You can hear grandma and grandpas discuss the players' techniques in local dialect. They even formed a cheerleader group by themselves to boost moral for the players."

"Without village basketball, maybe some villagers will squander time on playing mahjong, so it's a really good thing to promote basketball among them," Chen said.

Yao Ming, chairman of the Chinese Basketball Association, said in an interview in 2022 that "Village BA" can become widely known because it is not simply a basketball game, but a grand event gathering all neighboring villagers around the basketball court to enjoy the fun.

 "I took part in a similar rural basketball game in Southeast China in my teen," said Yao. "This kind of game has been developed for decades, showing basketball is a sport with extensive participation." Yao also desires to attend the event if possible and experience the warm atmosphere there with villagers. He hopes the game will get better and help with the development of basketball in China.

After the "Village BA" became famous, Luo's life has also been upended. "A few days ago I was just an ordinary person. Now that so many people know us, recognize us. I am truly flattered. This change has made my life more meaningful, and propels me to carry on playing basketball." 

"Sports for all is the true face of any sports. The pure love for do-your-utmost performance, the most enthusiastic audience, are the best advertisement for promoting sports," said the anonymous Village BA player.