No superstars. A lack of cash prize money. Just an outdoor basketball court. So what? Nothing is going to prevent the tens of thousands of people living in southwest China's Guizhou Province from enjoying the game of basketball.
The finals of the Guizhou "Gorgeous Countryside" Basketball League, dubbed by Chinese netizens as "CunBA", with 'Cun' meaning village in Chinese, were held last weekend in Taipan Village in Taijiang County, Guizhou Province.
The annual amateur basketball event has attracted widespread attention across the nation because of its electric atmosphere that rivals the CBA, the country's top professional basketball league.
"What we see is just what basketball looked like originally. It is so pure and joyful," wrote one user on social media.
A RURAL BASKETBALL FEAST
Though the players are all amateur, most of them farmers, the "village BA" or "CunBA" tournament is renowned for its electric atmosphere.
Four teams contested this year's finals. The matches tipped off after sunset, but many spectators came courtside in the morning to secure seats. Those who couldn't get into the basketball court stood on benches, ladders and even nearby drainage ditches, and the roads to the court were completely jammed.
Local government statistics showed that during the three-day competition, the average number of spectators per game exceeded 20,000, and the total number exceeded 100,000.
Wu Binxi and his family of four from Liping County arrived at the Taipan Village at around 10 o'clock in the morning. "Both of my children love playing basketball. We drove for three hours just to get a good spot," said Wu.
Many of the spectators seemed not to be fans of a particular team as they cheered every basket, regardless of team. Some villagers also brought iron pots and pans from their homes to strike in excitement.
Rain suddenly poured during the match on Sunday evening, but players from Tongren and Bijie remained on court and finished the game, with almost no spectators leaving and a few people holding umbrellas.
Another unique feature of the "CunBA" is that ethnic and rural cultures are interwoven in the competition. The game's live commentator switched between using Mandarin Chinese and the Guizhou dialect to call the games. During competition breaks, local art troupes performed traditional Miao-style dances, and local agricultural products such as live sturgeons, ducks and fragrant rice were given as prizes.
Recent data shows that there have been more than 5,000 village basketball matches by the end of March this year in Guizhou, with nearly 180 village teams taking part.
According to the organizers, this year's competition generated more than 100 million online views across all digital platforms. Topics such as "Guizhou hosts the "CunBA" finals, "CunBA Returns" and "CunBA Finals" trended on various social media platforms.
"The key to its popularity is that this tournament truly belongs to the local people and connects neighborhoods like no other event does," said Cen Jianglong, a Taipan villager and a co-organizer of the tournament.
The popularity of "CunBA" didn't come by chance. Basketball has a long history in Qiandongnan Miao and Dong Autonomous Prefecture, where Taipan is located - basketball games were originally part of the celebrations of the Miao ethnic harvest festival during the sixth month of the Chinese lunar calendar, a tradition that dates back to 1936.
"The village elders told us that our village has held a basketball competition at least once a year since 1936, and there has been no interruption to this day," said Zhang Shoushuang, head of Taipan Village.
Since 2016, the local government has invested in upgrading and building new standard basketball courts to support grassroots basketball development.
In 2021, Guizhou Province launched its "Gorgeous Countryside" campaign, which promotes development in rural China via culture, tourism and sports. The village basketball tournament was included in this campaign.
"Basketball embodies the spirit of unity and has a strong cultural symbolic significance. It reflects the strong demand for sports and cultural life in rural areas and resonates with the people's desire for a better life," said Yang Dezhao, head of the Taijiang County government.
The success of "CunBA" has not only brought fame to Taipan Village but also helped boost the development of the local economy and tourism.
Liu Xiaolan, 30, a mother of three, runs a Miao jewelry store in Taipan. During the competition, she sold local food at a booth next to the court.
"During the tournament, some vendors can earn 10,000 to 20,000 yuan a day," said Zhang De, a Taipan Village official.
Over the weekend, the search volume for tourism in Qiandongnan Miao and Dong Autonomous Prefecture increased by 276 percent compared to the previous weekend. Guangzhou, Changsha, Chongqing and Hangzhou were the main sources of tourists from outside the province.
It is estimated that Taipan Village attracted around 500,000 visitors during last summer's preliminary rounds of the "CunBA" tournament, which generated tourism revenue of more than 40 million yuan (5.8 million US dollars).
Riding the wave of "CunBA", many local youngsters who used to work in big cities have returned to their hometown to seek better opportunities.
Cen Jianglong, 38, moved back home last year. He and his wife now run a restaurant near the court, while many others choose to run homestays and live-stream agricultural products.
Among those who livestream "CunBA" games, 27-year-old Wang Zaigui is very popular. He has another role, as emcee. After two full days of hyping up the atmosphere, Wang's voice turned hoarse.
"I am very happy and proud to see the audience enjoy the game and laugh heartily in my hometown," said Wang.
Insiders say that Taipan has become a model place of rural rejuvenation driven by sports industry and in the future, the "CunBA" has the potential to grow into a nationwide competition, boosting the awareness and prospects of smaller towns and cities.
"Everything is on the up here. The event is helping the development of the village and it motivates more people to embrace sports," said Cen.