Yi Jianlian (R) of Guangdong takes the ball in a Chinese Basketball Association (CBA) league game against Zhejiang in Dongguan on December 10, 2020. (Xinhua/Wu Lu)
With China's top basketball league set to resume on June 20, players are excited about returning to competition.
BEIJING, June 5 (Xinhua) -- After almost five months without basketball, it's the announcement Chinese fans have been waiting for.
The Chinese Basketball Association (CBA) revealed on Thursday that the league would resume on June 20, making it the first professional sports league in China to return to action.
The CBA was suspended indefinitely during the Spring Festival with 30 rounds of action played, as China grappled with the COVID-19 outbreak.
CBA president and Chinese basketball icon Yao Ming urged caution over the restart.
"It's just the beginning. We have met much uncertainty this year, which is beyond the boundary of our knowledge. We have to take everything into consideration," he said.
CBA president Yao Ming speaks during an interview with Chinese Central Television on June 4, 2020. (Xinhua/Meng Yongmin)
To best prevent the spread of COVID-19, matches will be played behind closed doors in a championship format.
Qingdao, in east China's Shandong Province, and Dongguan, in the southern province of Guangdong, have been selected as the host cities for the league's remaining matches.
Now in its 25th year, the CBA has witnessed a boom in television viewers and ticket receipts, and recently unveiled an upgrading project, aiming to offer a better fan experience by improving operations, brand development and promotions.
More importantly, fierce on-court competition has given fans reason to swarm into venues or follow the games on television.
However, the boom was halted by the COVID-19 outbreak, which forced the cancelation of large-scale events.
Several overseas players chose to part ways with their teams. Another big challenge came from rescheduling, as China's national team originally had a series of Olympic qualifiers scheduled in June, though these were postponed after the Tokyo Olympic Games was itself delayed until 2021.
With no matches, the CBA has suffered financial losses, and many of the league office's top earning staff voluntarily took a pay cut in April. The company also called on the whole CBA family to work together to deal with the economic impact on the organization and its clubs.
CBA president Yao Ming waves to attendees at the launch ceremony for the 2019-2020 CBA season in Beijing on October 23, 2019. (Xinhua/Meng Yongmin)
But the league's brand value was still recognized. Before the CBA executives' pay cut, China Mobile became an official CBA partner in a five-year deal starting from the 2020-21 season.
The CBA's return became clearer when Yao revealed that three plans were in place for resumption in an interview with Chinese Central Television in May.
China's State General Administration of Sport issued a guideline for the orderly resumption of sporting events on May 29, clarifying that the Chinese Super League, CBA and other competitions should draw up event recovery work plans to be implemented after review and evaluation.
The CBA emphasized that after the resumption, everyone involved should abide by protocols of prevention and control to ensure the league operates in a safe and orderly manner.
"People have been familiar with some details of anti-virus measures such as having to wear masks or measuring body temperatures. We hope that all these can be traceable and replicable. We hope the experience and method can be applied to other competitions under the organization," Yao said.
Several CBA players wrote of their delight at getting back on track.
"Yesssssssssss!!!!!!!" Beijing Ducks guard Jeremy Lin responded to the news on his Sina Weibo social media account.
Jeremy Lin of the Beijing Ducks takes on three Liaoning Flying Leopards players in a 2019-2020 CBA match on Nov. 23, 2019. (Xinhua/Pan Yulong)
"Good news. Finally it's time to restart. Back to work," wrote Guangdong Southeast Tigers player Zhou Peng.
Despite the challenges that lie ahead, the CBA has made a big step towards returning to normality.
"Many people have done lots of work to make this happen. We have to stay down to earth," Yao implored. ■