Why NBA Players Play in China

Without a shadow of a doubt, the NBA is home to basketball’s best and brightest talents.

You’ll hear about players from other parts of the world aspiring to make it to America and play basketball at a professional level, as the allure of global recognition and competition with top tier talent is too strong to resist.

People often say that they’ve “made it” when referring to being a contributing member of one of the NBA’s many franchises, but not everyone is comfortable with playing in this division.

In fact, some athletes prefer to ply their trade abroad.

So, what are they looking for exactly?

Why do so many famous Americans choose to pursue their dream career outside the United States?

And more specifically, why do basketball athletes go to China to play the sport?

NBA players go to China for a number of reasons. A major one is the fact that the country offers NBA players lucrative sporting contracts and endorsement deals. In addition, the Chinese basketball league is less competitive which means there’s less pressure on players to perform in such an environment.

But that’s not all.

Read on to find out the full story behind China being such an attractive destination for some of basketball’s best and brightest talents.

Reasons why NBA stars go to play in China

We’re looking at four main contributing factors here.


1. China offers lucrative contracts and endorsement deals for players

why NBA players play in china - access to lucrative endorsement deals and contracts

In terms of money, sponsorship opportunities, and endorsements, there aren’t too many countries that compare to China at present.

As such, NBA stars often sign up to play in the country where salaries tend to be higher and sponsorships are easier to come across.

That being said, even if you’re already a star like Paul Pierce or Derrick Rose, getting paid well may still prove difficult unless your name carries enough weight internationally.

Even then, it can take years before you start seeing substantial paychecks from any particular team.

It seems the main reason behind the decision of many players to establish base in China is monetary gain.

This reasoning follows similar lines to those who decide to move abroad for work rather than fame, as all they generally want is an opportunity to earn a living overseas by playing basketball.

2. Playing in a lower pressure environment

The NBA itself is a very competitive basketball competition.

Even the most battle-hardened players have succumbed to the pressure that comes with performing in such a high stakes environment week in week out.

It’s easy to see why superstars would want to escape the pressures associated with competing against each other every week, especially because of things such as:

  • media attention;
  • intense scrutiny by analysts; and
  • sleepless nights worrying about mistakes made in televised games

Such factors don’t exist in international leagues.

And if they do, players don’t seem to buckle as much.

You’ll get plenty of practice without feeling under threat, plus coaches won’t give you grief over mistakes.

Most teams are focused entirely on winning games, not individual stats. 

If anything, there’s less competition overall in terms of talent level.

Consequently, top talents will naturally rise above average players by default.

China provides its best basketball players with a great platform to showcase their skills both individually and collectively.

Ultimately, playing basketball in China allows American men to live their lives away from the glare of cameras and reporters.

The experience is relatively stress free, allowing them to focus solely on improving their game without the media glare resting over their shoulders.

3. Overseas rehabilitation after serious injury

why NBA players play in china - overseas injury rehabilitation

NBA franchises love having marquee names.

However, injuries are unpredictable and sometimes incur long periods of recovery.

When big-name players suffer these setbacks, clubs usually look into getting treatment for them by sourcing doctors and other medical professionals who are based overseas.

This is typically much easier to do than go the alternative route of finding suitable player replacements locally.

Of course undergoing injury rehabilitation in China doesn’t happen quite often, particularly because NBA players already have access to top quality medical facilities within the United States.

But it does happen sometimes!

Given the fact that China has more than adequate medical facilities, it becomes easier for players to accept receiving treatment and rehabilitation in the country.

4. Staying fit during the off-season

Many professional basketball players spend entire seasons traveling between different cities, attending training camps, and practicing together.

Some of them land in China, and before the new NBA league campaign begins, they can decide to casually shoot some hoops in their spare time.

After all, very few players want to sit idle doing nothing at home for months on end.

So, they may try to stay healthy and maintain their fitness levels in China using various methods.

This includes things like eating clean, running on treadmills, lifting weights, and spending hours on a court in Beijing or any other area of China as they try to sharpen certain aspects of their game.

Former NBA players who played in China

It’s good to have a look at some real-life examples of players who went to China to further pursue their basketball careers.

Let’s now take a look at some of the most notable ones.

Marshon Brooks

This guy was a good shooting guard for six different NBA teams, with most of them being quite high profile names.

Yes, that’s right!

Brooks represented the Golden State Warriors, the Boston Celtics and even the Los Angeles Lakers during his time in the NBA.

After a moderately successful stint in America, Brooks went to play in the Euro League for a couple of years.

And then following that, he became an outright star in China, putting in impressive performances for the Guangdong Southern Tigers of the Chinese Basketball Association.

Brandon Bass

This guy was a center (power forward) who spent 12 years in the NBA with six different teams, averaging 8.7 points and 4.5 rebounds.

However, he later left the league after the 2016-2017 season to play with the Liaoning Flying Leopards.

Brandon has made a bigger name for himself in China due to the fact that he was able to rack up better point and assist averages compared to his time in the NBA.

Although at the time of writing, the player is listed as a free agent.

And at 37 years of age, it looks like his professional career could very much be finished.

They always say father time is unavoidable.

Those are just two players who made the move from the NBA to play in China.

Have a look at the video below, which ranks the top 10 basketballers from the NBA who gave it a go in the Asian country:


On the whole, the phenomenon of NBA stars moving abroad to China shows no signs of slowing down anytime soon.

More sports celebrities may follow suit in future years.

Just remember that none of them chose this path lightly.

They spent countless hours agonizing over their decisions, discussing pros and cons with family members, consulting experts, and researching thoroughly before finally taking action.

If you’re curious to find out more things that NBA players tend to do during the span of their professional careers, then check out our articles on:

Happy reading!

About Samuel Waihenya

Samuel is an avid fan of basketball and has been following the sport for over 10 years. He now intends to dedicate his time to produce great content for his own little basketball blog that aims to help its readership with whatever basketball-related topic they can think of. Have a read through Samuel Waihenya's author bio page here.