CLIPPERS AND NBA CARES DEDICATE READING AND LEARNING CENTER

The Clippers, along with NBA Cares visited Huangzhoung school.

BEIJING–A line of children along a concrete path leading into Huangzhoung school welcomed Clippers players and coaches with red scarves; a customary greeting for VIPs in China, the host tying a scarf around the neck of his or her guest.

The Clippers along with NBA Cares were there to dedicate 20 computers and a reading and learning center, and host a basketball skills clinic for the migrant school that educates nearly 1,000 underserved children from pre-Kindergarten to sixth grade in Beijing.

The event opened with the Clippers arriving to the group of students, who donned blue and white track suits with red and gold sashes, singing and smiling. The procession moved about 200 yards away to a small stage where another group of children performed a song called “Huangzhoung School Welcomes You All,” a red banner adorned with “L.A. Clippers NBA” in English and Chinese was stretched across a yellow building with maroon trim, and the school’s head master spoke to the team.

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“Thank you for all your care, love and support for our school,” he said via a translator.

The donation is part of expanding the reach of NBA Cares within the borders of the world’s most populous nation. The program has been involved in China since 2005, including building 43 spaces where children and families can live, learn or play in eight cities. It has also supported community outreach initiatives ranging from education to health and wellness and grassroots basketball efforts.

Among the noteworthy NBA Cares actions in China, the NBA Family donated more than $5 million to help rebuilding efforts following the devastating Sichuan Province earthquake, hosted NBA FIT Camps to reinforce the importance of healthy lifestyles, helped raise HIV/AIDS awareness, and partnered with the Starkey Hearing Foundation to provide hearing aids to 6,000 patients in Chengdu and Xian.

Clippers small forward Caron Butler helped the Starkey group this summer, saying it was an honor to be a part of the mission.

Upon returning to China two months later with his team, Butler, and teammates DeAndre Jordan, Blake Griffin, Chris Paul, Willie Green, Grant Hill, Jamal Crawford and Ryan Hollins, spent a portion of Wednesday afternoon in the upstairs corner of Huangzhoung school where the learning center is located, reading to students and helping them get familiar with their new computers.

Jordan sat on the floor with a youngster building a vehicle out of LEGOS, and Hill and Hollins paged through a children’s book with students surrounding them, while the rest of the players in the room did much of the same.

In the courtyard of the quaint three-building school complex, Lamar Odom, Travis Leslie, Matt Barnes, Trent Plaisted, Ronny Turiaf, Hank Thorns, Marqus Blakely, Eric Bledsoe and the team’s coaching staff showed close to 100 students how to pass, dribble and shoot with a series of basketball drills. Later, head coach Vinny Del Negro took on challengers at a ping-pong table nearby and after Paul and Griffin came down stairs they played ping-pong doubles next to two students with a large group of their classmates watching.

The entire event signified the growing influence of basketball and the NBA in China. Students had signs and pictures dedicated to specific players and recognized a number of them by name and face. And two young girls sitting in the audience were flipping through a Chinese edition of “NBA Stuff” magazine.

David Shoemaker, the CEO of NBA China, called China’s fan base “diverse and sophisticated” and added that fans now have more access to the game than ever before. With the Clippers playing two games against the Heat over the course of a week in China, the influence of the league will only continue to grow.

In a way, the matchup turned out to be perhaps the most enthralling in the six-year history of the NBA China Games: “Lob City” versus the defending NBA champions.

“We earmarked, a year ago, what teams we would like to come [to China], and the Clippers were at the top of our list,” Shoemaker said. “They represent all that’s new and a bright and promising future for the league. And it should not be lost in all this that Blake [Griffin] is one of the most popular players in China.”

According to Shoemaker, Griffin is amongst the top jersey sellers in the country. It was none more evident than Wednesday when the 23-year-old superstar was greeted with a spirited cheer as he was introduced to the children at Huangzhoung school.

In a brief speech after the team arrived, Griffin brought it all full circle, saying he and his teammates were grateful to be welcomed by the school. Paul said something similar when he addressed the crowd prior to taking a group photograph: “Thank you to all the kids and staff. We really enjoyed our time here and are looking forward to the game tomorrow.”

To some extent, that is what the event was all about. Tomorrow.