MINORITY REPORT: Confessions of the few, the proud, the Pacers fans in China

Confessions of the few, the proud, the Pacers fans in China

By Holick Lee | www.ChinaPacers.com

In front of the only television in a university canteen, a huge crowd is watching a live game between the Pacers and Lakers. While most were cheering for Kobe Bryant’s fade-away jumper pushing the Lakers lead to double figures, there was only one guy sitting quietly on the first row of the crowd, holding the faith in the Pacers.

His prayers would be answered.

When Troy Murphy’s tip-shot stayed down at the buzzer, he jumped up and pumped his fists into the air, leaving the rest of the silent crowd with stunned faces.

That’s a typical scenario that a Pacers fan in China will face every day. When everyone in China is crazy for Yao Ming, Kobe Bryant, LeBron James and Michael Jordan, the Pacers fans are always in the minority. But they have lived with the Pacers pride, most of them, for over ten years.

Who are the Pacers fans in China?

Following the NBA in China has traditionally been tough and if you are a Pacers fan, then it will no doubt have been tougher. Back in the mid-1990s, there was only one TV program in China which provided NBA highlights and one delayed live match replayed at midnight on a Saturday evening. Despite the limited exposure of NBA at this time in China, there was still enough interest for Pacers fans to watch Reggie Miller’s legendary jumpers in Madison Square Garden and make them fans for life.

As the number of televised games in China increased, so did the fan base for the NBA. While Michael Jordan and his famous shoes generated a large following, true basketball fans had a stronger appreciation for fundamental basketball, hard work and a never-give-up determination epitomized by Miller Time, and so the story of Pacers fans in China began.

“I love being the enemy,” Lou Qing-lei, a Pacer fan since 1994, answered when asked why he is so dedicated to the ballclub. “Reggie Miller is loyal to the franchise, so are we. Reggie Miller never gives up, neither do we.”

However, being the enemy can be lonely. In the late 1990s, the fans had to wait months for one televised Pacers games. They could only get the game results from the 30-second NBA scoreboard in the CCTV sports news. For those who lived in bigger cities with Internet connections, they could listen to Mark Boyle and Slick Leonard or watch the live box score from NBA.com.

They could hardly find somebody to talk about NBA and they did not know if there would be any other Pacers fan in China. Defending the Pacers has become the norm for fans in China, even in the workplace.

“My boss guaranteed the Bulls would sweep the Pacers in four, and I could not stand it any more.” Anthony Lv from Shanghai commented while still smiling, “It was like me against the world when my colleagues were echoing my boss. So I pulled out a bankbook, in which there was around one month’s salary, and fought back, ‘This will be a seven-game series, and I GUARANTEE!’

"They were all shocked for a moment, and then left with ironic laughter. When the Pacers went down 0-2, you can imagine how embarrassed I was in the office. However, when Reggie hit the three over Michael Jordan in Game 4, I walked into my office with pride. When Michael Jordan fell down in front of Derrick McKey in Game 6, I shouted in the office, ‘Can You Say Game 7? But of course, I offended my boss for that, and there was a consequence. But I don’t regret it. Since then, I knew I will be the Pacers' fan for the rest of my life.”

As Yao Ming helped to make NBA the No. 1 sports focus in China, the media started to cover more NBA news. They televised live NBA games almost every day in China, but this did not make the Pacers more popular, as they seldom televised Pacers game. In contrast, Pacers fans in China soon found themselves buried in the ocean of Rockets fans.

Home of the Pacers in China

The Chinese Pacers fans needed a home to share their faith, and that’s why ChinaPacers.com was launched on July 20, 2000. The site has been reporting the Pacers news in Chinese for the past nine years. The site editors (the author and Howard Lee) have written more than 1,900 daily reports in their spare time, and the Website has just achieved one million visits this summer. As most of the fans prefer reading Chinese, this Chinese website became the “official” Pacers information center in China.

Since day one, ChinaPacers.com has been the only and the biggest Pacers fan community in China. One a given day, there may be more than 240 members sharing their views on the message board. But in a nation with a population of 1.3 billion, 240 is nothing. But thanks to the ChinaPacers.com, the fans from different cities can rally together.

“I was like a kid in the ToysRus when I visited the website for the first time.” said Irvin Huang, once a lonely Pacers fans for six years before finding the Pacer-land in the digital world. “I have to thank the founders of ChinaPacers.com, because I cannot imagine how my life would be without this Website.”

Nowadays, despite the fact that most of the Pacers games are broadcast online, the fans still cherish the game thread on the message board, where they share so many common memories. From Reggie banking in the 40-footer in New Jersey, to the record-breaking 61-win season; from the Auburn Hills episode to the trade Ron Artest; from the Danny Granger being selected No. 17 to receiving the Most Improved Player trophy in Conseco Fieldhouse, the fans experienced more than 900 game-mornings (we are in the early morning during the game), nine NBA Drafts, all kinds of offseason player movement, and even the demolition of Market Square Arena.

But the most touching moment for them was Reggie’s last game in 2005 playoffs. Most of the Chinese fans cried in front of the monitor of their desktop.

Liu Bing-yang, a 10-year Chinese Pacers fans now lives in Australia, shares his story on the message board: “I skipped my class that day, but failed to find a live feed in all sports clubs in Sydney. I rushed home for my computer, only saw Larry Brown called a timeout and made the Pistons salute to Reggie along with the standing ovation in the Conseco Fieldhouse. When Reggie was pointing to the crowd with a hand on his heart, I could not hold my tears any more.”

Through ChinaPacers.com, the fans shared their joys and tears, they become close friends, and some even got married.

Li Jia, from Shanghai, got to know Du Jingjing, a girl from Xi’an, on the ChinaPacers.com website in 2002. They chatted about the Pacers online and fell in love. They lived in two cities separated by 1,000 kilometers but shared the same faith. In 2008, the two were married in a buile and gold wedding and became China’s first Pacers Couple.

“The Pacers and Jingjing is from the grace of god,” said Li Jia, who is planning for their first anniversary celebration during the Pacers Beijing Game. “But I also cherished other friends I met on the Website, as we have been through so many big moments.”

Twice a year, Pacers fans will fly from different cities all over China for a Pacers fans gathering, where they will play basketball together in Pacers jerseys and shoot threes with a Reggie Miller-type follow-through. While the boys are playing basketball, the girls have another way to show their love. They will draw portraits for the Pacers, and make a cake with a Reggie Miller image on to celebrate his birthday.

They will never walk alone.

"Pacers are in my blood"

Reggie Miller retired in 2004, but why do fans in China still root for the Pacers as usual? Perhaps it is the belief in loyalty and commitment.

“The Pacers have weaved into the fabric of my everyday life.” said Zhu Gang-lei, a Pacers fan from Gansu, “My value perceiving the world has been changed because of Reggie Miller. I would choose loyalty over wealth and I believe nothing can replace hard-work. I have been in love with this team for 17 years and I will love them as always.”

Xunxun, a girl from Shanghai, said, “Some day, I wanted to sit in the Conseco Fieldhouse and tell my child, 'this is what your mother has been rooting for decades.' ”

Sometimes, life in the real world is tough but the Pacers' spirit can help save a life. Lou Qing-lei once wanted to commit suicide but he changed his mind when thinking of Reggie Miller and his playoff miracles. Marco Yu, an accountant in Guangzhou, shared his view on the message board when he working overnight in the office, “Never give up, no matter what circumstances. People around me said I am a tougher person than any one else, because I always want to win. I am not sure if I learned this from Reggie Miller.”

Some of the fans took actual action to show their love.

The author went to U.S. in 2004, just to watch a Pacers game in person before Reggie Miller retired. To his surprise, Reggie Miller tapped his shoulder for the hard-work of this webmaster

Reggie Duan, who changed his ID on the passport in Reggie's name, knew the NBA well enough to become a reporter of Basketball Pioneer, the most popular basketball newspaper in China. In 2005, he was assigned to the U.S. to cover the Eastern Conference team. However, he stayed in Indianapolis on his own to cover Pacers news for the fans in China.

“My editor once scolded me, if I dare to stay in Indy for one more day, he would fire me with no warning,” Reggie Duan recalled with a laugh, “He just does not want me to cover the Pacers any more. We all understand, the Pacers have little market in China. But I just want to do something for the team.”

Reggie Duan went on to be the TV commentator for several TV stations in China, before heading back to Los Angles to pursuit a master's degree in sports management.

The China game

Not every Pacers fans in China are rich enough to make a trip to U.S. to watch a Pacers game in person. But in this October, their dream will come true. The Pacers will be in Beijing for an Oct. 11 preseason game against the Denver Nuggets. And the fans have been planning the biggest Pacers fans gathering in China. After all, it’s time to show off their love and loyalty to this franchise.

Spending more than one month’s salary to watch a ball game, many fans regard as insane. But for the people who have been following them long enough, they will understand.

“One day, my wife looked up and said, ‘Just go. It’s not easy to be a fan for a decade.’” said Anthony Lv, “And my parents even asked, ‘Do you have enough money to make the trip? Just let us know.’ It sounds so touching.”

So what are they expecting the team can reward for their support? Autograph? Photos?

“Just win the game,” said Xu Yue, a Pacers fan since 2000, “I hope they can capture the hearts of basketball fans like the old days.”

About the Author

Holick Lee is the co-founder (with Howard Lee) of ChinaPacers.com, which covers every Pacers game in Chinese since 2000. He watched his first and only Pacers game in person in 2004. Through the introduction of Mark Montieth, the former Pacers beat writer of The Indianapolis Star, Holick met Reggie Miller after the game. Reggie Miller praised the website by saying, “I have heard about your website, just keep up the good work!”