Billed as the most competitive professional basketball competition between China and Taiwan, the much-anticipated 2012 Straits Cup Basketball Invitational Tournament will begin play at the Taipei Physical Education College Gymnasium in Tianmu tonight, with the Dacin Tigers and Pure Youth Construction of Taiwan’s Super Basketball League (SBL) taking on the Shanghai Dongfang Sharks and the Zhejiang Guangsha Lions of China’s Chinese Basketball Association (CBA) in a pair of marquee matchups.
It is the third time that teams from across the Taiwan Strait have competed against each other.
The inaugural tournament dates back to 2005, when the SBL all-stars visited Fuzhou in China’s Fujian Province, with Pure Youth captain Chen Hsin-an leading the Islanders on their first western crusade.
Chen has since played in the CBA for three seasons before returning to Taiwan in a Yulon Luxgen uniform, prior to joining Pure Youth last season.
What makes this year’s competition different from previous years for Chen and his comrades is that he will be taking on two Taiwan-born players — former Yulon center Tseng Wen-ding and former Taiwan Beer icon Lin “the Beast” Chih-chieh, who are to play for the Sharks and the Lions respectively to showcase their talents to hoop fans around the nation.
“It’s quite different to find yourself playing against people who have been on your side all your life, but that’s all part of the business,” Chen said in an earlier press conference.
Tien Lei of the Dacin Tigers is to lead the Tigers in their matches this weekend.
Like Tseng and Lin, Tien has been approached by countless agents from China in an effort to lure the Dacin swingman for a career across the Strait.
Also set to make his presence felt in this year’s competition is former NBA star Yao Ming of China, who is scheduled to make his fourth visit to Taiwan as the chairman of the Sharks.
Tournament officials are to roll out the red carpet to welcome the first-ever China-born player to make it big in the NBA by boasting hospitality befitting a Kobe Bryant or a Michael Jordan, with a stay in the presidential suite at the Westin Taipei organized for Yao and his family with all the amenities and courtesies extended to an international celebrity.
“It’s a great honor for us to have someone of [Yao’s] stature staying with us,” Westin representative Lydia Lin said in an interview in Taipei earlier this week. Lin and her crew will assign not one, but two butlers — a man and a woman — to be at Yao and his wife’s disposal.
The long and distinctive list of novelties associated with this year’s tournament also includes several lofty prizes provided by local sponsors, highlighted by free round-trip flights between Taiwan and any destination in China serviced by TransAsia Airways for the fan who can make a half-court shot during the halftime intermission of each game.
“We are extremely fortunate to have received so much interest from local sponsors in helping us make this event a fun one,” Bros Sports Marketing representative Edward Chang told the Taipei Times.
His firm has been a major force in bringing in high-profile sporting events such as the 2009 NBA exhibition game between the Denver Nuggets and the Indiana Pacers, and the visits by the Dodgers and the all-stars of Major League Baseball in 2010 and last year.
Following tonight’s contests, the teams are scheduled to travel down Highway 1 to the city of Taichung, where they are to finish off the three-day event with two games apiece at the National Taiwan Sport University Gymnasium.