The Toronto Raptors became the fourth NBA franchise to don a Chinese New Year jersey in their 114-113 loss to the Orlando Magic on Sunday night.
As part of the sixth annual NBA Chinese New Year Celebration, Toronto joined Golden State, Houston, and Washington as the only teams in league history to put on a specially-designed uniform with Chinese characters of the team name or city. As part of the 2015 Lunar New Year celebration, the league chose the Warriors and the Rockets to debut the jerseys. The following season, the Wizards were selected to expand the group to three teams.
Toronto's special red uniform replaces the word 'Raptors' with the direct translation of the word 'Toronto' in three simplified Chinese characters. The design incorporates a dragon head in the top-left quadrant of the first character 'duo,' and embeds the team's logo in the lower-right quadrant of the second character 'lun.'
Raptors forward Patrick Patterson, who started his career in Houston, says he was excited when he heard that his team was selected by the league to wear the uniform this season.
"I'm glad that Toronto was picked. I was ecstatic when I found out that we would be wearing them," Patterson told Xinhua following Sunday night's game. "For us to be in that talk to be able to wear that jerseys just shows the impact that we can have and the impact that people have on us," he added.
The selection also coincides with the Canadian government officially recognizing spring festival for the first time.
With a population of nearly 600,000 people of Chinese origin, the greater Toronto area ranks second in North America for the number of ethnic Chinese, behind New York's population of 720,000.
In addition to wearing the jerseys, Toronto and eight other teams will host Chinese-themed activities in their home arenas. Raptors head coach Dwane Casey is an advocate of such activities, especially given the current controversy surrounding immigration policy in the United States.
"I think it's beautiful, especially with what is going on in the United States right now, to celebrate diversity," Casey said prior to Sunday's game. "A night like tonight is very important to send a message to send a signal that no matter who you are, your culture and your heritage is very important," Casey remarked.
Also part of this year's celebration is Hall of Fame Center Yao Ming having his No. 11 jersey retired by Houston on Feb. 3. Casey spoke highly of Yao's impact on the sport.
"He meant so much to the game. I think by him being one of the first top Asian players to play, that's a tribute to that part of the world to be able to have that imprint," said Casey. "Tonight we are celebrating him. I think what he brought to the table, being one of the first great Chinese players and being in the Hall of Fame is a beautiful, beautiful thing," he added.
For his part, Orlando Magic head coach Frank Vogel said that the global reach which the league has been able to achieve over the past few decades is what makes it special.
"The globalization of our game is what I think separates us from most sports," Vogel said prior to the game. "Adam Silver and David Stern have done a terrific job making it a global game. That's one of the things that's unique and special about the NBA," Vogel continued.
This year's Chinese New Year festivities, which run between Jan. 26 and Feb. 11, will see a record 60 games broadcasted live in various television networks and digital platforms across China. This is the second straight year that all 30 teams will be featured.
The Raptors will wear their special jersey again on Tuesday night when they host the New Orleans Pelicans.