LA Lakers legend, NBA star and five-time championship gamer, Ronald Harper, and Joel Embiid, a star player for the NBA's Philadelphia 76ers practice the ancient art of calligraphy on Feb. 15, 2018. (Xinhua/Li Ying)
by Julia Pierrepont, Gao Shan
LOS ANGELES, Feb. 15 (Xinhua) -- Wearing traditional silk Chinese robes, rolling out Chinese dumplings, and practicing the ancient art of calligraphy, two NBA players jumped head first into their first Chinese New Year's Eve, celebrating the Year of the Dog in Los Angeles on Thursday.
Feb 15th, the eve of Chinese New Year in the lunar calendar, is traditionally a day of celebration and the gathering of family and friends. The growing influence of Chinese culture around the world in recent years has prompted greater interest in the Spring Festival from international colleagues and friends.
The LA All-Star Weekend coincided with Chinese New Year this year, so Joel Embiid, a star player for the NBA's Philadelphia 76ers, spent his All-Star weekend leisure time sharing a delicious Chinese New Year's Eve dinner in Los Angeles on Thursday with one of China's most popular NBA commentators, Zhang Weiping.
"Our New Year's tradition is to share dumplings with our families, and now NBA stars join us across international boundaries and [we can] eat like a family," Zhang told Xinhua.
LA Lakers legend, NBA star and five-time championship gamer, Ronald Harper, also joined them to bring in the Chinese New Year in traditional Chinese fashion.
"This is a great event. China is such a growing part of the NBA internationally," Harper told Xinhua, "I enjoy visiting there."
At dinner in a private room of a chic Chinese restaurant across the street from the Staples Center, the home of the LA Lakers, the two NBA stars received a warm welcome from their host as Zhang presented them both with traditional yellow silk Tang jackets.
Many interesting design elements relating to the Year of the Dog, Los Angeles, and the All-Stars were integrated into the Tang suit, and both NBA players were pleased to receive them.
"Hey, this is nice! I'm not taking this off," quipped Harper.
"You look like an emperor in that robe," Zhang joked to Embiid.
Wearing their new garments, the two NBA stars sat down with Zhang to learn more about the traditions of Chinese New Year.
Zhang began by telling them a bit about the Chinese Lunar calendar and the meaning of the Year of the Dog - that it symbolizes a time for friendship, loyalty, strength and protecting one another.
Harper was born in 1964, the Year of the Dragon, a strong sign. Joel Embiid was born in 1994, which, in the Chinese Zodiac, was also the Year of the Dog. So according to Chinese tradition, this year will be a very big year for him. That interested the young player greatly.
"I like learning about Chinese culture. I haven't been to China yet, so it's all new to me," Embiid told Xinhua.
Next, Zhang introduced the two All-Stars to the ancient and venerable art of Chinese calligraphy. He gave them each a delicate sable brush, showed them how to dip it in the bowls of deep black ink provided, and paint the mandarin character for "health" on clean white rice paper with a gestural flourish.
Ron Harper joked to Xinhua, "I'll try my hand at this, but I can't promise what it'll look like!"
Embiid was ready to try his own hand at making traditional Chinese dumplings. "He's versatile at everything!" Harper joked about the younger player.
Chef Lee Yang, a talented Chinese chef who has cooked for celebrity clients in China and Hollywood, including Sylvester Stallone of "Rocky" and "Expendables" fame, was on hand to coach Embiid through the recipe. He showed him how to select the rice casing for the dumpling, press the meat filling into the casing, and crimp the edges to prepare it for steaming.
Lee told Xinhua, "Dumplings play an important role in the Chinese New Year celebration, uniting families over a traditional family dinner."
When the dumplings were ready, Zhang and his two guests sat down to a sumptuous dinner of Beijing duck, beef and scallions, kung pao chicken, tofu and veggies. There was an amusing moment when Zhang discovered that neither player had ever used chopsticks before. Embiid was afraid that learning how to use chopsticks might be even harder than learning The Dream-Olajuwon's great moves.
Both athletes were quick studies and managed to master the new implements in time to enjoy a tasty meal. Chinese food was new to them both, and they agreed that chicken dish was their favorite.
Embiid's Year of the Dog's good fortune started early, as foretold, when he found the lucky coin in his first dumpling.
"Look!" cried Zhang, holding up the coin, "Now you will have good fortune all year!"
"I hope I can bring good luck to the team and give my best performance this All-Star weekend," Embiid smiled.
The international friendship dinner between Zhang Weiping, Joel Embiid and Ron Harper was sponsored by Masterkong Beverage Investment (China) co. ltd as part of a cooperative co-branding, "Taste of Chinese New Year" campaign with the NBA.
A Kong Spokesperson told Xinhua, "It's a great honor for Masterkong to work with the NBA to exchange our strong cultural traditions."
The Los Angeles All-Star Game will be aired on Sunday; there is great anticipation for the athletic performances of Lebron James, Steph Curry and Embiid.