Washington — It was a perfect match. Two stars from the Women’s National Basketball Association (WNBA) and a group of young women keen to learn more about the game came together in China with the help of SportsUnited, the U.S. public diplomacy program that made it all happen.
As part of the U.S.-China Consultation on People-to-People Exchange (CPE) program, WNBA stars Kiesha Brown and Tamika Raymond traveled to Shenyang, China, in June to coach youngsters in the fine points of playing basketball and to emphasize the importance of keeping fit and eating healthy.
The CPE, initiated by Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and Chinese State Councilor Liu Yandong in 2010, aims to strengthen ties between the people of the United States and China in the areas of education, science and technology, sports, culture and women’s issues.
Representing the United States as sports envoys, Brown and Raymond spent more than a week in China and covered a lot of ground as they led several basketball clinics and life-skills discussions for girls from underserved areas. Participants ranged from primary school to secondary school age.
Using basketball as a universal language, they also discussed Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, a landmark U.S. civil rights law that requires equal opportunity for men and women’s education programs, including sports, that are supported by federal funding.
“We were extremely gratified but not surprised by the level of enthusiasm in the game in China,” reported Raymond. “China has great players like Yao Ming, Yi Jianlian and Zheng Haixia, who all have made huge footprints in the game of basketball. Yao Ming left a historic, global impression on the NBA that will never be duplicated.”
Since 2005, SportsUnited, the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs’ sports exchange program at the U.S. Department of State, has sent more than 220 U.S. athletes to more than 50 countries to participate in Sports Envoy programs, including more than 40 NBA and WNBA players and coaches.
The program also promoted learning English, with language skills designed by State Department staff incorporated into the basketball drills. Through the experience, students gained better sports skills and better language skills. English learning materials were distributed at each of the schools where Raymond and Brown coached, allowing students to continue the learning on their own.
The American athletes were excited about the reception they received from the girls.
“No one could ever imagine the energy we received from the schools in Shenyang, Benxi, and Anshan,” Raymond said. “The kids were high energy, receptive to our teaching and full of intriguing questions.”
For eight years, Raymond coached collegiate basketball at Ohio State University and the University of Kansas. Prior to coaching, she played for several years in the WNBA for the Minnesota Lynx and the Connecticut Sun. Currently, she works as an analyst for cable sports network ESPN.
Brown played for the Washington Mystics, the Houston Comets, the New York Liberty, the Minnesota Lynx, the Los Angeles Sparks and the Tulsa Shock. In the 2011–2012 season, she played in France for Bourges. She currently is coaching at basketball camps near her home in Atlanta.
Would they go to China again? “Absolutely!” Brown says. “Big cities get a lot of love from major programs, and I think it’s only fitting we continue to go into smaller communities and show some love because they give it back 10 times over.”
“In taking the good sportsmanship message to China, what mattered most from my WNBA experience?” she said. "It mattered when I saw kids look up to me when they understood a drill even without good verbal communication. It mattered to me when I saw intent in their eyes to want to get better even in the small amount of time we were there. That was what made the trip all worth it. The trip will forever be in my heart.”
Raymond added, “We love this game. China rocks!”