China’s Han Xu Is WNBA’s Next International Superstar

New York Liberty rookie Han Xu’s debut generates 1.2 million viewers and 6.3 million total video views in China.

There’s a new international star in women’s basketball. To call New York Liberty rookie and China native Han Xu’s an overnight success wouldn’t be a stretch considering most WNBA execs and basketball fans outside of Asia were clueless as to whom she was until a couple of days before the New York Liberty selected her in the second round of the WNBA Draft. 

We listed the 6-foot-9, 19-year-old 19-year-old among our Top 5 WNBA Draft sleepers, but the WNBA has never had a successful player from China before. Expected to be a borderline pick, Han Xu ‘s star power was greatly underestimated.  

There wasn’t much footage on her on the internet.

None of that mattered, however, once the preseason began. Now they are calling her the female Yao Ming. 

Her recent debut proved that her game is lit and the interest is huge in her homeland.  Han’s Liberty debut generated 1.2 million viewers across Tencent, Youku, Migu and Xigua, and another 6.3 million total video views on social media platforms in China, including behind-the-scenes coverage of the game and an interview with new Liberty owner Joe Tsai.

Xu, the first graduate of the NBA Academy program to be drafted into the NBA or WNBA, made her WNBA debut in an exhibition game at Barclays Center in Brooklyn, NY on Thursday, May 9 against the Chinese Women’s National Team. In the Liberty’s 89-71 victory, she scored 19 points.

Despite her relative obscurity and the fact that she never played college basketball in the USA, there was a faction of Chinese reporters at the Draft, waiting for Xu’s name to be called. A couple of reporters I spoke to were very high on her skills and didn’t expect her to last long in the draft.

Their optimism wasn’t shared by everyone. Las Vegas Aces President Bill Laimbeer and LA Sparks head coach Derek Fisher both said that they don’t know if Han Xu would even be drafted during a press conference leading up to 2019 WNBA Draft held at Nike New York Headquarters in April.

Fisher: “She trains out in LA. I haven’t gotten a chance to see Han in person. Due to the way rosters are constructed, it’s going to be hard to stick. She has the ability, potential, and size which is very rare in our game. I’m not sure where she will get drafted or if she will get drafted.”

Coach Fisher might have told on himself with that comment. If he did his due diligence, he would know that Xu was very draft worthy and is quickly proving that Chinese basketball is on the rise and the New York Liberty have a potential draft steal and an international superstar in the making.

JR Gamble joined The Shadow League in 2012. The General Manager of Content & Social Media is in his 25th year of covering sports and culture professionally. He has covered a wide variety of major sports and entertainment topics across different mediums, including radio, newspapers, magazines and national TV. His passion is baseball, the culturing of baseball and preserving and documenting the historically-impactful accomplishments and contributions of African-Americans in baseball.