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Former NBA Star James Donaldson Now Plays on a Bigger Court: China


Hi all,  just thought I’d share a little something about what I’m up to in China now a days.




Former NBA Star James Donaldson Now Plays on a Bigger Court: China

By Wen Liu on March 12, 2013


After 20 years of playing professional basketball, including three seasons with the Seattle SuperSonics, James Donaldson is finding a new career in the hottest basketball market around: China.

These days Donaldson is spending eight months a year in China, combining two of his passions: sports and education. On sports, he works to create events for American pro basketball teams to play in China and to bring Chinese basketball teams to the U.S for training and study. On education, he visits high schools and universities in China and talks to students about study abroad opportunities in the U.S.

That’s quite a career turn from his days as a professional athlete. Donaldson played in the Seattle SuperSonics from 1980 to 1983, made the 1988 NBA All-Stars, and his 14 years in the NBA included stints with the San Diego/Los Angeles Clippers, Dallas Mavericks, New York Knicks and Utah Jazz. He also played six years in Europe. In 2006, Donaldson was inducted into the Pac–10 Sports Hall of Fame.

In 2010, as a director of the National Basketball Retired Players Association, he made his first trip to China with Charles Smith, the association’s executive director. Citing an NBA market survey showing an estimated 750 million Chinese basketball fans in China, Donaldson said they were there to explore opportunities for retired NBA players. In the two-week trip, they visited Beijing, Guangzhou, Qingdao and Hong Kong, meeting Chinese sports-related businesses and talking about basketball camps, coaching, clothing, shoes, and sponsorships.

Not only did the trip open Donaldson’s eyes to China, he was hooked. He found the opportunities there for personal growth and business ventures enticing. He also discovered a new potential audience for his book, “Standing above the Crowd –Execute Your Game Plan to Become the Best You Can Be,” about strategies for success in career and in life.

But what led to an even deeper involvement in China was a chance encounter on an airplane.

In June 2012, while flying from Seattle to Beijing, Donaldson started chatting with a passenger from China sitting next to him. The gentleman turned out to be Peter Lu, an official of the China Service Center for Friendship and Cooperation with Foreign Countries and head of a program for student exchange between the U.S. and China.  After the dozen hours of in-flight conversation about sports and education, the two became business partners. Donaldson became a director of the China Service Center.

Now working in both China and the U.S., Donaldson is busy building on a network of agencies and schools for both NBA retired players and the student exchange program.


The 7-foot-2 Donaldson, who was born in England and grew up in California, is so tall that wherever he goes in China he causes a flurry of excitement, as strangers approach and ask to take photos with him. He loves it, and the attention helps open doors. “I have many friends now in China,” he said, adding that he’s learning to speak Mandarin Chinese.

Donaldson’s Chinese name is ???, Tang Lu Shen, which means king of the road or god of the highway, a name given to him by one of his Chinese friends in Seattle that combines the sound of his last name, his frequent travels, and his height.

Donaldson studied psychology and sociology at Washington State University where he played basketball for the Cougars before joining the NBA. In the middle of his basketball career, in 1989, Donaldson experienced a devastating knee injury. He started a physical therapy business the following year, as both an alternative career and a way to share with others who experienced injury. Today, The Donaldson Clinic, located in Mill Creek, is still going strong with 25 employees.

As someone who continued to challenge himself, Donaldson also ran for mayor of Seattle in 2009, coming in fourth. Besides improving the city’s budget process and championing small businesses, he wanted to get another NBA team to come to Seattle.

Now the former Sonic is very excited about the team’s possible return. “I think it’s fantastic,” he said. “I think it is going to happen.” With the NBA back in town, he sees potential business opportunities ahead. “It will attract more Chinese tourists to Seattle,” he added.

Among his various projects, Donaldson plans to invite Chinese basketball groups here, and even, he hopes, organize a Chinese professional team to come play a game with Seattle, bringing the two parts of his career together on the same court.




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