A Suns youth basketball team at a mini-tournament in May 2022. (Courtesy Philadelphia Suns)

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There’s been lots of basketball chatter around Chinatown lately, but when hoops takes over the Crane Community Center on Saturday, it’ll have nothing to do with the Sixers. 

Fourteen youth basketball teams will face off as the Philadelphia Suns host the one-day Philly Invitational Youth Basketball Tournament, which draws participants from New York, Boston, and all around the region.

“We want to compete with teams from other cities to see how much we have grown. And just to just become better,” Suns Vice President Li Jian told Billy Penn.

The team is fully volunteer-run, and it’s only able to practice once a week, which makes developing on-court chemistry tough. “We’re constrained by how often the players can come out and the resources we have,” Jian said. But that’s not the only reason people participate.

Founded back in 1972 and now led by Harry Leong, the Suns organization currently has 200 active athletes, nearly double the number it had before the pandemic. Most people participate in basketball and volleyball, which alternate spring and fall.

The organized sports opportunity is valuable, Jian said, because many players come from families that don’t place a heavy emphasis on athletics.

A Suns youth basketball team at a mini-tournament in May 2022. (Courtesy Philadelphia Suns)

But the group also runs programs in lion dance, tech, and community outreach, melding traditional American sports with culture and life skills.

“We go into teaching them how to become better participants in the community by requiring them to participate in community service,” Jian said, citing activities like neighborhood clean-ups. 

“By doing sports with community volunteering, it allows us to fulfill our mission to help members build character and give back to the community,” he said.

Jian joined the Suns 10 years ago when he was in college because he wanted to play basketball. “I stayed because I saw by giving back to the organization and the community, I really could impact the younger generation and help them grow into leaders of tomorrow,” he said. 

Young adults of all ages participate in Suns basketball games. (Andrew Abraham for Philadelphia Suns)

What’s his proudest moment over the past decade? That he’s helped the Suns keep thriving. “We’re providing for the next generation,” he said.

“Most of the organizations and partner organizations, we believe in the same things. We’re investing in these kids,” Jian said. “Not just so they become better basketball players, but become better influences in their community.” 

What does the future hold for the Suns? Jian is excited about the North American Chinese Basketball Association Invitational Tournament in Cincinnati this May. 

He’s also worried about the effects of the proposed Center City Sixers arena, which would be built adjacent to the neighborhood: “One immediate concern is, will we get displaced.”

What’s important is ensuring the Suns continue their mission, Jian said, “to build character in our members so that they will be positive influences in our team and community.”