Joe Johnson (left) and Yonsan Johnson. (Getty Images/Sporting Life Arkansas)
One of my favorite pieces of basketball art ever is "Remain Anonymous," in which Jacob Weinstein of the FreeDarko collective presents an all-too-common urban scene of people waiting at a bus stop that's differentiated from the everyday blahs by one key element — All-Star shooting guard Joe Johnson, then of the Atlanta Hawks, is standing at the bus stop with them. Yet despite Johnson being dressed in full game uniform, a gym bag slung over his shoulder and a basketball in his hand, none of his fellow commuters so much as nod in his direction — even as a hyper-successful, hyper-wealthy and (theoretically) hyper-famous athlete, Johnson's nondescript name and game rate zero oogles and ogles, even in his own town.
That's the way most of us have probably always thought of Johnson — a professional shot-maker who's always been just this side of great and who, despite the All-Star berths and max money, never moved (or even really nudged) the needle for the lion's share of NBA fans. Apparently, though, that's not the case in China, where a small but energetic group of young people led by one very, very dedicated man celebrate the Brooklyn Nets guard's career with a passion typically reserved for megastars like Kobe Bryant and LeBron James.
From Evin Demirel's story for Vice, a longer version of which originally appeared in Sporting Life Arkansas:
Read More »from There’s a Joe Johnson fan club in China with nearly 500 members
For Yonsan Johnson, formerly Yonsan Uranus, ne Zhu Yan-Qing (like many people in China, Yonson has adopted a more English-sounding name), the inciting event came in the form of the cover of an issue of Dime magazine he found in his military barracks in 2009—he looked down and saw the eyes of a resolute, dignified foreign warrior peering out at him.
Inside the magazine, Yonsan read about Johnson’s great love for the single mother who’d raised him, his quiet manner on the court, and how he’d rather stay home and play videos games than go clubbing. In Johnson, he had found a hero, someone who seemed to embody his country's ancient ideals of patience, strength, and respect toward elders. Johnson became not only Yonsan’s favorite player, but a 6-foot-8, 240-pound prism through which he learned about American culture. Not long after he saw Johnson’s image, he founded the Chinese Joe Johnson Fan Club.
By day, Yonsan is an electrical engineer who ekes out the equivalent of $2,400 a year in a factory in northern China. By night, though, as founder of the JJFC, he manages the Joe Johnson Chinese Baidu Tiebar, which he describes as a forum that has 497 members. In this role he has accumulated and edited what is likely the world’s largest cache of Joe Johnson-related pictures and videos. His life’s dream is to one day speak to Johnson directly.