Joe Johnson Is Very Big in China: A Love Story


We originally published this last year, but with Joe Johnson’s recent selection to the NBA All-Star Team, we thought it was worth another read. Enjoy.

“I just a simple person, with little income, 24 years old young people…..
I do not care about other’s thinking, someone said I was a fool,
they would like to say: “why does yonsan spent lots of time on an

– Yonsan Johnson, founder of the Chinese Joe Johnson Fan Club

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A life changing moment can come in a thousand packages. A car running a red light, the first cries of an infant, even a simple word of encouragement – all these have the power to send one’s days skittering in a new direction, sometimes for good. So, apparently, does the cover of a basketball magazine that sells for $4.99 at Books-a-Million.

For Yonsan Johnson, formerly Yonsan Uranus, ne Zhu Yan-Qing*, life would never be the same after seeing the cover of a Dime magazine at his military barracks in 2009. There, peering back at him he saw the eyes of a resolute, dignified foreign warrior.

The eyes belonged to Joe Johnson, then a forward for the Atlanta Hawks, an eight-year NBA veteran. In that story Yonsan read about Johnson’s great love for the single mother who’d raised him, his quiet manner on the court and a desire to stay home and play videos games rather than go clubbing.

Yonsan soon realized he’d found a hero, someone who seemed to embody his countrymen’s ancient ideals of patience, strength and respect toward elders. For him, Johnson became not only Yonsan’s favorite player, but a 6-feet-8, 240-pound prism through which he vicariously learned about American culture. In 2009 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 includes almost 500 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 directly speak to Johnson.

I stumbled upon Yonsan’s club while researching an article I was writing in spring 2010 on Johnson, my classmate at Little Rock Central High School. I was intrigued and explained that connection to Yonsan, and asked why he favored Johnson over flashier, more accomplished stars like Kobe Bryant and LeBron James.

The result: two and a half years of correspondence, some of which is reproduced here. While the e-mails have been edited for space and privacy, original spelling, punctuation and grammar were kept to preserve their immediacy, sincerity and unaffected authenticity.

In Yonsan, I have found a someone with an insatiable appetite for knowledge of the world his favorite star inhabits, and I have gained a long-term pen pal from whom I’ve learned about a place many Americans know nothing about: China. But through Yonsan I have also learned about America.

Note: In America, names are considered permanent. Not so in China, where there is a tradition of acquiring and shedding multiple names through the course of life. In recent decades, educated Chinese have taken to choosing English names to enable them to better navigate the global economy. It is common for modern Chinese office workers to address themselves by their English names while otherwise conversing entirely in Chinese.

After a few introductory emails, on the first day of the 2010 playoffs, with 3rd-seed Atlanta taking on Milwaukee, Yonsan explains his world (ellipses separating text denote edited deletions):



I will tell you the truth.
You Know, Chinese is a developing country.
with huge people about one billion and four hundred million…
Ain’t most of Chinese are rich..
The great mass of people live with a ordinary life…
For most of Chinese, It is so hard to go abroad.
Not only it is expensive, but the passport is aslo hard to authorize.
Maybe one day I can Fly to the USA.
So sad…

Evin, I just wonder how can I contact to Joe…

Would you please ask for Joe if he agree to tell me his E-MAIL adress and phone number.
maybe phone number is so hard to get.

Aslo could help me to collect Fans words in JJFC (Joe johnson fan club) to him.

there are some Fans voice~
“Let’s go Hawks! It’s our time! come on! you are the best!”
“Joe~ we wish you do your best!! … we are strong backing behind you!”
“Joe~ China is a good place, Weclome to China!!”
“Joe~ Can you Stay? please do not go~ Hawks need you!!”
“Hi Joe~ I am your Chinese Fan… you know, We love you`everyone in JJFC~ So please cheer up!

Could you please send these words to Joe ??? they are the Fans’ Fancy words.



Hi Evin,

What a pity! Evin,
For me, it is so hard to get Joe’s personal contact info.

Last month, I sent an E-Mail to a cameraman.
to ask if I can get some Joe’s photo
he also told me he had no right to
give me any photo and contact info. it is legal duty…
I almost despair…



I have some questions about NBA Authentic Jersey. I am Confusing…
Because I really want to buy a Jersey of Joe’s,

An Authentic Jersey will cost 2180 RMB (about $272.5 dollars),

maybe it will spend me 3 weeks work to get this Jersey.
But I listened to my friends, they tell me in America, People are so easy to buy a Jersey.
Maybe a jersey amounts to there two or three days earning…
Oh, My god…
what a huge differece between China and America…

[For the second straight season, the Hawks make the conference semifinals after beating Milwaukee in 7 games.]



Joe’s worn jersey in season 2010 would cost $1250… Need to pre-order..
I just consider this, that’s my three months’ earning~~ HAHA!!

I have one question~
do dirty words like “shit, fuck” are often spoke by the plays in the court?! what is these words real mean!? because last week I watch
the replay of Hawks vs Bucks 1st game.. I can hear someone said these words… aslo I hear the word
when Joe drive in to the area and He put the ball in. but I never saw any play made foul on him~ In my
mind Joe can not put these words out, he is so calm~ a man like him
will never say that words~
Haha,maybe there is something different in our mind~
maybe that is just the outside voice, not Joe’s



… in China, Maybe it is impolite to say these words.
Teachers, Families, Friends would not like to hear curse words.
sometimes, these words may cause
fighting in people. so we seldom say them.
it is not have the relation with religious.
Maybe this is the difference between China and America~


[The Hawks lose by 43 and 14 in their first two games in the next round against the top-seeded Orlando Magic. The situation seems dire.]

Hello Evin,

Today is so tired.. It is my birthday, also Mother’s Day.
I will give my mother a call at 9:00 AM (Beijing Time) with Festival greeting.
Right now it is midnight…
In suppertime, My friend and I went to a restaurant have some hometown dishes.
although I’ve been in Xi’an for 7 years, I still not adapt Northern cuisine.
I came from south of China, Guizhou Province. I love spicy food very much…
So I felt good to eat hometown dishes on my birthday. that’s cool~

… I still have the confidence in Game 3 today. Wish they could win.
Joe is too tired. And he injured hand…
Very sorry about him.

But I hate those media repoters who did wild reports and comments.
They Blamed the faliures on Joe…
Lots of curse words…..
I cannot endure that. But I can not do anything…

How about these photos? Do you see Joe’s helpless? or frustration?




Remember the mail I sent to you about 12 hours ago??
I have some new for you…
The third game about Hawks and Magic is so terrible…
Hawks lost the game again in their Home by 30 points. that’s a hug disparity…

I talk about today’s game and those articles with JJFC members at night, some one felt disappointment
some one felt nothing,some one felt unbelievable….

Maybe Joe hurt the fans… they put out the ATL NEWS …

Johnson on unhappy fans: “We could care less if they show up”
they can not believe Joe said these words.
How about this kind of gentleman put these words for his fans??

… He is generally a calm person, but sometimes can be emotional.
Lost 3 games. Can he get a good mood to face fans?
Maybe after he put out these words, He felt regret.

So I am worry about Joe, Wish he would have no inwardly pressure…
Just enjoy the game.
And all the fans in JJFC will give him the greatest supports!!
I will behind him forever!

Yours, San

[Orlando sweeps Atlanta after a 98-84 Game 4 win]



… For Joe, It is just over, and a little pity…
So I upload the backgound music— The crisis
to show that.. Joe needs to rest up. He is tired, I want him just to relax, Just to calm down…
This music is nice~ Like Joe…

Today, I visited Joe’s Facebook…
It seems that he have not look through it.

I think Joe should visit his Facebook sometime.
It is very helpful from the fans’ words, fans’ encouragement…
Maybe He is playing Video game right now~

Time for sleeping…


Today I want to ask you some questions about these photos…

1.Look at this photo, I think Joe must be a good son. He is appreciate for his mother.
A grandness mother have a succeed son.

2.YOU KNOW Joe is very cool, And I want to know who is the people stand left? Josh Smith???
He looks like Josh very much! I really do not know who he is. Maybe Joe and Josh often have activities

3.So cute right??

4. The cover of Slam magazine Two kinds. the chinese version is scaned by myself.
Joe… With the sharp eyes…
do they interesting?



When media published some offensive news about Joe or other NBA players, I often felt not well.
expecially Joe, I think I must get the jersey… maybe someone would like to say
“Yonsan is crazy~”
“Do you think you are seilfish? Never consider your family. although You used your own money, but how
can we accept you to buy such an expensive jersey?”
That’s correct… I almost 24 years old, still single, often think myself, maybe something relation with my
childhood..very unhappy…just stop this…

Sorry, Evin.. Maybe I am bothering you now~ and the words are so tedious..
coz, I really do not know how to express my feeling…
Maybe I felt so sorry about Joe…
Wish his things goes well…



You ask about my work…
I remember I have told you in my E-mail about 1 month ago…
I am a designer, about Electron.. work in an institute.
But recent two years, I felt not well in my work. Sometime I felt boring…
I hate repeatedly work, but I have no choice…
For me, it is not easy to change new job…
You know, in China…
it is so hard for a student graduated from a university or college to apply for a job.
With the largest number of population,
How can you imagine there are thousands of people to compete for one job??

So… Let’s talk about other theme…

Maybe I am single…
cannot understand the real meaning of my rest life.
House? Couple? Child? Car??
No, that is all I never thought before…

Right now, I just want to do my thing that I enjoy…
I really want to talk and meet with Joe Johnson…
Hope my wish will come true~ Hehe~



I will be crazy~~~
there is another Joe appears in Twitter.. his ID is Joe_Johnson2
Who is the real Joe Johnson?!
this man mentioned he has wife~
but, as I know Joe is still single~

I think this must be fake~
As the personality of Joe, I think he would like to stay at home with his mom futhermore than communicates with fans~
certainly, I am not meaning he does not like fans… he just calm, do not like people to focus more on him…



[Yonsan takes it upon himself to sleuth out Johnson’s contact info. He claims to make online contact with Al Horford, one of Johnson’s teammates. Yonsan is invited to play an online game with Horford’s signed jersey as a prize. Unfortunately, his Internet connectivity sputters.]

What’s up~

Fortunately thing is I through Twitter to chat with AL Horford (HAWKS Center), That’s feeling good.
and AL would will to chat with me, and I joined in a online game with him and other fans who answer his question first will get his Signed Jersey.. But my net condition does not work well…. I missed the Jersey…
But I never felt sad, Just felt happy… Because, It is my first time to chat with NBA Player, and AL is kind.
good man…
Right now, I will go on to update my data of Joe’s, Still wait for him…


[On the same day Joe Johnson agrees to terms on a new six-year, $119 million contract with the Hawks, Yonsan receives his long-awaited Joe Johnson jersey in the mail.  It is the Fourth of July.]

subject: I GET IT!!! I GET IT!!! EVIN~~~


Man, I get it~~ the game worn jersey of Joe’s… I amlost cried…



Joe finally stay in ATL, with the great contract $119 million six years~

[To celebrate Johnson’s good fortune, Yonsan quotes a Denzel Washington flick]

I’ve read a poem from the moive
Antwone Fisher

Who will cry for the little boy, lost and alone. Who will cry for the little boy, abandoned without his own. Who will cry for the little boy, he cried himself to sleep. Who will cry for the little boy, who never had it for keep. Who will cry for the little boy, who walked on burning sands. Who will cry for the little boy, the boy inside a man. Who will cry for the little boy, who knew well hurt and pain. Who will cry for the little boy, who died and died again. Who will cry for the little boy, a good boy he tried to be. Who will cry for the little boy, who cries inside of me.



Tell u something secret, but please donnot tell Joe~

I plan to let some of Joe’s Chinese fans to write some words on my collection Authentic Jersey (white Home), and some other things put in a box, on September I will ship it to Joe..
to give him a suprise~~~

I think this must be the great meaningful thing in my life~

On Page Two, Yosan changes his name, Joe Johnson gets a new contract, a new t-shirt, a new team and much, much more.

Page Two

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