BEIJING (Reuters) - Gum-chewing cheerleaders baring pierced belly buttons, blaring rap music and giant inflatable mascots — the once unthinkable in China now makes basketball an Olympic hot ticket.
Dancing girls with names like “Lucky” and “Yo-Yo” also shake their thing during breaks in the action, but what do older spectators make of all the naked flesh and near-deafening music?
“They brighten things up,” Niu Peigen, a 69-year-old retired local government official from the northeastern city of Dalian, said as a tune from American rapper Kanye West boomed out.
“They create a good atmosphere. It’s only in the last few years we’ve seen things like this,” said Niu.
No one in the 18,000-strong, popcorn-munching crowd, even those who thought the costumes were a little skimpy, seemed to disapprove of this NBA-style razzmatazz in today’s China.
“Some of them are wearing a bit too little maybe, but I can accept it,” said 53-year-old Beijing accountant Li Shuqin.
“I think we’re quite open now. This sort of thing is normal now on TV,” said Li.
The dancers pointed out they were not around when Chinese authorities would have frowned on them waving pom-poms with little to cover their modesty.
“I’m only 19 so I don’t know what it was like then,” said Yo-Yo.
“At first I couldn’t imagine dancing in front of so many people. I’m normally quite shy but when I dance I get a bit crazy. You have to.”
The razzmatazz has also helped basketball give beach volleyball a run for its money as a darling of the Games for television viewers.
Mascot figures in enormous blow-up suits are another big hit at the basketball, where crowd noise has been measured at 110 decibels or the equivalent of a jet aircraft taking off at 200 yards (meters).
Leading NBA players like Kobe Bryant and LeBron James have joined Chinese fans in doubling up with laughter at the antics of the mascot figures who bump into each other and fall over a lot.
“We just try to do cute things to make people laugh. It’s a great feeling to be able to do that,” 21-year-old Gao Qijia said before climbing into a huge inflatable suit.
Yo-Yo said: “If you feel your clothes coming loose or your bra slipping it can be a bit scary. But you can’t panic or at least let it show.”
Additional reporting by Jason Subler; Editing by Ralph Gowling