One-armed wonder wows world

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Zhang Jiacheng gets a jump shot off during a training session in Guangdong province. The 13-year-old internet sensation, who lost an arm in an accident aged 5, amazingly took up basketball in 2018. YANG ZAIRUI/FOR CHINA DAILY

When Zhang Jiacheng lost his right arm in an accident at just 5 years old, no one could have believed that he would one day wow the world on the basketball court.

Back then, just dressing himself was a struggle. Now, the 13-year-old from Guangdong province is an internet sensation and counts a host of NBA and CBA heavyweights among his hundreds of millions of fans.

Last week, video footage of the one-armed teenager bamboozling opponents with his sublime dribbling skills and outrageous underarm shots went viral on Chinese social media.

In one clip, Zhang's mesmerizing moves prove too much for a defense comprised of several professional players to illicit huge cheers from courtside spectators.

By Sunday, topics about Zhang had been viewed over 970 million times on Weibo, with NBA superstar Stephen Curry among his admirers.

"Who is this kid? Help me find him! Keep doing you and don't let anyone tell you that you can't," the Golden State Warriors star wrote to his 4.5 million followers on Thursday when re-posting Zhang's video.

Curry later went to the trouble of delivering a video message to Zhang, saying: "I just want to say you are an inspiration. You don't take no for an answer.

"You have found a way to overcome and get out there on the basketball court and show people just how much the game means to you, man.

"So, it's awesome to watch, continue to be an inspiration to anybody that lays eyes on you and thinks that you can't do something-you show that you can.

"And you can do it well. All the best, man, to you, your family. Keep doing it, rooting for ya, supporting ya and talk to ya later, bro."

Replying to his idol, Zhang said: "Hi Curry, I'm your big fan. Because you are not a tall player in the NBA, but still you can be such a great player. I admire you so much."

The teenage prodigy's father, Zhang Beihai, revealed to media that his son's life changed forever following an accident at an oil mill where the boy's right hand got stuck in a blender.

Despite the family seeking the help and opinions of several doctors, Zhang's arm could not be saved. "He was more optimistic than us at that time. He told us he will learn to live with only one hand," Zhang Beihai said.

"I was so worried he would be discriminated against because of the disability, and it would rob him of his will to live. But during his recovery my son even comforted us and told us to not worry too much."

From eating and getting dressed on his own, Zhang gradually managed to adjust to his new reality, continuing with his studies in school and helping his family with the chores.

He first discovered his love for hoops in the summer of 2018 when he signed up for a basketball class in his school. Soon, the youngster was rarely without a ball in his hand-even dribbling at home in the living room. However, Zhang Beihai never expected that his son would become so serious about the game, saying: "I thought he was just playing. I only realized how good he is when I noticed the amount of fans he had attracted online."

Zhang's passion for hoops, though, was immediately noticed by his PE teacher. "Since the first time Zhang Jiacheng attended my class, he would finish 100 percent of everything the teacher asked of him," said Liu Binglan.

"Even when the class was asked to do rope skipping, which requires both hands, he would willingly ask the teacher to do other training so as not to waste time. The kid is really tough, which impressed me a lot."

Zhang counts Curry and Kyrie Irving as his favorite players, with a picture of the latter Brooklyn Nets star used as the cover image on his social media account. Like his heroes, he dreams of a career in entertaining people on the court.

"I was very excited when I realized I attracted big attention," said Zhang. "With the encouragement of all these people, I feel like I have to try harder to live up to people's expectations. I will do better and improve."

On Saturday, Zhang and his family were guests of honor of the Guangdong Southern Tigers team in Dongguan. Last week, the CBA champion's general manager, Zhu Fangyu, said of the young phenom: "This is the best kid I have ever seen playing basketball. As soon as this season's CBA reopens and audiences are allowed to come and watch games, we will invite the teenager to come."

Guangdong and Team China star Yi Jianlian was another to heap praise on the gifted teenager, saying: "Heart is always the strongest part of the body. Your right hand has been taken away in a brutal way, but you have the best left hand. You are the real star in this game."

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