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Fourteen takeaways from Simu Liu’s star-studded charity basketball bash

By Barry Chong| Photography by George Pimentel
Fourteen takeaways from Simu Liu’s star-studded charity basketball bash
Simu Liu and Jeremy Lin

Simu Liu loves his hometown—even when he’s getting chirped at the free-throw line. On Saturday, Toronto’s own Marvel superhero hit the hardcourt for the second annual Canadian Chinese Youth Athletic Association (CCYAA) Celebrity Classic, this time throwing down in front of a sold-out crowd at U of T’s Goldring Centre for High Performance Sport. Joining Liu was a stable of celebrities as well as ballers like former Raptor and NBA Champion Jeremy Lin. Laughs were had, two lovers got engaged, and Hasan Minhaj declared Torontonians the most beautiful people on earth. Here’s a full list of highlights.

Forget Shang-Chi—Liu wishes he were Shawn Kemp

Yes, he’s an international movie star. And yes, he’s a bestselling author and a sheriff on social media. But, in his heart, Liu just wants to be a basketball player. “Oh my God, I’m about to have my first press conference,” he said, all teeth, while walking into a steamy room packed with journalists alongside Lin and CCYAA co-founder Clement Chu. “I’ve never felt more like a professional athlete.” Liu then downplayed his fame, instead highlighting Lin’s legendary game at Madison Square Garden, wherein he scored 38 points en route to defeating Kobe Bryant’s Lakers. The real superhero was Lin. “I was only in a Marvel movie,” Liu said, to which Lin replied, “Somebody talk some sense into this guy!”

Fourteen takeaways from Simu Liu’s star-studded charity basketball bash
Simu Liu blows by comedian Ronny Chieng
Jeremy Lin wants to retire in Toronto

Jeremy Lin is the first Asian American to win an NBA title, and he did it with the Raptors in 2019. Champions such as Lin often have the pro-sports honour of choosing where to retire via symbolic one-day contracts. So will he choose Toronto? “I would love that,” he said. “This city gave me so much.” Ever the role model, Lin quickly added that, by the time he dies, he hopes Asian champions will no longer be a “novelty”—that kids won’t have to be “the next Jeremy Lin” and can instead just be themselves.

Fourteen takeaways from Simu Liu’s star-studded charity basketball bash
Jeremy Lin
Basketball bridges the gap

Chu said he chose hoops as one of the CCYAA’s core sports for its ability to empower youth. (It’s an exciting low-cost sport that can be played in community centres and playgrounds.) He first reached out to Liu about a partnership in 2016, when the actor was breaking out on Kim’s Convenience. Proceeds from the classic will go toward the Jeremy Lin Foundation and a new CCYAA community centre in Toronto.

Hasan Minhaj thinks we’re sexy

Comedian Hasan Minhaj, who faced off against Simu on the court, was having such a good time that he broke into an unprompted tribute to the sexy people of Toronto. “Everybody in this city is gorgeous. They look like they’re out of a fashion catalogue,” he said. “People here are this beige mix of the future—love children of Drake and Bruno Mars. They’re [like the most] beautiful Sudanese Egyptian Indian Pakistani Filipino people I’ve ever met.”

Fourteen takeaways from Simu Liu’s star-studded charity basketball bash
Comedian Hasan Minhaj
Jeremy teaches kids the hard way

The festivities began around noon (Liu was still crushing coffee courtside because it was “so early”) with a Youth Jam: dancers, wushu warriors, a performance from Los Angeles’s DANakaDAN, and a shootout that included Liu and friends taking on kids—all 10 or under—from Lin’s foundation. With the celebs trailing, Linsanity, who is roughly six foot three, showed no mercy, rudely swatting kids’ shots out of bounds. The children were nevertheless victorious. “That was not my finest moment,” said Lin. “Do as I say, not as I do.”

She said yes!

It wasn’t all bloodsport. After jumping over Simu Liu for a vicious slam, professional dunker Sherman Shu proposed to his partner, Micaela. And she said yes, sending the crowd into a Jurassic Park–level frenzy.

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Fourteen takeaways from Simu Liu’s star-studded charity basketball bash
Professional dunker Sherman Shu proposes to his partner, Micaela
Prejudice takes the L

Lin has been candid about his struggles with embracing his Asian identity. He told the crowd that, as a young player, he felt ashamed—scouts would evaluate him based on his looks; fellow players would call him “Yao Ming” and “Chicken Fried Rice.” Today, he boasts an 11-season career in the NBA (with some good playing years still in the tank) and a championship ring. Victory: Lin.

Fourteen takeaways from Simu Liu’s star-studded charity basketball bash
Celebrity reporter Elaine Lui
Simu discovered his destiny as an extra on Pacific Rim

Once upon a time, said Simu to the audience, before taking over Hollywood, he worked as an accountant at Deloitte and hated it. In fact, he loathed the gig so much that, one day, the actor played hooky to work as an extra on Guillermo del Toro’s Pacific Rim, which was shooting in the Port Lands. The experience was so electric that Liu just kept going out for extra work.

Ronny Chieng is ruthless

The stand-up and star of Crazy Rich Asians was a madman on the floor, playing aggressive defence and attacking Liu with the ball whenever he got the chance. After watching Liu miss a free throw, Chieng bellowed a soul-crushing “You suck!”—which drew the biggest laugh of the evening.

Fourteen takeaways from Simu Liu’s star-studded charity basketball bash
Simu Liu congratulates actor Charles Melton post game
It’s not just about being Asian

Amid the goofs and good times, Liu looked into the cameras and reminded us about the purpose of the event. “As a kid, watching the media, I didn’t feel like I belonged,” he said. “I can’t overstate how much the media affects our perception. A lot of communities haven’t been properly represented. This is beyond just an Asian thing.”

Celebs showed up and showed out

Also in attendance: NBA all-timer Dominique Wilkins (who, at 62, looks like he could still windmill dunk over a chair); Etalk’s Elaine Lui; TikToker Tiana Shern; Riverdale’s Charles Melton; hometown songsmith Alex Porat; and TIFF CEO Cameron Bailey, looking fresh in a T-shirt and jeans.

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Fourteen takeaways from Simu Liu’s star-studded charity basketball bash
TIFF CEO Cameron Bailey
Raptor fans want Kevin Durant. Or maybe not?

Calling the game—and cracking wise—were William Lou and Alex Wong of Sportsnet 590’s The Raptors Show. They drew both cheers and jeers when debating which in-house celebrities would make a suitable trade package for Kevin Durant. But do the Raps have the pieces to land the superstar and stay competitive? An entire roster of celebrities along with Wilkins might be the only way to get the deal done, the two joked. Wilkins looked over at the commentators’ box, displeased.

Fourteen takeaways from Simu Liu’s star-studded charity basketball bash
Will Lou and Alex Wong of Sportsnet
The Raptor doesn’t disappoint

The NBA’s most celebrated dino was all over the event, riling up the crowd, hitting first-attempt half-court shots and hamming it up with pretty people in the Drake seats. Many hugs were dispensed.

Fourteen takeaways from Simu Liu’s star-studded charity basketball bash
The Raptor ribs Simu Liu
Team Liu wins the day

Liu’s squad won the game after a fast fourth-quarter finale, and boy was he happy. Throughout the night, Liu could be seen talking strategy with Raptors coach and Eastern Commerce legend Jamaal Magloire while encouraging his teammates and dropping some pretty assists along the way. Mostly, Liu was thrilled to share the court with one of his own heroes. “In all of my basketball fantasies,” he said, “I always wanted to be Jeremy’s teammate.”

Fourteen takeaways from Simu Liu’s star-studded charity basketball bash
NBA legends Dominique Wilkins and Jamaal Magloire

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