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Grizzlies’ Kyle Anderson Joins Mom’s Journey to Meet Long-Lost Family in China

Suzanne Anderson is sitting with her son, Memphis Grizzlies forward Kyle Anderson, eating lunch in Shenzhen. With Crystal, Kyle’s girlfriend, and David, his best friend, by their side, the Andersons munch on deep-fried pig, handmade dumplings, freshly wok’d stir-fry and a Chinese fruit called longan between sips of baiju, a Chinese liquor.

As much as the foursome enjoys the food and drink, it’s the place and the people with whom they’re sharing the meal that make this moment so special.

The place? The house in which Kyle’s great-grandfather, the late Samuel Lee Hin, was born. The people? Kyle and Suzanne’s long-lost relatives, now found more than 8,000 miles from the Andersons’ home in North Bergen, New Jersey. Together, they celebrate the culmination of a four-year search to find the missing branch of their family tree.

“Just being able to go back generations and find relatives from the other side of the world was just so breathtaking,” Kyle tells CloseUp360 this summer at his fourth-annual “Celebrate Life Day” event in North Bergen. “I still don’t have the words to describe what we felt there and how nice the people were, meeting them. It was awesome.”

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Kyle Anderson, Suzanne (left), Crystal and David (middle) eat lunch with the Andersons' relatives in Shenzhen, China. (Courtesy of Acorn Entertainment)

Kyle knew he was one-eighth Chinese for quite some time. But it wasn’t until this summer that a true connection to his roots was formed, thanks to Suzanne's relentless efforts to dig them up.

“I wanted my mom, [Miriam], to know about my grandfather,” Suzanne says. “I wanted my mom to see a picture of him. It was very important to me. My mom was suffering from breast cancer and I just thought, ‘If this is the one thing I can do, I can show her a picture of her father,’ so I just went out.”

Miriam didn't speak much of her father, Samuel, during Suzanne’s childhood in New York City. Neither did Miriam’s brothers and sisters.

But Suzanne needed only to look in the mirror to realize that her family tree could be traced far from her mother’s upbringing in Jamaica.

“I knew I had a Chinese grandfather,” she says. “I could tell by my eyes and my skin that I had some type of Chinese blood in me.”

Through her own due diligence over the years, Suzanne had gathered scant details about Samuel. She knew he wasn’t from Jamaica originally and had fathered 13 children. Beyond that, her relatives’ reluctance to talk—due to the difficulty of their own early lives on the island—kept her in the dark.

“It just bothered me that for half my life, I just couldn’t find anything out about him,” she says.

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Suzanne meets one of her long-lost relatives for the first time, in the Xinmu New Village of Shenzhen. (Courtesy of Acorn Entertainment)

It wasn’t until 2012, when Suzanne joined Kyle and the UCLA men’s basketball team on a trip to Shanghai, that she started to believe she could piece together the puzzle of her family’s story.

Suzanne's project began in earnest two years later, when the San Antonio Spurs drafted Kyle after his sophomore year in Westwood. She moved to San Antonio to be with her son as he acclimated to his new surroundings. With the team on the road half the season, she had plenty of free time to spend researching her origins online. She also had help from Robert Hew, a genealogist and vice president of the Chinese Benevolent Association, and Paula Williams Madison, a noted author who wrote Finding Samuel Lowe: China, Jamaica, Harlem about her own search for her grandfather in Guangdong.

Suzanne's breakthrough, though, came on AncestryDNA. After submitting a sample for genetic testing, she received an e-mail from a man named Ian Lee, who was conducting his own search. His father, Donald, actually shared DNA with Suzanne. As it turns out, Donald’s grandfather, Tom Lee, was the brother of Samuel.  

“I couldn’t believe that I found him,” Suzanne says.

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Kyle and Suzanne with a photo of Samuel Lee Hin presented to them by their relatives. (Courtesy of Acorn Entertainment)

Through an arrangement with the Chinese-based media company Acorn Entertainment, Kyle and Suzanne flew 16 hours this summer to meet roughly 30 of their relatives in China.

“Just have to give that credit to my mom. She put the work in,” Kyle says. “A lot of long days, long nights researching. I’m sure there were times where she probably thought she was getting nowhere with this stuff and she just kept rolling, kept working at it, and it paid off for sure. It was all worth it. You can tell.”

The week-long excursion started with shopping in Hong Kong, followed by a trip to Shanghai to attend the second-ever Chinese Basketball Association summer league game. During the game, the Andersons met Mr. Xu, the CEO of the Zhejiang Guangsha Lions basketball club. He gave Kyle a jersey for the CBA game, and Kyle gave him his old Spurs uniform—like two soccer players swapping shirts after a match.

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Kyle swaps shirts with Mr. Xu at the second-ever Chinese Basketball Association summer league game in Shanghai, China. (Courtesy of Acorn Entertainment)

From there, it was on to Shenzhen, where Kyle and Suzanne would finally meet their long-lost cousins.

That fateful day began at the DoubleTree by Hilton Shenzhen Longhua, where Kyle was surprised by a group of local San Antonio Spurs fans who had waited for him all morning.

The Andersons, Crystal, David and Acorn representatives then rode to the Xinmu New Village on Pinghu Street, anxious about how they would be received by their family.

“I wasn’t sure because we’re multiracial and I wasn’t sure they were going to embrace us,” Suzanne says. “They didn’t know anything about my grandfather’s family in Jamaica. So I wasn’t sure if it was going to upset them.

“And it was the complete opposite.”

When the Andersons arrived, they were welcomed by firecrackers. They then stepped into different relatives’ homes and met their Chinese family members. With the help of two interpreters, they shared stories of Samuel and were entered into the family’s traditional Chinese ancestry book, known as a jiapu.

Once Kyle and Suzanne saw themselves listed in a lineage that “goes back thousands and thousands of years,” they couldn’t help but cry.

“I'm glad I never gave up. I'm glad I stuck with it,” Suzanne says.“There were a lot of nights where I stayed up until 3-4 in the morning and thought I was never going to find [Samuel].”

But the Andersons did more in Shenzhen than add themselves to family lore. They also dabbled in local culture with their newfound family.

They took part in a ceremony—called bai shen, which means “to worship god”—where everyone received incense and bowed to pay respect to their ancestors. They dined in their ancestral home, surrounded by relatives they had long dreamt of meeting. They posed for photos with a group of around 50 people in front of a banner that read “Your Chinese family warmly welcomes you Kyle, Suzanne and Crystal!” while everyone said, “Welcome Home, Kyle!" in Chinese.

And, of course, Kyle played basketball with kids from the village.

“They were so proud of Kyle,” Suzanne says. “The younger children knew about him, they had done their research on the Internet. And they have access to Instagram and Twitter, and the family was just so excited to meet us. I never thought I was going to get that reaction.”

“It was my second time being there [in China],” Kyle says. “But meeting my family, people you share the same blood with on the other side of the world, that’s just… I don’t know what to say about that. It’s one of the best moments of my life. That’s what I have to say about it. Truly one of the best moments of my life.”

For Suzanne, it was a mission accomplished. She returned to the U.S. eager to share her experience with Miriam—not to dredge up the painful past that Kyle’s grandmother had tried to forget, but to fill her in on the present-day prosperity of their relatives and lay the foundation for the future of their multicultural, globe-spanning family.

The Andersons Experience China

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Kyle places incense during a bai shen ceremony to cement his arrival in the village.

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Kyle and Suzanne make dumplings.

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Kyle cooks stir-fry in a wok.

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Kyle and his crew say cheers with baiju, a Chinese spirit, over lunch.

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Kyle and Crystal try longan, a Chinese fruit.

(Photos courtesy of Acorn Entertainment)

“I came back to tell my mom about how wonderful her relatives are, how beautiful the women in her family are, what a proud, proud family they are,” Suzanne says. “I can honestly say now that I know about my Chinese family, and, for I’m embarrassed to say like 50 years, I never knew anything about them. Now, I can tell you the street, I can tell you who lives where, we speak on Instagram and DM each other. So it’s just a wonderful experience. I feel at home.”

Though the trip was Suzanne’s passion project, Kyle, too, came away with a deeper understanding of himself—and a desire to learn more.

“I’ve always been told that I resemble the Chinese people, and my friends would always tell me that,” Kyle says. “I didn’t know what to expect—maybe I did, maybe I didn’t. But just that I finally do, I want to indulge in the culture now. I want to be a part of it now.”

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For the final stop of the Andersons' trip to China, Kyle played basketball with the kids in the village.

 

Mike Mazzeo is a veteran NBA writer based in New York City. Follow him on Twitter.

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