Sun, Oct 14, 2018 - Page 11 News List

NBA hopes to make basketball No. 1 global sport


Stephen Curry of the Golden State Warriors, left, shoots a three-pointer during their pre-season game against the Los Angeles Lakers on Friday in San Jose, California. The Lakers won 119-105.

Photo: AFP

It was the final minute of a pre-season game between Philadelphia and Dallas, the 76ers were up by four points with the ball and thousands of fans were screaming “defense” at the top of their lungs.

A common scene, with an uncommon detail: The game was in China.

“Fantastic,” Dallas’ Dirk Nowitzki said. “Shows our fans are everywhere.”

That fandom, and the importance of those international eyeballs, just keeps growing.

The NBA has been going overseas to play pre-season and regular season games for 40 years, and the global footprint of the league — not to mention its business interests — continues to expand.

The league has opened up 11 international offices, establishing six academies on four continents and started broadcasting games to more than 200 countries and territories.

This season, the NBA heads back to Mexico and England for regular-season contests, after the 76ers and Mavericks played exhibitions in China earlier this month.

“I believe we can be the No. 1 sport in the world,” NBA commissioner Adam Silver said. “When I look at the trajectory of growth, the fact that young people, boys and girls, continue to love this sport, are playing this sport, are engaged in the sport of basketball on social media or with online games, I don’t know what the limit is.”

The numbers touted by the NBA are impressive: 300 million people playing the game for fun in China alone, rapid growth in India over the past decade and an estimated 1 billion people around the globe — that is basically one out of every seven people — having some access to the NBA Finals.

And China — which got to cheer one of its countrymen, Ding Yanyuhang, in a pre-season game there this year — is the dominant force in all that international traffic.

Marvin Johnson last year moved from the Miami area to China to teach and coach at a basketball academy there.

The first thing he saw when he deplaned in Beijing was a massive Li Ning store, which was basically a shrine to Heat guard Dwyane Wade, who has a lifetime contract to endorse the Chinese brand’s products.

“Any time you go out to play basketball at a local court there is a plethora of NBA jerseys being worn by the players,” Johnson said. “If you ask any local playing basketball, they can’t name the players on the local Chinese Basketball Association team, but they can name their favorite players in the NBA in an instant.”

Wade and Heat teammate Udonis Haslem went to China this summer to promote Li Ning. Everywhere they went, thousands of people were waiting, and that is now standard for when any big-name NBA player heads to Asia.

LeBron James has made an annual trip to China for years. Stephen Curry dropped some Mandarin on fans there when he visited this summer. Kevin Durant played HORSE and did not lose. Klay Thompson — or “China Klay” — lost at pop-a-shot.

“Life is too short to be serious all the time,” Thompson said. “You’ve got to be able to show your personality. That’s what I do when I come to China.”

Going to places like China is fun, but it is clearly smart NBA business as well.

“It’s been that way for years,” Wade said. “They’re not just fans in China. They’re knowledgeable fans. They know everything about the Heat, about me, about UD [Haslem], the finals, everything. It definitely speaks to the growth of not just our league, but the game.”

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