The National Basketball Association (NBA) is opening a glitzy “lifestyle destination” complex with an official basketball court, a hoop-themed restaurant and a children’s zone.
You can train like Kobe Bryant, or even an LA Lakers girl, at a state-of-the-art fitness center. Perhaps you could spend the day at an interactive carnival, shooting jump shots against a virtual LeBron James, or in a two-on-two game with friends.
The NBA experience in the US$1.5 billion, 930.8 hectare sports and entertainment superstructure is not in Beverly Hills or Manhattan — it is on the outskirts of Beijing.
“China is our No. 1 market outside of the United States,” NBA International president Heidi Ueberroth told reporters.
Many in the US believe that basketball entered the Chinese public consciousness when Yao Ming joined the NBA. Though he had a enormous impact, the game had a huge following well before the 2.29m center became a member of the Houston Rockets in 2002.
The Miami Heat and Los Angeles Clippers played two preseason games in China last year and the knowledge of NBA history by the fans stunned league officials.
Three hundred million play the game in the basketball-mad nation. Commissioner David Stern said the NBA water-cooler talk in China is similar to what happens in the US.
“The discussions are all the same — about last night’s games, about possible trades, about the [salary] cap, about revenue sharing,” he said. “It’s really quite extraordinary.”
The league has capitalized on its popularity with the Chinese Basketball Association (CBA) Dongguan Basketball School and NBA Training Center for potential pros.
“We have recruited elite juniors age 12 to 17 and they train in an NBA facility to become top-level basketball players,” NBA China CEO David Shoemaker said. “It’s a collaboration with the CBA. We use our most modern techniques from a coaching level, from a nutrition level and from a physical training level. It’s one of many ways we can partner with the local federation on the ground in China to further generate the next generation of basketball there.”
The league is helping to develop the fourth cutting-edge NBA-style arena in China’s Xiamen City.
“We are growing very fast internationally,” Ueberroth said, adding that last week’s All-Star game was televised in 215 countries.
Ueberroth hopes to bring the NBA’s blueprint for success to other countries like India and Brazil.
However, the NBA’s success in China may be hard to duplicate.
“Our fans base there is so knowledgeable and it just impresses every person that’s part of the NBA family that goes over,” Ueberroth said. “It’s the history of basketball in China. It was brought by missionaries in the late 1800s, it’s been part of the fabric and played throughout China.”