Thursday 17 October, 2019

Popularity of NBA in China seems to create endless options

Former NBA players, Kobe Bryant (left) and Tony Parker, talk during the first-place match between Spain and Argentina in the FIBA Basketball World Cup at the Cadillac Arena in Beijing on Sunday, September 15. (AP Photo/Ng Han Guan)

Former NBA players, Kobe Bryant (left) and Tony Parker, talk during the first-place match between Spain and Argentina in the FIBA Basketball World Cup at the Cadillac Arena in Beijing on Sunday, September 15. (AP Photo/Ng Han Guan)

BEIJING (AP) — Kobe Bryant went to China for the first time in 1998, making the trip to Beijing to help operate an instructional basketball clinic for about a dozen kids. The local coaches working with him didn’t know a lot about the game. Barely anyone noticed that an NBA player was in town.

Basketball wasn’t a big deal in China.

And then everything changed very quickly.

The footprint of the NBA has grown at an extremely rapid pace over the last two decades in China, where more than 500 million people watched games last season and where one new streaming deal alone will pump $1.5 billion into the league’s coffers over the next five years.

“When I first came here, I never thought the game in China would get to be this big,” Bryant said. “But it has. And it’s not going to stop.”

The possibilities seem endless.

Could there be an NBA team in China, despite the travel that would be involved? Might there be two-way player contracts between the NBA and the Chinese Basketball Association? What about the NBA constructing a team to play in China, or the Chinese sending a team for a full season in the US?

Farfetched as all that may sound, keep in mind that 20 years ago no one envisioned the NBA-China relationship to be this big — or that it would keep growing after Yao Ming’s run with the Houston Rockets ended eight years ago. The NBA has academies in China now, and the Chinese national team returned to the NBA Summer League in Las Vegas this year.

“It’s a good question,” Golden State coach, Steve Kerr, said. “I think the next step will probably come when the next Yao Ming comes. That would take it to a new level, more Chinese players to reach the NBA and make an impact.”

The marriage between the NBA and the world’s most populous country is stronger than ever. NBA officials say more than 300 million Chinese people play the game and 40 million are registered to play the 2K video game. Thousands showed up this summer just to watch the sons of Dwyane Wade and LeBron James play exhibitions with the rest of their high school teammates.

A trade war is happening between the US and China, political tensions are escalating between the countries, and it could impact the products of the league’s business partners. But the game itself continues to thrive.

“I think sports transcends politics and I hope the NBA can continue to connect fans globally,” Dallas Mavericks owner, Mark Cuban, said. “I don’t have any reason to think our relationship won’t continue to be positive.”

Get the latest local and international news straight to your mobile phone for free:

  

Comments