News / Arts & Entertainment

Even With its Popularity, NBA Has Room for Growth in China

FILE - Lamar Odom of NBA basketball team Los Angeles Clippers shows a group of children how to pass the ball during a coaching clinic at the Huangzhuang School in Beijing, China, Oct. 10, 2012.
FILE - Lamar Odom of NBA basketball team Los Angeles Clippers shows a group of children how to pass the ball during a coaching clinic at the Huangzhuang School in Beijing, China, Oct. 10, 2012.
TEXT SIZE - +
Reuters
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 a Laker girl, at a state-of-the-art fitness center.

Perhaps you could spend the day at an interactive carnival, either shooting jump shots against a virtual LeBron James or participate in a two-on-two competition with friends or fellow visitors.

The NBA experience in the $1.5 billion, 2,300-acre sports and entertainment  superstructure is not in Beverly Hills or the shadow of Madison Square Garden in Manhattan.

It is on the outskirts of Beijing.

"China is our number one market outside of the United States," Heidi Ueberroth, president of NBA International, told Reuters,"The growth has been very significant and very much on track, and we are very much still just scratching the surface.''

Many people in the United States believe basketball entered China's public consciousness when Yao Ming joined the NBA. Though he had a enormous impact, the game had a huge following well before the 7-foot-6 (2.29-meter) center became a member of the Houston Rockets in 2002.

The Miami Heat and Los Angeles Clippers played two pre-season games in China in 2012 and the knowledge of NBA history by the fans stunned league officials.

"Bill Russell came to our pre-season games in October,'' NBA China CEO David Shoemaker said in an interview, "And in both Beijing and Shanghai ... we're talking about a young generation of fans here ... we introduced Bill Russell to them without any real description of what he did.

''Standing ovation in both arenas. It was amazing," he said.

Houston Rockets point guard Jeremy Lin comes under the basket against Los Angeles Lakers center Jordan Hill (27) during their NBA basketball game in Los Angeles, California, Nov. 18, 2012.Houston Rockets point guard Jeremy Lin comes under the basket against Los Angeles Lakers center Jordan Hill (27) during their NBA basketball game in Los Angeles, California, Nov. 18, 2012.
x
Houston Rockets point guard Jeremy Lin comes under the basket against Los Angeles Lakers center Jordan Hill (27) during their NBA basketball game in Los Angeles, California, Nov. 18, 2012.
Houston Rockets point guard Jeremy Lin comes under the basket against Los Angeles Lakers center Jordan Hill (27) during their NBA basketball game in Los Angeles, California, Nov. 18, 2012.
Although Rockets guard Jeremy Lin, a Harvard-educated Chinese-American, currently carries the Sino banner in the NBA, 300 million play the game in the basketball-mad nation.

Commissioner David Stern said the NBA water-cooler talk in China is similar to anyplace in America.

'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."

Training center

The league has capitalized on its popularity by establishing the Chinese Basketball Association 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," said Shoemaker. ''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.''
      
Yao was the catalyst for the NBA's soaring popularity in China but the now-retired eight-time All-Star plays down his influence in the game's popularity.

"Basketball had a big influence in China, even before the NBA got there,'' Yao, who retired from the NBA's Rockets in 2011 because of a foot injury, told Reuters."There was a foundation.

''Fans in China knew the stars of the league long before I played," he said. "And you know, I wasn't the first Chinese player in the NBA. I was the third."

New arenas

The league is helping to develop the fourth cutting-edge NBA-style arena in China, in Xiamen, on the southeast coast.

Sina, the online media company, streams one live game per day and the average number of viewers during the first six weeks of the current season were 1.16 million, up 172 percent from the same period in the 2010-11 season.

''We are growing very fast internationally," said Ueberroth, noting that last week's All-Star game was televised in 215 countries in 47 different languages. ''It's a big priority in our business. It's very profitable, particularly in a place like China. We've got over 20 marketing partners there.  The official beer of the NBA, official soft drink of the NBA and yes, even the official milk."

Ueberroth hopes to bring the NBA's blueprint for success to other countries like India, Brazil and the Philippines. Africa, she said, is fertile ground.

But the still burgeoning success of the league in China may be hard to duplicate. NBA apparel and footwear is sold in more than 2,200 Adidas stores in the country of at least 1.3 billion people.

"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. China had a team in the 1936 Olympics.

"It has a very strong history in their culture," she added.

You May Like

'Exceptionally Lucky' US Boy Survives Flight in Wheel Well

The boy was unconscious for most of the flight, and appeared to be unharmed after enduring the extremely cold temperatures and lack of oxygen More

US Anti-Corruption Law Snags Major Tech Company

The Foreign Corrupt Practices Act was signed into law by President Jimmy Carter in December, 1977 More

Cameron Criticized for Calling UK 'Christian Country'

Letter from scientists, academics and writers says the prime minister is fostering division by repeatedly referring to England as a 'Christian country' More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Ukraine, Russia, United in Faith, Divided in Politicsi
X
Michael Eckels
April 19, 2014
There is a strong historical religious connection between Russia and Ukraine. But what role is religion playing in the current conflict? In the run-up to Easter, Michael Eckels in Moscow reports for VOA.
Video

Video Ukraine, Russia, United in Faith, Divided in Politics

There is a strong historical religious connection between Russia and Ukraine. But what role is religion playing in the current conflict? In the run-up to Easter, Michael Eckels in Moscow reports for VOA.
Video

Video Face of American Farmer is Changing

The average American farmer is now 58 years old, and farmers 65 and older are the fastest growing segment of the population. It’s a troubling trend signaling big changes ahead for American agriculture as aging farmers retire. Reporter Mike Osborne says a new report from the U.S. Census Bureau is suggesting what some of those changes might look like... and why they might not be so troubling.
Video

Video Donetsk Governor: Ukraine Military Assault 'Delicate But Necessary'

Around a dozen state buildings in eastern Ukraine remain in the hands of pro-Russian protesters who are demanding a referendum on self-rule. The governor of the whole Donetsk region is among those forced out by the protesters. He spoke to VOA's Henry Ridgwell from his temporary new office in Donetsk city.
Video

Video Drones May Soon Send Data From High Seas

Drones are usually associated with unmanned flying vehicles, but autonomous watercraft are also becoming useful tools for jobs ranging from scientific exploration to law enforcement to searching for a missing airliner in the Indian Ocean. VOA’s George Putic reports on sea-faring drones.
Video

Video New Earth-Size Planet Found

Not too big, not too small. Not too hot, not too cold. A newly discovered planet looks just right for life as we know it, according to an international group of astronomers. VOA’s Steve Baragona has more.
Video

Video Copts in Diaspora Worry About Future in Egypt

Around 10 percent of Egypt’s population belong to the Coptic faith, making them the largest Christian minority in the Middle East. But they have become targets of violence since the revolution three years ago. With elections scheduled for May and the struggle between the Egyptian military and Islamists continuing, many Copts abroad are deeply worried about the future of their ancient church. VOA religion correspondent Jerome Socolovsky visited a Coptic church outside Washington DC.
Video

Video Critics Say Venezuelan Protests Test Limits of Military's Support

During the two months of deadly anti-government protests that have rocked the oil-rich nation of Venezuela, President Nicolas Maduro has accused the opposition of trying to initiate a coup. Though a small number of military officers have been arrested for allegedly plotting against the government, VOA’s Brian Padden reports the leadership of the armed forces continues to support the president, at least for now.
Video

Video More Millenials Unplug to Embrace Board Games

A big new trend in the U.S. toy industry has more consumers switching off their high-tech gadgets to play with classic toys, like board games. This is especially true among the so-called millenial generation - those born in the 1980's and 90's. Elizabeth Lee has more from an unusual café in Los Angeles, where the new trend is popular and business is booming.
Video

Video Google Buys Drone Company

In its latest purchase of high-tech companies, Google has acquired a manufacturer of solar-powered drones that can stay in the air almost indefinitely, relaying broadband Internet connection to remote areas. It is seen as yet another step in the U.S. based Web giant’s bid to bring Internet to the whole world. VOA’s George Putic reports.
AppleAndroid

New in Music Alley

Beyond Category

Saxophonist Craig Handy has an exciting new band called 2nd Line Smith, which combines the organ-jazz repertoire of Jimmy Smith with the “second line” rhythms of New Orleans parade music. Craig Handy joins "Beyond Category" host Eric Felten at Washington’s Bohemian Caverns jazz club to talk about the music and perform with the band.