The world famous Harlem Globetrotters basketball team will be playing in China for the first time in 11 years. 


The team known as "the Clown Princes of Basketball" launches a four-city tour Saturday.  It's part of a campaign to tap into the booming popularity of basketball in China.


The tour includes games in Beijing, the eastern city of Tianjin, the northeastern city of Harbin and Shenzhen in the south.  The Globetrotters then play in Hong Kong before leaving for Australia.  Globetrotters owner and chairman Mannie Jackson spoke to VOA Sports about the upcoming tour, which he says is more than just a basketball exhibition.


"Well, we are in Beijing for three games, and Shenzhen for a game then back into Hong Kong for three or four games," said Mr. Jackson.  "What happens in these cities though, not only are we playing basketball, the big games, but we are putting on clinics, we are visiting schools.  Bottom line is we are beginning to influence potential basketball fans and current basketball fans as to who the Harlem Globetrotters are and what they are about and how they approach the game."


The New York-based touring team last played in China in 1993.  On this tour, a 10-member squad is playing the New York Nationals, its regular opponent in U.S. games.


The Globetrotters and a Hong Kong promoter are also preparing to set up a chain of basketball training centers in China.  The first is scheduled to open next year in Hong Kong, before spreading to the mainland.