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NBA commissioner is dedicated to developing the game here, Sun Xiaochen writes.
At the age of 70, most people have happily settled into retirement, but that is far from the plans of NBA Commissioner David Stern. "No," Stern, who reached the milestone last month, replied when asked if his visit to China this month would be the last in his role as commissioner.
The energetic former lawyer returned for the 2012 NBA China Games and held meetings with Chinese Basketball Association officials and prominent business figures while watching the games between the Miami Heat and Los Angeles Clippers in Beijing and Shanghai.
Stern also held a round-table conference with Chinese media to unveil his ambitious plans over the next 15 years to grow the Chinese market, which he first tapped into in 1984.
"The most important thing is to develop basketball in China," the longest-serving NBA commissioner said on Friday. "I don't believe Yao Ming is going to be the last great Chinese basketball player. I believe he will only be the first.
"Working with the CBA, the Dongguan academy, many coaches and Yao, with respect to grassroots development ... is our No 1 priority in China."
The NBA enjoyed a surge in arguably its most important overseas market despite the lockout-shortened 2011-12 season. TV ratings were up by 18 percent even with fewer games being offered during the abridged season.
The relationship between the NBA and CBA is also solidifying. The two sides just extended their joint coach training program, and the school in Dongguan was launched last year with the aim of developing young talent.
The sixth NBA China Games between the Heat and Clippers drew huge crowds in both cities and tickets were sold out within two days.
Fans had to spend almost triple the face value to snap up scalped tickets while crowds followed the teams everywhere.
Stern attributed the event's success to a little luck and some good long-range planning.
"When we picked the Heat (to play the games), they were not the champion. It has been suggested it was a good thing. People will want to join the China Games because they will then become champions," he said jokingly.
Still, the league suddenly finds itself with no Chinese-born players.
With former Dallas Mavericks forward Yi Jianlian returning to the CBA, the NBA will be without a Chinese presence on its courts for the first time in about a decade. That could lead to a decline in the game's appeal here.
However, Stern said he is not overly concerned.
He stressed the fans' loyalty to the game has grown strong enough to stand on its own without the presence of an active Chinese player in the league.
"Isn't LeBron James a local star? To me, no disrespect, the Chinese fans are sophisticated. They just want to see the best stars (wherever they are from).
"They know every player, every statistic and all the history. The only question is are they good players and are they players the fans enjoy seeing?
"We can't predict the champion every year. What we can predict is the fact that we are committed to our increasingly sophisticated fans in China."
With this year's China Games setting a new benchmark for the sport here, how will the NBA possibly top it in the future?
The idea of bringing regular season games to China has been touted, but Stern said that is not an option at the moment.
"There would be logistical troubles and our mindset is about focusing on the grassroots level," he said.
"The fans are sophisticated while the media is demanding," he responded to the idea of moving All-Star weekend to China for a year.
"It's only the media that want to know whether we will have a regular season game or All-Star Games here. The fans here understand that we have treated them very well."
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(China Daily 10/17/2012 page24)