Sky is the limit for NBA in China: Stern

By Zhao Rui (China Daily)
Updated: 2007-07-05 08:55

National Basketball Association (NBA) Commissioner David Stern says the league is preparing to up its game to ensure Chinese basketball realizes its true potential.

Stern, who has run the NBA for 23 years and overseen basketball's transformation into the world's most popular sport after soccer, says he is exploring the possibility of NBA involvement in China's domestic league.

"We will see in the next couple of years, coming out of the Beijing Olympics, the possibility of some (kind of) joint venture between the NBA and the sports administration and the CBA (Chinese Basketball Association) in China," Stern told China Daily backstage before last week's NBA Draft in Madison Square Garden, New York.

"I will see whether there is any bigger opportunity for us to do this, so we can bring our techniques and marketing expertise.

"I think someday if we are very lucky and we have the approval of government and sports authorities, a CBA-NBA league in China is attainable."

"It doesn't necessarily have to come under the control of the NBA, we are here to give and offer something," he added. "What the NBA has to offer is its expertise and reputation about understanding the game, the rules, the facilities. We will also be working together with the CBA on coaching clinics, nutrition clinics, exercise arrangements and all sorts of things. We will support the government's efforts to promote basketball as a core of sports and business."

Basketball is now the most popular sport in China, with millions of people tuning in to watch NBA games on TV and kids across the country wearing Kobe and Yao jerseys as they play in their school courts.

There are an estimated 300 million hoops fans in China - an impressive statistic given 20 years ago the sport was not widely played.

Back then basketball was a military sport - and it was way below table tennis and badminton in the pecking order in the country's official sports structure.

In the mid-1980s there were only 50 courts in Beijing, most of them inside military compounds, and ordinary people had no knowledge of legends of the game like Bill Russell and his incredible Boston Celtics dynasty of the 1960s.

"Ever since I invited the first Chinese team to the United States in 1985, we have fostered a good relationship with the government, the CBA and also the people of China. I know this is very important," he said.

Olympic opportunity

NBA Commissioner David Stern appears on stage for a photo opportunity prior to the 2007 NBA Draft at Madison Square Garden in New York on June 28. Reuters

Armed with Chinese character business cards and a knack for remembering traditional sayings, Stern is not about to let the Olympic opportunity slip through his fingers.

"I agree with the Chinese saying 'it is easy to win a championship, but it is hard to defend it'," he said.

"The NBA's development in China in the post-Olympic era is on the top of our agenda, and cooperation with Chinese government will be our priority as well.

"The Beijing Games is going to be an awesome tournament, the venue is totally state-of-art. We hope to use it to showcase basketball at the highest stage. Beijing is going to be to the globalized game what the Dream Team was to the beginning of globalization."

The NBA's Beijing office opened in 2003, and it began printing a Chinese language version of the official Hoops magazine in 2005. According to Stern, however, this is just the beginning.

"We won't stop at where we are now and we are going to continue to grow, in terms of the number of people we have and developing the market as deep as we can. We are going to open up new offices to reach as many places as we can, in cities as well as in villages."

The NBA pre-season came to Beijing and Shanghai in 2004 and it is set to return later this year with the King-James led Cleveland Cavaliers taking on Orlando Magic in Macao and Shanghai. A number of NBA programs including NBA Van Jams and Basketball without Borders were introduced to China and attracted local and international sponsors.

Also, the NBA has invited the Chinese national team to its Summer League starting this Monday, and the Stankovic Cup this year will feature the D-League All-star Team.

Chinese interest in the NBA is set to be even higher following the drafting of internationals Yi Jianlian and Sun Yue. Before he was controversially picked by the Milwaukee Bucks, Stern backed Yi to make an impact.

"The 2007-2008 draft will be our best ever because of the strength of the class and the teams they will help. It's a perfect draft, especially Yi.

"Yi is not only a great player but also a great man off the court. I've been with him three or four times in the last couple of days, and I was very impressed with his warm smile."

The draft was covered by more than 30 reporters from China, including 10 from Yi's home Guangdong Province.

A total of 19 TV stations including national sports channel CCTV-5 broadcast live NBA games to a weekly audience of more than 40 million.

"In Beijing, the Chinese team is going to have three NBA and former NBA players, meaning 60 per cent of the starting line-up is from the NBA. When the Chinese people see it, they will be appreciating the contribution that NBA can make to the development of basketball in China. We are ready to do that.

"I feel growth is ahead of us, I am very sure about it."

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