BEIJING - With the establishment of a new enterprise in China, the NBA has set its sights on cashing in on the fan-crazed Chinese domestic league that has already produced stars such as Yao Ming and Yi Jianlian.
Last week, the NBA announced the establishment of NBA China to be headed by the outgoing boss of Microsoft's China operations, Tim Chen, in a move seen as a first step toward an eventual NBA-managed Chinese domestic league.
Chen, who takes up his post in mid-October, has been tasked with liaising with Chinese government and sporting officials, and further boosting explosive NBA growth potential in the world's most populous nation.
"The goal of the NBA is to come in and manage or help manage the China Basketball Association (CBA) league and the national team," said Su Qun, editor-in-chief of Basketball Pioneers, China's foremost hoops newspaper.
"They can bring a lot of experience to the CBA both in league management and marketing. Definitely if the NBA can work out an arrangement with the CBA, they could make basketball in China a lot bigger."
Basketball is already a big business in China.
The 15-team CBA, which begins its 12th season in November, may be what the nation's estimated 300 million basketball players aspire to, but those players also form the backbone of a television audience that has made China the largest NBA market outside the United States.
"We hope -- in collaboration with the Chinese authorities, China's sport ministry and the China Basketball Association -- to one day be involved with the league here," Mark Fischer, vice president of NBA China and the US league's long-time point man, said.
"We see China being a market because of its size and its very healthy growing economy as well as its love for basketball.
"I think the sky is the limit here for basketball and by extension for the NBA."
Next month the NBA will host pre-season games in Shanghai and Macao, with the Orlando Magic matched against the Cleveland Cavaliers and China's national team.
It is also currently sponsoring a grassroots nationwide two-on-two basketball tournament involving nearly 35,000 players in 112 cities.
Besides beaming live games on 51 Chinese television networks and producing its own weekly basketball show, the NBA boasts lucrative advertising partnerships in China with 20 leading global brands.
But a foray into the CBA could be far from easy, said Xia Song, one of China's top basketball agents and a former official with the national team.
"The NBA has to be careful -- the market in China is very complicated. They can come in as a leader on the floor, but they need to show they are a team player; otherwise there will be a lot of adversity," Xia said.
Currently the Swiss-based sports management group Infront has a long-term agreement to run marketing operations for the CBA and is in the second year of a three-year deal to market the China national team.
"The people at Infront are working very hard to push forward basketball in China, but they have never run a league before so there have been some difficulties," Xia said.