BOSTON, Massachusetts: Proposed National Basketball Association games in China this October could raise relief money for earthquake victims in the NBA-mad nation, league commissioner David Stern said on Sunday.
NBA Commissioner David Stern speaks before the Boston Celtics play the Los Angeles Lakers in Game 2 of the NBA Finals basketball championship in Boston June 8, 2008. [Agencies]
Minutes before the tipoff of Game 2 in his 25th NBA Finals as league boss, Stern spoke about several NBA-China links, including parterships for arena construction and possible greater NBA efforts to aid disaster victims.
"We're now looking to see if we can squeeze in a Basketball Without Borders to raise more money, or other exhibition games," Stern said.
"But clearly in conjunction with two games that we hope to stage in China in October in Hangzhou and in Beijing, we will be amplifying our efforts of earthquake relief. This is a terrible tragedy."
The NBA became the first US sports league to play games in China, staging 2004 exhibitions in Shanghai and Beijing. Last October, NBA preseason games were played in Shanghai and Macao.
While it would be unprecedented for China, Stern's mention of an October date would not preclude the possibility of Chinese regular-season games such as those the NBA has staged in Japan in past years.
The NBA and billionaire businessman Philip Anschutz are reportedly near a deal to open up to 12 arenas in China, having already partnered to run the new 18,000-seat venue for basketball at the Beijing Olympics.
"We hope to have other arena announcements soon and an agreement that would cause more arenas to be built," Stern said. "We're looking forward to future development and the opportunities it brings in a very cooperative way."
China has become a hotbed of NBA interest even beyond fans of Chinese NBA stars Yao Ming and Yi Jianlian, who were both injured much of this season but did not slow extraordinary Asian interest in the NBA.
"Yao Ming and Yi have created interest but even as both of them have been injured, we monitored Chinese interest and it's extraordinary," Stern said, joking that Yao's jersey no longer tops Chinese NBA sales "maybe because everybody has one".
Stern said the New Orleans Hornets are likely to remain in New Orleans thanks to an attendance boost following a successful season and would not rule out a return to Seattle should the SuperSonics leave for Oklahoma City.
Adding European teams to the NBA remains a distant fantasy but Stern noted new Anschutz-backed arenas in London and Berlin where NBA teams will play exhibition games in October and said more similar venues could aid the cause.
"I would say in the next several years as those arenas get to be more NBA-ready, the dialogue will heat up, but we have no current plans," he said.
NBA teams will also play preseason games in Paris and Barcelona.
Many top Beijing Olympic title contenders will be powered by NBA talent. Spain and Argentina are among those who could join the US squad in fielding starting lineups entirely from NBA squads.
"It enrichens our league that the number of players in our league have had an impact at the highest level," Stern said.