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NBA has room for growth in China

Agencies | Updated: 2013-02-23 15:00

The National Basketball Association (NBA) is opening a glitzy "lifestyle destination" complex with an official basketball court, a hoop-themed restaurant and a children's zone.

You can train like Kobe Bryant, or even a Laker girl, at a state-of-the-art fitness center.

Perhaps you could spend the day at an interactive carnival, either shooting jump shots against a virtual LeBron James or participate in a two-on-two competition with friends or fellow visitors.

The NBA experience in the $1.5 billion, 2,300-acre sports and entertainment superstructure is not in Beverly Hills or the shadow of Madison Square Garden in Manhattan.

It is on the outskirts of Beijing.

"China is our number one market outside of the United States," Heidi Ueberroth, president of NBA International, told Reuters. "The growth has been very significant and very much on track, and we are very much still just scratching the surface."

Many people in the United States believe basketball entered China's public consciousness when Yao Ming joined the NBA. Though he had a enormous impact, the game had a huge following well before the 7-foot-6 (2.29 metre) center became a member of the Houston Rockets in 2002.

The Miami Heat and Los Angeles Clippers played two preseason games in China in 2012 and the knowledge of NBA history by the fans stunned league officials.

"Bill Russell came to our preseason games in October," NBA China CEO David Shoemaker said in an interview. "And in both Beijing and Shanghai ... we're talking about a young generation of fans here ... we introduced Bill Russell to them without any real description of what he did.

"Standing ovation in both arenas. It was amazing."

Although Rockets guard Jeremy Lin, a Harvard-educated Chinese-American, currently carries the Sino banner in the NBA, 300 million play the game in the basketball-mad nation. Commissioner David Stern said the NBA water-cooler talk in China is similar to anyplace in America.

"The discussions are all the same - about last night's games, about possible trades, about the (salary) cap, about revenue sharing," he said. "It's really quite extraordinary."

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