Basketball is big in China. Several years ago, football was the favourite sport of China’s
young people, then along came Yao Ming and the National Basketball Association (NBA). The combination of a home grown
world-class superhero and the NBA's unique ability to take the game (and Yao Ming)
to grass roots level via their hugely popular televised games and their Chinese website resulted in an incredible upsurge
of interest in basketball throughout the country.
No matter where you go in China, you are sure to find Chinese
young people playing the game and, if you visit one of the multitude of Internet cafés that have popped up in every
town and city, you are likely to see the China NBA website displayed on numerous computer screens.
The NBA’s first foray into
China was in 1979, when they sent over the Washington Bullets (now Wizards) to play two games, one against the Chinese national
team. Interest was ignited again in 2004, when Yao Ming’s Houston Rockets played the Sacramento Kings in front
of capacity crowds in Beijing and Shanghai (the photo below shows just how keen the Beijing crowd was to get into the arena).
Two more US teams toured last year; and this year the Milwaukee
Bucks will play Golden State Warriors. The first game tips off in Guangzhou tomorrow and, on Saturday, the show will
move to Beijing, where the teams will play in front of more than 17,000 fans at the Olympic Basketball Arena, the scene of
Team USA’s recent Olympic triumph, not to mention redemption.
The NBA has set its sights on more
than basketball, though. It is working
hard to establish itself as an important and responsible member of the “Chinese community”. Hence, among other initiatives, its keenness to partner AEG in a long
term arena-development project that will embrace China’s major cities.
AEG is perhaps best known for its management of London’s O2 arena – and
is widely acknowledged to have masterminded the transformation of that venue, which used to be regarded as a
white elephant of mammoth proportions.
Appropriately, the press
conference to announce the NBA and AEG China-collaboration was held at “The O2” on the occasion of an NBA game
there. According to the press release,
the two organisations “have formed a joint venture to design, market, program and operate multi-purpose, NBA-style sports
and entertainment arenas in major cities throughout Greater China”.
David Stern, the NBA’s Commissioner,
said: "Together we will work with every level of government and the private sector to create NBA-style sports and entertainment
facilities that will anchor communities and grow the sport of basketball throughout China." The NBA says that “about
12” such arenas will be “designed and developed”.
news, then, not just for the NBA and AEG, but also for millions of Chinese people who will be able to enjoy “NBA-style”
world-class sports and entertainment venues on their doorstep.