SHANGHAI: With another China Games sweeping the country, the National Basketball Association (NBA) is ready to tap into China's fast-growing domestic league.
NBA Commissioner David Stern, who has led the NBA for 23 years and overseen basketball's transformation into one of China's most popular sports, said he expects to get involved in the China Basketball Association (CBA) league and the national team's affairs in the future.
"We hope to have further dialogue about the growth of basketball cooperatively with the CBA," Stern said in Shanghai when asked about the possibility of helping manage the Chinese league. "We had and we will have some serious discussions with the CBA to promote basketball and we would like to bring our expertise to them both in management and marketing.
"We do think we will be able to help the CBA build a larger infrastructure, but that will be just one arena."
Earlier this month, the NBA announced the establishment of NBA China, which will be headed by the former boss of Microsoft's China operations, Tim Chen. It is seen as the first step towards an eventual NBA-managed Chinese domestic league.
Chen, who took up his post on Monday, has been tasked with liaising with the Chinese government and sporting officials to help harness the explosive growth potential of the NBA in the world's most populous nation.
"My goal is to grow basketball as big as I can and let everybody play basketball," said Chen. "It's not only about top-level competitions but also promoting a healthy lifestyle throughout all our communities in China."
A country with 1.3 billion people, 300 million of whom play basketball - equal to the entire population of the US - is a truly attractive destination for the NBA.
The US-based league lined up a string of events this year involving the CBA, including an invitation for the Chinese national team to join the NBA's Summer League and the Stankovic Cup, which featured the D-League All-Star Team.
It is also currently sponsoring a grassroots nationwide two-on-two basketball tournament involving nearly 35,000 players in 112 cities.
The NBA also boasts lucrative advertising partnerships in China with 20 leading global brands.
Basketball is already a big thing in China, with millions of people tuning in to watch NBA games on 51 TV stations around the country.
The 15-team CBA, which begins its 12th season next month, has developed a large fan base and has already produced talented NBA stars like Houston Rockets All-Star center Yao Ming and Yi Jianlian, who is about to start his rookie season with the Milwaukee Bucks.
Currently the Swiss-based sports management group Infront has an agreement to run marketing operations for the CBA. They are entering the second year of a three-year deal to market the league and the Chinese national team.
Despite its rapid growth, the domestic league has yet to see any revenue.
"To be frank, we didn't make any money from the CBA," league director Hao Guohua told Sina.com in April. "Some of our clubs are still struggling financially so to cash in is out of question."
Last week the NBA concluded a series of preseason games in Spain, Italy, Turkey and England featuring the Toronto Raptors, Boston Celtics, Memphis Grizzlies and Minnesota Timberwolves.
The international preseason games have been overwhelmingly successful. But that doesn't mean international expansion will be easy, experts warned, especially in China.
"The NBA has to be careful," Xia Song, one of China's top basketball agents and a former official with the national team, told AFP. "The market in China is very complicated. They can come in as a leader on the floor, but they need to show they are team players; otherwise there will be a lot of adversity."
Source: China Daily