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US knows the score now: China game will be huge
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10:29, August 08, 2008

When Charles Barkley was asked in 1992 if he knew anything about Angola, the US basketball team's first Olympic opponent, he famously replied: "I don't know anything about Angola, but I know they're in trouble."

The "Dream Team" of 1992 in Barcelona knew very little about their international foes, but they didn't need to - it was a given that any team standing in the way of the mighty US would be beaten, badly. But a lot has changed since then and the US can no longer afford to be ignorant of its opponents.

And unlike Angola in 1992, the current US team is very familiar with China, its opening Olympic opponent. Yao Ming has been an established presence in the NBA for years and Yi Jianlian was one of the hottest rookie prospects last season. These teams know each other well, and whatever the outcome of their showdown on Aug 10, it will be epic.

"I think it might be one of the most watched events in sports history," US forward Carmelo Anthony said after his team dismantled Lithuania last week at the Venetian casino in Macau.

Anthony is not exaggerating. Basketball in China has grown exponentially since Yao entered the NBA in 2002. You can find fans sporting NBA jerseys wherever you go in this country, from the rural grasslands of Inner Mongolia to the busy streets of Hong Kong. With as many basketball fans here as there are people in the US, this game will be huge.

"I think it's going to be one of the most watched games ever," Dwyane Wade said. "I think it's going to be as big as the Super Bowl, if not bigger it's going to be great for basketball."

Wade's comparison to the annual American football finale - perennially the most watched broadcast in the US - may be slightly underestimating this game's potential. An audience nearly twice the size of the Super Bowl reportedly tuned in to watch the first NBA match-up between Yao and Yi last year.

The US-China face-off in Beijing has been one of the hardest Olympic tickets to come by - seats sold out so fast even the families of Chinese players have been left to watch at home. Chinese fans are eager to see in the flesh the players they have spent so much time watching on TV since the NBA planted its roots in China more than two decades ago. Fans and players alike simply cannot wait.

"It'll be one of the most watched, most exciting games that I will be a part of in my life," LeBron James said.

"To open up the Olympics going against the host team, to see how the fans here accept and love the game of basketball so much and accept us as US basketball players, it's going to be a great feeling."

US head coach Mike Krzyzewski says China's rabid hoops fans will be the ones who make Sunday night's game at Wukesong Indoor Stadium special.

"You can see the passion that the Chinese people have for basketball, it's exciting," he said. "I know our guys think of it as a privilege to be playing here and to have the Olympics here.

"It's nice to see two countries share a common love for something, which probably could lead to a common love for more things. I think basketball has been a great thing for both countries and their relationship."

Source:China Daily

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