NBA Says Longevity Is Reason for Success in China

Former NBA player Kobe Bryant teaching basketball in Chinas Hainan Province
Former NBA player Kobe Bryant teaching basketball in China's Hainan Province | © Xinhua/REX/Shutterstock

The National Basketball Association (NBA) has been setting the bar for American pro sports’ expansion abroad, especially in China, since first bringing the league there in 2004.

The game’s greatest stars, including Yao Ming, Stephen Curry, LeBron James, Kobe Bryant, Russell Westbrook and Shaquille O’Neal, have played or visited China at venues in Beijing, Guangzhou and Shanghai.

“In the 13 years since we played our first game here in China, we’ve seen enormous growth in interest in the game of basketball and the NBA,” NBA commissioner Adam Silver said following the Golden State Warriors 142–110 preseason win against the Minnesota Timberwolves in Shanghai on Sunday. “For example, this past season, over 750 million people in China watched at least one NBA game on television through either CCTV, Tencent, BesTV or one of our other regional partners here in China.”

The NBA’s first game in China was on October 14, 2004, between the Ming-led Houston Rockets and Sacramento Kings. There have been 24 NBA games played in China in total.

Not only is the NBA bringing preseason games to China, but the league is helping expand the sport, with academies in Urumqi, Jinan and Hangzhou, as well as various other grassroots initiatives. The NBA is working directly with the Chinese Basketball Association, which is now run by Ming, a former eight-time NBA All-Star.

“Our business strategy is continue to do the things that we’ve been doing,” Silver said. “I was asked earlier what the secret to our success is, and I said, I don’t think there is any secret other than longevity. I said, so much credit goes to (former NBA Commissioner) David Stern for his initial vision to move the NBA into China before other sports leagues were seen on television here.”

The NBA has offices in the country as part of NBA China, which employs approximately 175 people based mainly in Beijing and Shanghai.

NBA teams have an obligation to play international games, though not in particular years or locations. The Warriors played in their third NBA China Games, while the Timberwolves were making their debut. Silver said the league works with the individual teams to see what markets they want to focus on, while also examining the specific market and its interest in a given team or player.

“I think it’s very meaningful for us to play games here, even though it’s a very small part of our business,” he said. “As you know being with Tencent, increasingly this is a media business, and no different than in the United States, where only a very small portion of our fans ever get to step foot in an NBA arena and see NBA players and a game in person.

“While the main growth in the business is going to come through media, I still think it’s very important that we have a presence here and that we continue to play games every season.”

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