Associated Press

‘Our fans are everywhere’: NBA still growing internationally

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ASSOCIATED PRESS — It was the final minute of a preseason game between Philadelphia and Dallas, the 76ers were up by four points with the ball, and thousands of fans were screaming “defense” at the top of their lungs.

A common scene, with an uncommon detail: The game was in China.

“Fantastic,” Dallas’ Dirk Nowitzki marveled. “Shows our fans are everywhere.”

That fandom, and the importance of those international eyeballs, just keeps growing.

The NBA has been going overseas to play either preseason or regular season games for 40 years, and the global footprint of the league – not to mention its business interests – continues to expand. The league has opened up 11 international offices, establishing six academies on four continents and started broadcasting games to more than 200 countries and territories.

This season, the NBA heads back to Mexico and England for regular-season contests, after the 76ers and Mavericks played exhibitions in China earlier this month.

“I believe we can be the No. 1 sport in the world,” NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said. “When I look at the trajectory of growth, the fact that young people, boys and girls, continue to love this sport, are playing this sport, are engaged in the sport of basketball on social media or with online games, I don’t know what the limit is.”

The numbers touted by the NBA are impressive: 300 million people playing the game for fun in China alone, rapid growth in India over the past decade as that country is on pace to become the world’s most populous by 2025, an estimated 1 billion people around the globe – that’s basically 1 out of every 7 people alive – having some access to the NBA Finals.

And China – which got to cheer one of its countrymen, Ding Yanyuhang, in a preseason game there this year – is the dominant force in all that international traffic.

Marvin Johnson moved from the Miami area to China in 2017 to teach and coach at a basketball academy there. The first thing he saw when he deplaned in Beijing was a massive Li-Ning store, which was basically a shrine to Heat guard Dwyane Wade – who now has a lifetime contract to endorse the Chinese brand’s products.

“Anytime you go out to play basketball at a local court there is a plethora of NBA jerseys being worn by the players,” Johnson said. “If you ask any local playing basketball, they can’t name the players on the local Chinese Basketball Association team – but they can name their favorite players in the NBA in an instant.”

Wade and Heat teammate Udonis Haslem went to China this summer to promote Li-Ning. Everywhere they went, thousands of people were waiting, and that’s now standard for when any big-name NBA player heads to Asia. LeBron James has made an annual trip to China for years. Stephen Curry dropped some Mandarin on fans there when he visited this summer. Kevin Durant played HORSE and didn’t lose. Klay Thompson – or “China Klay” – lost at pop-a-shot.

“Life is too short to be serious all the time,” Thompson said. “You’ve got to be able to show your personality. That’s what I do when I come to China.”

Going to places like China is fun, for certain.

But it’s clearly smart NBA business now as well.

“It’s been that way for years,” Wade said. “They’re not just fans in China. They’re knowledgeable fans. They know everything about the Heat, about me, about UD, the finals, everything. It definitely speaks to the growth of not just our league but the game.”

Curry’s summer might have epitomized the marriage between the NBA and foreign cultures – not to mention cross-promotion.

He didn’t just go to China. He also hit the Philippines, England, France and Japan. He tossed out the ceremonial first pitch at a Japanese baseball game. He shot around with soccer star Neymar. He watched a Premier League game in England.

“One of the best summers that I’ve had,” Curry said.

The idea of going global for regular-season games obviously isn’t exclusive to the NBA.

Baseball opens next season in Japan with a two-game series between Seattle and Oakland. The NFL is playing three regular-season games in London in a three-week span that starts Sunday with – perhaps ironically – Seattle and Oakland beginning the slate there, too. The NHL is sending Florida and Winnipeg for a two-game series next month in Finland.

“We know what the future looks like,” NBA deputy commissioner Mark Tatum said earlier this month from China, where he took in that 76ers-Mavericks series. “When you look at China, India and Africa, you’ve got about 60 percent of the world’s population in those three places. So we’re putting a lot of time in energy in how we become the No. 1 sport in those countries and those continents.”

In China, where Yao Ming really got things started as far as the NBA growth, the league is well on its way to that No. 1 spot.

It’s not uncommon to see fans watching streams of live NBA games on their phones during the morning commutes to work, since that’s when those games are happening in the U.S. and Canada. A weekly highlight show on Chinese television typically draws an audience of up to 30 million fans.

“I run into people here and they find out I work for the NBA and they say, `I love Steph Curry or Ben Simmons‘ and they tell me different things about the game,” said Derek Chang, the CEO of NBA China. “It’s no different than being back in the U.S. and listening to sports radio in the morning. The intensity, the passion for it, it’s pretty unbelievable. It really is a global game.”

 

Jayson Tatum guarantees Celtics will win 2019 NBA championship

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Friday morning, Jayson Tatum guaranteed the U.S. team would beat the World team in the Rising Stars game that night. The U.S. team won.

So, Tatum was asked Saturday morning whether he wanted to guarantee anything for that night. He guaranteed he’d win the Skills Challenge. He won.

So, then ESPN’s Rachel Nichols asked Tatum whether he wants to guarantee anything else. And he really let it ride.

Tatum:

We’re going to win the Finals this year. February 16th, mark it. Jayson Tatum says we’re going to win the Finals this year.

Obviously, Tatum wasn’t going to pick against Boston. But this wasn’t that. He could have easily avoided such a grand proclamation.

Instead, even if he were just caught up in the emotion of an All-Star Saturday Night victory and taking the interview especially seriously, Tatum put a little more attention and pressure on the Celtics.

I’m not convinced that’s what this team needs.

Kristaps Porzingis reportedly gave Knicks wish list of trade destinations: Nets, Clippers, Heat, Raptors

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Mavericks owner Mark Cuban said Kristaps Porzingis will sign long-term with Dallas this summer, and Porzingis he was on the same page.

But he will be a free agent. Restricted, but a free agent, nonetheless.

Porzingis’ exit from the Knicks provided a clue about where he’d want to go if he explores leaving the Mavericks.

Marc Stein of The New York Times in his newsletter:

The four teams Porzingis had on his wish list of trade destinations were the Nets, Los Angeles Clippers, Miami Heat and Toronto Raptors, according to two people with knowledge of the list who were not authorized to discuss it publicly.

Porzingis had little leverage to get to any of these teams. Because he’ll be a restricted free agent, the Knicks or any team acquiring him would retain immense team control over him.

The Nets and Clippers project to have cap space this summer. The Heat and Raptors don’t.

But even if Porzingis signs an offer sheet elsewhere, Dallas will will likely match it.

Still, Porzingis will become an unrestricted free agent someday – 2020 in the unlikely event he accepts his qualifying offer or a future year if he signs a multi-year deal this summer. It’s probably best to file away this list until then.

Kyrie Irving on video with Kevin Durant: ‘Me and one of my best friends talking’

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The Knicks opened double-max cap space for next summer. Kevin Durant‘s company is moving to a new office in New York. Kyrie Irving backed away from his commitment to re-sign with the Celtics.

Plenty of people were already connecting dots when this video emerged of Durant and Irving talking at the All-Star game (in which, not for nothing, they jelled).

Ben Stinar of Amico Hoops:

Irving, via MassLive (warning: language in the above video):

It’s just crazy. This is the stuff that just doesn’t make the league fun. It doesn’t make the league fun. Nobody helps promote the league even more by doing bulls— like that, of just putting fictitious things on what we’re talking about. It’s crazy.

It’s a video of me and one of my best friends talking. And then it turns out to be a dissection of a free agency meeting? Do you get that? Like, do you get that? And then I’m asked questions about it? That’s what disconnects me from all that s—.

That wasn’t a denial.

Still, it’s hard to believe Durant and Irving really discussed free agency in a hallway with so many people passing. There are far more discreet places to have that conversation.

Like a restaurant in Miami where they were spotted together:

I understand Irving’s exasperation with this, just as I understood Durant’s testiness over constant speculation. They should be allowed to spend time together as friends without it turning into a bigger deal.

But there is immense interest in where they play next year. People will continue to search for clues – some that prove insignificant, some that might prove significant – about the stars’ futures.

So, I’m at least glad Irving addressed this. It’s going to get discussed either way. Better for him to enter his perspective into the conversation.

Report: Hawks didn’t clear John Collins’ airplane dunk until shortly before dunk contest

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There were two memorable dunks in this year’s dunk contest:

The Hawks nearly stopped us from seeing that latter spectacle.

Brian Windhorst of ESPN on Saturday:

Now, there’s a little curve ball here. The last update that I had was that the Hawks hadn’t approved John Collins jumping over an airplane yet and that they were a little bit were worried that he was going to trip on it and injure himself.

After watching the dunk, I understand the Hawks’ reluctance. Collins broke the plane!

At least he seemingly emerged unscathed.