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.”

 

Is part of Markelle Fultz’s problem a too-tight, family-dominated inner circle?

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There needs to be context with this story. A lot of context. First, whatever is going on with Markelle Fultz, it cannot be traced to just one thing. It’s never that clean and simple. His agent and lawyer Raymond Brothers is trying to pitch his issues are all physical when clearly there are mental aspects and more involved.

Next, a close-knit family where the mother/dad/uncle is very protective of the elite basketball prospect and is deeply involved in everything is far, far, far from a new story in the NBA. It’s more the norm.

All that said, it’s fair to ask if Markelle Fultz’s family situation is impacting him. The amazing Candace Buckner of the Washington Post delved into this topic, interviewing Fultz’s former trainer Keith Williams among others.

“He’s a sensitive young kid, and I think emotionally he went through so much,” Williams said….

Fultz is now a professional on a four-year contract worth $33 million, but close associates said [his mother] Ebony still goes to great lengths to shield him. During Fultz’s first season in Philadelphia, Ebony had cameras installed inside his New Jersey home, according to several people familiar with the setup who described the indoor surveillance as unusual. The cameras have since been removed. Multiple people said Ebony has asked some who have dealt with Fultz to sign nondisclosure agreements for reasons that are unclear to them…

“There’s definitely crazy [expletive] going on with the mom and how involved she is and how overprotective she is,” said a person with a close connection to Fultz. “The best possible situation is if the mom just backs off for a period of time and gives him a chance to breathe.”

Again, overprotective parents are not new in basketball circles. NBA teams have dealt with it before and generally understand how to make that less of a problem. Just like your parents don’t get to follow you to your first real job after college, NBA parents don’t either. Just ask LaVar Ball.

That said, this concern it adds to the things making it hard to move him in a trade.

Ultimately, what Fultz needs is to be traded to a smaller market where he can develop out of the spotlight and demands that came in Philly. The Sixers are testing the market, but so far no deal has come close. That team will have to deal with everything going on around and with Fultz. And it’s not going to be just one thing.

 

Watch the video: How many times was James Harden fouled by the Lakers?

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James Harden has attempted 235 free throws this season, second most in the NBA (Joel Embiid, to answer your question about the most). He averages 9.8 free throws a game, again second most in the NBA.

Every team complains about how he draws fouls — driving into players bodies then selling it by throwing his head back, flailing his arms and going to the ground. Last night the Lakers were so frustrated they played with their hands behind their backs for a while.

How many fouls did Harden really draw? Watch this and decide for yourself.

The NBA referees think he was fouled more than you do. That includes a foul on Kyle Kuzma.

That second one is the correct call — Lonzo Ball has his hands down but he as the defender initiates the contact and drives into Harden. That’s a foul. Other ones are as well, the Lakers slid under him as he went up on a number of plays.

A lot of NBA fans complaining about the calls Harden gets may want to watch their own team more closely — a lot of players do the same thing. Not as often or as convincingly as Harden, but it’s the same idea, a lot of players do the same thing.

Harden is the master of drawing fouls, with his herky-jerky, old man at the Y game which includes a lot of stepbacks and flailing. It’s frustrated everyone, including Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook when they had to guard him as teammates.

Why does he do it? Because it works. It throws defenders off. Same reason Marcus Smart and others flop on defense, he gets calls and gets in opponents heads.

And it’s not going to stop.

No, the Heat are not going to tank, you can stop asking

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At the season’s end, if no trades or moves are made, the Miami Heat would pay nearly $6.3 million in tax. They have the sixth-highest payroll in the NBA.

The Miami Heat are 11-16 and right now out of the playoffs in the East. Even if they get it together, this is not a roster ready to compete with the top four in the East.

There is a lot of context is needed here: Goran Dragic, Hassan Whiteside, James Johnson, Dion Waiters all gave missed time this season (Waiters has yet to play), it’s not simply that this is a bad team asking too much of Josh Richardson. But it is an unimpressive team.

Which always leads to the “will the Heat sell off their good players and tank” question? A question the franchise is weary of hearing.

No. That’s not the way Pat Riley sees the world. That’s what everyone told Chris Mannix of Sports Illustrated.

“This is what pro sports is supposed to be about,” Spoelstra told The Crossover. “Competing every night. To try to win. Not the opposite. Obviously not every year you are going to have a realistic chance to compete for a title. Since I have been here, working for Pat, from day 1, that has always been the directive. For me, that brings great clarity. Keep the main thing the main thing. And everything else is just b*******….

“Do the history on it,” Spoelstra said. “What franchises have had the most enduring sustainable success over the last 24 years? We’re up there with the top three or four. The teams that constantly tank, I don’t know where they are. It would make for a pretty good discussion. But if you are hardwired to find a way to get it done without any excuses, you will find different pathways. There’s no one way to do it.”

Miami has advantages — the nightlife, the weather, no state taxes — that allows it to get free agents other franchises can only dream of. Miami is a destination. Build a core and try to attract free agents is a legitimate strategy for Miami in a way it is not for other franchises.

Building a core is just not that easy. Miami is a team is set to be over the tax this season and next, and their 2021 first-round pick is owed to Philadelphia unprotected (via Phoenix). Is the goal to stick around in the East and overachieve as Spoelstra teams tend to do the Heat are set up to go for it, but should they take a step back to try and take a step forward.

That’s not the way the Heat operate.

 

Report: Suns owner Robert Sarver overruled draft-night trade for Shai Gilgeous-Alexander

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On draft night, the Suns traded the No. 16 pick and the Heat’s unprotected 2021 first-round pick to the 76ers for No. 10 pick Mikal Bridges. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander went to the Clippers with the No. 11 pick (via the Hornets).

Phoenix is now an NBA-worst 5-24 and lacks even a decent point guard.

Bob Young of The Athletic:

It’s worth noting that the Suns wouldn’t be in this fix if Robert Sarver, the club’s managing partner, had not reportedly overruled his then-general manager, Ryan McDonough, on draft night.

McDonough reportedly planned to package the club’s pick from Milwaukee and a player taken with the 16th pick to move up and draft Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, a point guard from Kentucky.

When Philadelphia offered the rights to Mikal Bridges for the rights to Zhaire Smith and Miami’s unprotected 2021 first-round pick, Sarver pushed for that deal. So the Suns moved up six spots to add their fourth young wing player.

I didn’t like the trade the Suns made. I ranked Bridges No. 6 on my draft board, and he’s having a fine rookie year. But part of Bridges’ appeal was his NBA-readiness. Phoenix isn’t good enough to take advantage of that. The Heat pick is also too valuable.

McDonough’s preferred trade would have been better. The Bucks pick – 1-3 and 17-30 protected, in 2019, 1-7 protected in 2020, unprotected in 2021 – is less valuable than the Miami pick. Gilgeous-Alexander has looked promising in L.A.

Importantly, Gilgeous-Alexander would have given the Suns a much-needed point guard.

As owner, Sarver can step in where he sees fit. It’s his team after all. But this makes it all the more ludicrous he fired McDonough shortly before the season due, in part, to not having a quality point guard.

That said, if Gilgeous-Alexander were struggling, I’m not sure we’d hear this story. Only the near-hits, never the near-misses, get leaked.