Popularity of NBA in China seems to create endless options

Garrett W. Ellwood/NBAE via Getty Images
4 Comments

BEIJING (AP) Kobe Bryant went to China for the first time in 1998, making the trip to Beijing to help operate an instructional basketball clinic for about a dozen kids. The local coaches working with him didn’t know a lot about the game. Barely anyone noticed that an NBA player was in town.

Basketball wasn’t a big deal in China.

And then everything changed very quickly.

The footprint of the NBA has grown at an extremely rapid pace over the last two decades in China, where more than 500 million people watched games last season and where one new streaming deal alone will pump $1.5 billion into the league’s coffers over the next five years.

“When I first came here, I never thought the game in China would get to be this big,” Bryant said. “But it has. And it’s not going to stop.”

The possibilities seem endless.

Could there be an NBA team in China despite the travel that would be involved? Might there be two-way player contracts between the NBA and the Chinese Basketball Association? What about the NBA constructing a team to play in China or the Chinese sending a team for a full season in the U.S.?

Farfetched as all that may sound, keep in mind that 20 years ago no one envisioned the NBA-China relationship to be this big – or that it would keep growing after Yao Ming’s run with the Houston Rockets ended eight years ago. The NBA has academies in China now, and the Chinese national team returned to the NBA Summer League in Las Vegas this year.

“It’s a good question,” Golden State coach Steve Kerr said. “I think the next step will probably come when the next Yao Ming comes. That would take it to a new level, more Chinese players to reach the NBA and make an impact.”

The marriage between the NBA and the world’s most populous country is stronger than ever. NBA officials say more than 300 million Chinese people play the game and 40 million are registered to play the 2K video game. Thousands showed up this summer just to watch the sons of Dwyane Wade and LeBron James play exhibitions with the rest of their high school teammates.

A trade war is happening between the U.S. and China, political tensions are escalating between the countries and it could impact the products of the league’s business partners . But the game itself continues to thrive.

“I think sports transcends politics and I hope the NBA can continue to connect fans globally,” Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban said. “I don’t have any reason to think our relationship won’t continue to be positive.”

Nothing seems to be able to derail the NBA’s popularity.

The team that the U.S. sent to the World Cup in China didn’t feature the NBA’s biggest stars, yet drew sellout crowds for each of its first six games. U.S. coach Gregg Popovich was begged for autographs and selfies everywhere he went.

“We’ve known for a long time how big basketball has become in China, of course, but all over the world,” Popovich said. “It’s an international deal now. There are so many great players in so many countries. It’s not a secret.”

Stars like James, Stephen Curry, and James Harden have a trip to China on their annual schedules – and when Wade, the recently retired guard who has a lifetime contract with Chinese shoe company Li-Ning, visited this summer one of his events had to be halted after about 10 minutes because the mall where it was happening was overflowing with people.

Donovan Mitchell of the Utah Jazz has been to China twice this summer, once to promote his brand, the second time for the World Cup with USA Basketball. He sees it becoming an annual stop for him, too – and believes there is no ceiling for the game globally.

“Man, I couldn’t tell you,” Mitchell said. “I think it’s going to be even bigger and it’s not going to be just China. It’s going to be many more countries. The (relationship) between the NBA and China has been huge since I was a kid and it can only take off from there … because the passion and love is so strong.”

It’s not a one-sided relationship; China sees reason to invest in the NBA.

Joe Tsai, the co-founder of Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba, agreed this summer to buy the remaining 51% that he didn’t already own of the Brooklyn Nets and Barclays Center from Mikhail Prokhorov in deals worth about $3.4 billion. In 2016, Lizhang Jiang, a businessman from Shanghai, bought 5% of the Minnesota Timberwolves, a stake he sold earlier this year.

China also takes immense pride in players like Klay Thompson wearing Chinese brands on the court. (Thompson has a 10-year deal with Chinese shoe company Anta for a reported $80 million.) And China sent its national team to NBA Summer League this past July primarily to get ready for the World Cup, but also for exposure on the NBA stage.

“I think it’s good for our players and good for the team,” China coach Li Nan said of playing in Las Vegas. “I think it’s good for everyone.”

The NBA has opened three basketball academies in China and has seen very quick success with academies in Asia and Africa. The international influence on the league was more present this past season than ever.

The NBA MVP, Giannis Antetokounmpo, is from Greece. The rookie of the year, Luka Doncic, is from Slovenia. The most improved player, Pascal Siakam, is from Cameroon. The defensive player of the year, Rudy Gobert, is from France. The All-NBA center, Nikola Jokic, is from Serbia.

“This past summer, an NBA Academy prospect from China signed a contract with a National Basketball League team in Australia, becoming the first male NBA Academy prospect from China to sign a contract with a professional team,” NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said. “And on the women’s side, Han Xu from the New York Liberty, who trained at the NBA Academy in Shandong, China, became the first NBA Academy prospect to be drafted into the NBA or WNBA.”

It hasn’t happened overnight.

Former Commissioner David Stern struck a deal with Chinese television to show games on tape-delay three decades ago, and once toyed with the idea of some sort of NBA-sponsored or branded league in China. Teams embrace the chance to play the annual preseason games in China because he exposure is worth the jet lag.

“When I have 76ers gear on and I walk through Shanghai, walk through Shenzhen, if I had a nickel for every time somebody said `Trust the process’ in perfect English I wouldn’t be standing here working,” Philadelphia 76ers CEO Scott O’Neil said, referencing the team’s motto during its rebuilding phase of recent years. “We’re very much a part of the fabric of China.”

None of this seemed possible 20 years ago or so, when Bryant made that first trip. Now fans can’t get enough.

“When you come here, you feel it from the fans, their energy, people at the hotel, people just walking around,” Kerr said in China during the World Cup. “Everybody just seems very excited about basketball.”

Same goes for the game’s future in China.

More AP NBA: https://apnews.com/NBA and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports

LeBron cements place in NBA, Lakers pantheon with all-time scoring record

0 Comments

LOS ANGELES — Lakers fans were slow to warm to LeBron James when he came West in 2018.

Lakers nation was excited about the possibilities but held LeBron at arm’s length. Part of that was the shadow of Kobe Bryant — L.A. was his town, these were his fans, and LeBron felt like a mercenary by comparison. Was he coming to town to carry on the Lakers’ legacy, or to make movies and television shows? It didn’t help that in his first season the Lakers didn’t even make the playoffs. A year later when LeBron put banner 17 in the rafters, Lakers fans had to watch it on television while isolated in their homes. There were no fans gathering in bars for watch parties, there could be no championship parade, and there wasn’t the same sense of community around the city.

Tuesday night that changed — Lakers fans fully embraced LeBron, and he cemented his place in NBA history and the Lakers’ pantheon.

With a free throw line turnaround jumper in the third quarter, LeBron passed the legendary Kareem Abdul-Jabbar to become the NBA’s all-time leading scorer, with 35,388 points (he would finish the night with a couple more.

“I write that ‘Man in the Arena’ on my shoe every single night, from Theodore Roosevelt. Tonight I actually felt like I was like sitting on top of the arena,” LeBron said. “When that shot went in and the roar from the crowd, I’m not sure if I’ll be able to feel that feeling again, unless it’s like a game-winning Finals shot…

“Everything just stopped and it gave me an opportunity just to kind of embrace it and look around. And seeing my family, seeing the fans, seeing my friends, it was, it was, it was pretty cool.”

As the shot fell through the net, LeBron raised his arms and Lakers fans roared as loud as this building has ever heard — it sounded with the echoes of the Shaq/Kobe era and Kobe’s wild 60-point final game. It was history made in purple and gold, it cemented LeBron in the hearts of Lakers fans.

Play was stopped and LeBron soon doubled over with the emotion of the moment. He was wiping away tears, while his sons sitting courtside were filming him on their phones (the way teenagers must in this era). LeBron, at age 38, has spent 20 seasons in the NBA — and a lifetime focused on conditioning and health — to reach this moment, and his emotions hit him when it happened.

Abdul-Jabbar was sitting courtside and was gracious, despite what had been a frosty relationship between the pair in the past. NBA Commissioner Adam Silver and Abdul-Jabbar took part in a brief ceremony to mark the historic occasion. Then LeBron made an emotional address to the crowd — and dropped an F-bomb at the end, a sign of the emotions and lack of a filter in that moment.

By the middle of the first quarter, it started to feel as if this could be his night, that LeBron was going to to the 36 points he needed. The energy was high, but LeBron started the game 0-of-2 shooting and focusing more on what he has always done — making the right basketball play and dishing off when the defense overloads on him — much to the frustration of the crypto.com arena crowd urging on history. He eventually broke that streak four minutes in with a corner 3.

Soon after LeBron went into attack mode. He was able to get downhill, getting into the paint seemingly at will, and when the Thunder point-of-attack defenders started to play back to take the drive, he knocked down 3s. LeBron was showing off the full arsenal, hitting on post-ups and in transition. LeBron had 20 at the half, was scoring whenever he wanted, and told his sons he was getting the record this night.

“I felt pretty good, I got into a good rhythm, and once I get in a good rhythm, then I can make any shot on the floor,” LeBron said describing the moment he set the record. “You know, to break the record, I was able to get to a really good spot where I’m very comfortable with and get to one of my patented fadeaway shots.”

It fell. Saying he is the NBA’s all-time leading scorer is another pillar holding up his GOAT argument. It’s another chapter in a career that has been in the spotlight since high school but never felt off track. And it was a shot that forever cemented his legacy with West, Wilt, Shaq, Kobe, Magic and the pantheon of Lakers greats in the hearts of Lakers fans.

Watch LeBron James set NBA all-time scoring record

0 Comments

LOS ANGELES — With Kareem Abdul-Jabbar looking on from courtside, LeBron James hit a free-throw line turnaround jumper to become the NBA’s all-time leading scorer with 38,388 points.

After the bucket, LeBron raised his hands to the air and exhorted the crowd, but soon the moment hit him and he doubled over with the emotion of the moment, his hands on his knees. The game was stopped for a few minutes to celebrate the moment, with Abdul-Jabbar and NBA Comissioner Adam Silver came out on the floor for a short ceremony. LeBron addressed the crowd before play resumed.

On a night it felt like the Lakers forgot to bring their defense home from the Grammys road trip, LeBron had to take on more of a scoring load to keep his team in the game. The Thunder were not playing great defense either, allowing LeBron to get downhill and score in the paint early. Once he got a few buckets to fall, the floodgates opened — and the Lakers crowd roared as loudly as this building has ever heard to urge him towards the record. A fanbase that has seen more than its share of greatness and history embraced the moment.

And they embraced the player, which was not always the case in Los Angeles. It was LeBron’s night and a very special moment of history.

 

NBA trade deadline tracker: latest news, rumors, deals

0 Comments

Things are going to get insane in the run-up to the NBA trade deadline, at 3 p.m. Eastern on Thursday. There’s already been a blockbuster Kyrie Irving trade to Dallas, which will spawn other deals, and every team is looking for upgrades large or small. Will the Lakers make upgrades? What contenders will deepen their bench, and what teams will pivot toward the Victor Wembanyama sweepstakes? We will have all the latest NBA rumors, news, and any deals that get done in one place. It’s going to get wild, sit back and enjoy the ride.

TRADE: It’s official: Nets Kessler Edwards to the Kings

Kings receive: Kessler Edwards
Nets receive: Cash, the draft rights to David Michineau (who plays forNapoli Basket in Italy)

Analysis: As noted below when we first mentioned this trade could happen, this is a salary dump by the Nets, who free up a roster spot and $8 million in salary and tax. Edwards had fallen out of the Brooklyn rotation this season, but Sacramento gets a look at a young wing defender, reportedly sending him to their G-League team to get a little run and show what he can do. Edwards, a second-round pick (number 44 overall in 2021 out of Pepperdine), has a $1.9 million player option for next season.

Feb. 7, 8:05 P.M.: Warriors softening stance on trading James Wiseman

• It’s incredibly difficult to throw in the towel on a No.2 pick, and the Golden State Warriors rarely make in-season trades. However, with the defending champs hovering around .500 — and now without Stephen Curry for maybe a month — Golden State is softening its position on a possible James Wiseman trade, reports Anthony Slater at The Athletic. Same with Moses Moody, a developing young guard who can’t help the Warriors much this season. What are the Warriors looking for? Veterans who can help this season, at just about any position across the board.

• It’s not trade related but passing it along anyway: Kevin Durant will miss the All-Star Game due to his knee injury, the Nets announced. NBA Commissioner Adam Silver will appoint his replacement.

• Also being reported about All-Star weekend: the Trail Blazers’ Shaedon Sharpe has pulled out of the Dunk Contest.

Feb. 7, 4:10 P.M.: Don’t bet on a Durant trade at the deadline. This summer…

• We are very close to another trade, but it’s another cap space move primarily: The Nets will send second-year forward Kessler Edwards to the Kings in exchange for cash, reports both Shams Charnia at The Athletic and Adrian Wojnarowski at ESPN. The Kings, looking for defense, get a young wing defender they can roll the dice on, while the Nets open up a roster spot for future moves and save $8 million against the tax. Edwards showed some potential as a rookie, but in his second year (on a deeper Brooklyn team) he has been outside the rotation, and not impressed when he has gotten into games. He has a team option for $1.9 million next season. Edwards can veto the trade because of Bird Rights issues but is expected to approve it.

• It’s now official, Mat Ishbia has taken control of the Phoenix Suns organization. We don’t know what kind of owner Ishbia will be, but there is a sense he will spend more willingly and be more aggressive than the Robert Sarver regime – he reportedly is pushing for the team to make a splash at the trade deadline — which is good for Suns fans and the league. Plus, he will clean up the troubles in the organization that pushed Sarver out.

Feb. 7, 3:05 P.M.: Don’t bet on a Durant trade at the deadline. This summer…

• Kevin Durant and the Nets are talking about the long-term (and likely short-term) direction of the franchise, but Brooklyn is not making its other superstar available to teams, reports Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.

This provides details and is in line with what sources from other teams have told NBC Sports (and I have reported previously): They are under the impression the Nets are going to try and build a contender around KD this season, maybe including another deal or two, and try to convince him to stay. If Durant ends up on the move, it will be over the summer.

• The backup big man market is one of the most crowded at the trade deadline, but you can add another name to it: JaVale McGee. Dallas is looking to move on, according to Jake Fischer of Yahoo Sports.

• The Nuggets and Pistons are the teams talking to New York most recently about a Cam Reddish trade, according to Ian Begley of SNY.TV. Reddish remains one of the players most likely to be on the move by Thursday.

• Kyrie Irving practiced with the Mavericks today — he was the first player to the facilities — and is expected to make his debut with the team Wednesday night.

Feb. 7, 1:29 P.M.: Is potential of Durant on the move hurting Anunoby market?

• Interesting note from Jake Fischer at Yahoo Sports: While there are a lot of teams still interested in a trade for Raptors wing O.G. Anunoby — the Pelicans, Grizzlies, Knicks, Pacers, Trail Blazers, Lakers, Suns, and Nets are interested — a number of those teams would prioritize Kevin Durant if he puts his trade demand back on the table this summer. With that, said teams don’t want to give up too much for Anunoby now. The market is getting soft, Anunoby is a favorite of GM Masai Ujiri in Toronto, so maybe he stays put at the deadline.

• It’s far more likely the Raptors trade Fred VanVleet or Gary Trent Jr. at the deadline. VanVleet has become one of the most talked about names in the last few days. That said, the Raptors are listening to offers, at least.

• What are the Celtics looking to do at the trade deadline? Use their $5.9 million trade exception, reports friend-of-the-site Keith Smith.

• Also from Fischer at Yahoo: Mason Plumlee appears to be the Hornet most likely to be traded.

TRADE: Heat send Dewayne Dedmond to the Spurs

San Antonio receives: Dewayne Dedmon, 2028 Heat second-round pick
Heat receive: Cash

Analysis: This is a salary dump by the Heat, and it cost them a second-round pick. Maimi now has some room under the salary cap and two open roster spots, allowing them to bring in a player — via trade or the buyout market — and convert Orlando Johnson’s two-way contract to full-time, he has played well for them. The Spurs get a second-round pick and are expected to waive Dedmon, making him a free agent.

Feb. 7, 11:55 A.M.: Lakers interested in Conley and Beasley from Jazz

• After striking out on Irving, the Lakers are reportedly engaged in talks to send Russell Westbrook and both of the first-round picks they can trade (2027 and 2029) to Utah for Mike Conley and Malik Beasley, reports Tim MacMahon of ESPN. While the sides undoubtedly talked, that sounds like a rumor from the Jazz camp. The Lakers have hoarded those picks to swing for a home run, and with Conley declining this season at age 35 — and with a guaranteed $24 million on the books for next season eating up the Lakers’ cap space over the summer — this doesn’t sound like a move the Lakers would suddenly pivot and accept. The Jazz have rebuffed all offers for Conley so far, keeping the asking price high and banking on the desperation of buyers.

• The Chicago Bulls are at least listening to offers for defensive guard Alex Caruso, but they are reportedly keeping the price sky-high — two first-round picks. Don’t expect a deal, while Caruso brings value that’s a star-level asking price.

• This shouldn’t surprise anyone who has watched a minute of Brooklyn Nets basketball this season, but ESPN’s Bobby Marks says Ben Simmons has zero trade value right now. Also, the note on Durant being a summer move was something sources told NBC Sports and we wrote about previously.

• If the Miami Heat can’t find a new home for the disappointing Kyle Lowry at the trade deadline, this summer they will return their focus to using his salary in a deal for a disgruntled superstar such as Kevin Durant or Bradley Beal, reports Ira Winderman of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel. That sounds on brand for the Heat.

• Along those lines, the Washington Wizards plan to keep Beal and re-sign Kyle Kuzma.

• Veteran Furkan Korkmaz has been bumped from his regular spot in the 76ers rotation this season and wants to be traded to a place he can get some run. Philly is looking for a new home for him as well as Matisse Thybulle.

• No, LeBron James is not happy the Lakers missed out on Kyrie Irving, but he’s pivoting to what’s going on today.

“I can’t sit here and say I’m not disappointed on not being able to land such a talent, but someone I had great chemistry with and know I got great chemistry with on the floor that can help you win championships. In my mind, in my eyes. But my focus has shifted now my focus has shifted back to where it should be, and that’s with this this club now and what we have in the locker room.”

LeBron James: ‘I feel like I’m the best basketball player that ever played the game’

Los Angeles Lakers v New Orleans Pelicans
Layne Murdoch Jr./NBAE via Getty Images
0 Comments

What did you expect him to say?

LeBron James is on the cusp of breaking the NBA’s all-time scoring record held by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar since 1984. LeBron is just 36 points shy of the record and could set it Tuesday night against the Thunder in Los Angeles or Thursday against the Bucks. His taking over one of basketball’s most hallowed — and long-considered unbreakable — records only adds to his tally in the GOAT debate… except it’s not a debate for LeBron. He is confident where he stands, something he told Kyle Goon of the Orange County Register (and Southern California News Group).

“What I bring to the table as a basketball player … I feel like I’m the best basketball player that ever played the game,” he said. “That’s just my confidence, that’s just what I bring to the table, what I possess. But as far as if the scoring record gets me to another level, I don’t know.”

Again, what did you expect him to say? If LeBron didn’t have the confidence to make that statement, he wouldn’t be in a position to break the record or be in the GOAT conversation at all. Not everybody is going to see things the same way, but it’s at least a conversation.

“I think he’s gonna have the greatest career of all time,” Sixers coach Doc Rivers said of LeBron. “I think he’s already had it, you know, and I think Michaels the greatest of all time. But that doesn’t take anything away from LeBron. LeBron has had the greatest career.”

The impressive part of LeBron’s run is that he has played at this insanely high level for 20 years — his commitment to conditioning, to investing in his body as far back as high school, is paying off now. For LeBron to have played 20 seasons without missing significant time due to injury is a combination of his intense preparation and a little luck. All that work, all those years are paying off now.

LeBron will have another pillar for his GOAT argument once he breaks the record. Not that he thinks he need it.