By Gordon Chu | September 08, 2009
Of all the Olympics I remember watching since the 1984 Los Angeles games, last year’s 2008 Beijing Olympics is the only one I remember taking my breath away in absolute awe. From the opening to closing ceremonies and for 16 days, all the worlds’ eyes were on Beijing. And, in true Hollywood fashion, the drama that unfolded at the Beijing Olympics did not fall short – from Usain Bolt’s 100M and 200M world records to Michael Phelp’s eight Olympic gold medals. But for the Chinese, nothing could be more exciting and more representative of China than basketball.
The moment you walk into the heart of any metropolitan city in China, you will be hard-pressed to not find a slew of NBA jerseys amongst the urban crowd. The Chinese may not understand the word “thank you” in English, but you can be sure that they will all recognize the name, “Kobe Bryant.” Today, basketball is more than just a past-time or hobby, but is engrained into the very cultural fibers in today’s China’s youth. A brief NBA history in China:
1979 – NBA’s first venture into China with the Washington Bullets touring all of China as a team
1985 – David Stern invites the Chinese national team to the US for exhibition games against several NBA teams
1987 – NBA aired the 1987 All-Star game on CCTV
1989 – NBA struck a deal with CCTV to start broadcasting games on China’s only national TV station
1994 – First live feed for Game 1 of the NBA Finals
2002 – Yao Ming was picked number 1 in the NBA draft by the Houston Rockets
2003 – Mandarin Chinese site for NBA.com was launched
2007 – NBA China was formed to serve the China market
Popular as it was pre-2002, Yao Ming was the catalyst to transform the popularity of basketball in China to epic proportions. Today, an estimated 300 million Chinese play basketball. Over 83% of Chinese males aged 15 – 24 claim they are a basketball fan. Today, basketball has eclipsed even the popularity of soccer and is on the forefront of ‘sports’ in China. Recently, the NFL (National Football League) and the MLB (Major League Baseball) have both tried to penetrate the China market by coat-tailing the success of the NBA; however, with a 30-year head start of either and plans to expand the NBA with a strategic partnership with AEG to construct 12 new basketball arenas, the NBA has a clear market share of sports in China.