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NBA PM: Is the NBA Done in China?
Posted By Alex Raskin On July 11, 2011 @ 4:00 pm In All,NBA | No Comments
Because the NBA just doesn’t have enough problems right now, ESPN.com wisely pointed out that Yao Ming’s imminent retirement jeopardizes commissioner David Stern’s efforts to expand the brand in China.
ESPN.com cites a poll from “Sina Weibo, a Chinese Twitter-like site,” that gives a bleak picture for the NBA in China. 57 percent of those surveyed said they would stop watching the NBA after Yao’s retirement; and if that’s in any way indicative of how the country feels as a whole, things can only get worse for this league.
What’s been great about Yao’s rise in popularity is that he introduced China to American basketball. Chinese fans fell for his Houston Rockets teammate, Tracy McGrady, whose jersey was a top seller in the country, while Chinese shoe companies like Li Ning and PEAK used American players like Jason Kidd and Ron Artest to legitimize their products domestically. Yes, the NBA playoffs were censored by the Chinese government in the wake of the 2008 earthquake, but the league was happy to accommodate the country’s rigid content restrictions.
“We are working closely with CCCTV [a Chinese television station] to ensure that NBA games and content are appropriate for China and to begin broadcasting as soon as possible,” NBA China’s CEO Tim Chen told USA Today in May of 2008.
The simple fact that the league has an office in China that’s willing to alter the product and put it on hold for Chinese consumption illustrates just how dedicated the NBA is to that audience. Whatever it takes, Stern and Co. want access to the largest market in the world (one in four human beings lives in China, after all).
And now, just when the NBA needs every last fan it can pull together, Yao’s legs and feet are preventing him from carrying the load any further. The bridge between American basketball and China is about to give and who knows if anyone can fix it.
“Yao Ming is like an ambassador,” ESPN.com quoted the Chinese Business Morning View as writing. “With a basketball player’s height, a comedian’s humor, post-80s generation’s freshness… one does not know how many foreigners’ impressions of the Chinese he has changed.”
Today, China essentially has one player in the NBA, Yi Jianlian, whose option the Wizards neglected to pick up before the lockout began. And without another major talent coming down the pipe, there really is no telling if and when the league’s popularity will recover on the other side of the Pacific. If the league’s progress in China ends, what hope do other emerging markets like India have?
The gruesome prospect is the owners locked out a wildly popular league that appealed not only to North Americans, but South Americans, Europeans and Asians. The league that eventually returns might not conjure up the same positive feelings with domestic or foreign audiences. And even if the game’s popularity is rejuvenated in the US, the league will need more than one Yao Ming to bridge the gap with foreign fans. Don’t forget, while the NBA remains dark, baseball, soccer and even hockey and tennis are capturing the hearts and minds of history’s largest population.
But not everybody feels negatively about the NBA’s future in China. Alex Peng of the Chinese American Voice has covered the NBA, NHL and Major League Baseball, and has readers on both sides of the Pacific.
“Once you open the door, the door will never be closed,” he told HOOPSWORLD. “They have the experience now with the NBA and they understand the business of sports and professional basketball. In the past 10 years they’ve observed the operational system and marketing system around this organization.
“Yao is not just a pioneer,” Peng continued. “He is at the center of the business of sports for a lot of Chinese. Once you open the door, you cannot close that door.”
What do you think? Will the NBA remain popular in China after Yao’s retirement or has the league seen its best days in that market?
Did the Cavaliers Blow It?
Miraculously, by taking paunchy point guard Baron Davis and his bloated contract from the Clippers, the Cavaliers scored the top pick in the NBA Draft while holding on to their own selection, which ended up being fourth overall.
The good fortune, coupled with LeBron James and the Miami HEAT’s loss in the NBA Finals, was the perfect climate for Cleveland’s sports fans (who tend to be varying degrees of hopeful and cynical). June had everything for Cleveland’s basketball fans. The Cavs had two of the top four picks in the draft, James was shooting blanks on the game’s biggest stage and even Cleveland State star Norris Cole landed in the first round.
The first pick was easy for the Cavs. Duke point guard Kyrie Irving was everybody’s top choice heading into the draft. However the second pick—which was eventually used to take Texas’ Tristan Thompson—garnered much more debate.
Many believed that a blossoming center like Lithuania’s Jonas Valanciunas was a better fit for Cleveland because his pick-and-roll skills seemed congruent to Irving’s style of play. Cavs coach Byron Scott likes to call pick and rolls, Irving likes to run pick and rolls and Valanciunas like to finish pick and rolls. It seemed too perfect.
But, of course, the Cavaliers had their reasons to not pick Valanciunas—primarily a sticky buyout situation that will prevent him from playing in the NBA in 2011-2012.
While general manager Chris Grant was wise in his assessment of Valanciunas’ contractual hurdles—he obviously wasn’t allowed to join the NBA immediately—his intuition may end up hurting the Cavs.
“Why?” you should be asking yourself.
Well July hasn’t been as kind to basketball fans in Cleveland, or anywhere else for that matter. With the lockout underway, there is a legitimate fear that the 2011-2012 season might be missed completely and Thompson and Valanciunas could make their respective NBA debuts at the same time. In fact, the Raptors—who drafted Valanciunas fifth overall and worked out a buyout deal with Lietuvos Rytas to gain his services for the 2012-2013 campaign—might be getting one of the few draft picks with actual game experience in 2011-2012. While he plays against decent competition in Europe, Thompson can only practice as he waits for the lockout to end and for his pro career to begin.
Valanciunas is already a pro, and at the Under-19 FIBA World Championships last week, he proved he was a darn good one.
The seven-foot center has now led Lithuania to titles at the U16, U18 and now the U19 levels, while earning the MVP in every tournament. He finished this year’s performance with marks of 23 PPG, 13.9 RPG and 3.2 BPG (all tournament bests) while making 59.7 percent of his field goals (second best).
Most importantly, he was at his best when his team needed him the most. In the finals against Serbia, Valanciunas scored 36 pounds, blocked three shots and grabbed eight boards in 40 minutes. Okay, maybe the competition wasn’t the best in the world, but as “small ball” gets more popular, it’s a relief to see a legitimate center throwing his weight around.
Maybe Thompson will turn out to be the better player. Maybe the Cavs were smart to pass on Valanciunas. But if the argument against taking the Lithuanian was simply his buyout, well, that’s not going to be enough for a fan base with a long memory and some open wounds.
Check Out: Royce Young’s Take on the Hornets
CBSsports.com’s Royce Young had an interesting piece yesterday on the Southwest Division. In particular, he asked if the lockout, coupled with the possible departures of both David West and Chris Paul within the next two years, could ultimately end the NBA’s presence in New Orleans. It’s definitely worth a read.
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