Every year, the National Basketball Association holds games before the official season starts to build support for its 30 professional teams.
Earlier this month, there was clear excitement in the final minutes of a preseason game between the Philadelphia 76ers and Dallas Mavericks.
The 76ers were winning by four points and had possession of the ball. Thousands of fans were screaming “defense” as loudly as they could.
The excitement is a common reaction from fans with one uncommon detail: The game was played in China.
NBA teams have been traveling overseas to play either preseason or official, regular-season games for about 40 years. And the NBA continues to expand.
The NBA has opened 12 international offices. It has established seven basketball training centers on four continents. NBA games are now broadcast in more than 200 countries and territories.
This season, the NBA returns to Mexico and Britain to play games that will count towards its regular season.
Basketball versus soccer
NBA Commissioner Adam Silver told the Associated Press that he believes basketball can be the most popular sport in the world. He added, “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 NBA reports that 300 million people play basketball for fun in China alone. The organization also notes rising popularity growth in India. The NBA estimates that 1 billion people around the world have some way to watch the NBA Finals championship series.
Football, known as soccer in the United States, remains the world’s most popular sport.
NBA training centers now appear to be copying what soccer teams around the world have been doing for years. For example, some of the top international football clubs have training centers in the U.S. Now, the NBA is starting its own training centers around the world.
Marvin Johnson moved from the Miami area in the state of Florida to China in 2017 to teach and coach at a basketball training center. The first thing he saw when he arrived in Beijing was a large Li-Ning sporting goods store. In the store, many items carried the name or image of NBA star player Dwyane Wade. Wade now has a lifetime agreement to endorse the Chinese company’s products.
Johnson said that many local players wear NBA jerseys. He added, “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.”
Other sports leagues look to grow internationally
Many star NBA players have traveled to Asia. LeBron James has made a yearly trip to China for years. Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant and Klay Thompson have also enjoyed their time in China.
Thompson told the AP, “Life is too short to be serious all the time. You’ve got to be able to show your personality. That’s what I do when I come to China.”
Mark Tatum is the deputy commissioner of the NBA. He said, “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 and energy in how we become the No. 1 sport in those countries.”
Other professional sports leagues in North America have an interest in the international market as well.
Major League Baseball will have its first games next season in Japan. It will be a two-game series between the Seattle Mariners and the Oakland Athletics.
The National Football League is playing three regular-season games in London this year. And the Florida Panthers and Winnipeg Jets of the National Hockey League will play a two-game series in Finland next month.
I’m Jonathan Evans.
Tim Reynolds reported this story for the Associated Press news agency. Jonathan Evans adapted it for Learning English. Mario Ritter was the editor.
Words in This Story
continent –n. one of the great divisions of land (North America, South America, Europe, Asia, Africa, Australia, or Antarctica) of the Earth
engage –v. to do something
endorse – v. to publicly say that you like or use a product or service in exchange for money
jerseys –n. a loose shirt worn by a member of a sports team as part of a uniform
favorite –adj. most liked
league – n. a group of sports teams that play against each other