In the 2012-13 season, a record 26 former NBA players are on the rosters of Chinese Basketball Association teams, including James Singleton, who played for the Wizards last season, as well as Tracy McGrady, Stephon Marbury and Gilbert Arenas, a three-time NBA all-star, AsiaOne sports reported.
Last October, when the Heat and the Clippers played exhibition games in Beijing and Shanghai, the NBA and a Chinese investor announced plans to build a giant sports and entertainment complex on 800 hectares in Tianjin, a port city just 30 minutes by train from Beijing.
The $1.5 billion facility will include NBA-style courts, a fitness centre, an NBA-themed cafe, a restaurant, an interactive gaming area, a children’s zone and other features.
While Wizards fans enjoy Chinese New Year celebrations, former NBA star Peja Stojakovic, who was born in Serbia during the Year of the Snake, will tip off festivities on Friday by hosting a viewing party in Beijing for the Celtics game against the Los Angeles Lakers.
The NBA’s success in China is linked to the Wizards, which as the Washington Bullets paid a historic visit to the country in 1979, a year after winning the league championship.
Led by team owner Abe Pollin, the Bullets were the first NBA team to set foot on the Chinese mainland.
A Wizards delegation, including Hall of Fame centre Wes Unseld, a star of the 1977-78 NBA champion Bullets and a future coach of the team; all-star Caron Butler and guard Randy Foye and 7-foot-7 (2.3-meter) Romanian Gheorghe Muresan paid a return visit to China in 2009, 30 years after the ice-breaking trip.
Bob Dandridge, a Bullets player who went to China in 1979, told China Daily on Tuesday that he was impressed by the courtesy and respect the team was shown during its visit.
Dandridge, then 31, was stunned by the number of people riding bicycles in China. “It was amazing to see 1,000 bicycle riders in one block in front of the hotels and we didn’t see people running into each other,” he said.
Dandridge also marveled at the sight of the Great Wall. “You are in one part and you see the extension, but you never see the end,” he said. “It’s like an endless wall. It was one of those experiences that you never forget and that stays with you for your lifetime.”
China is now by far the largest NBA market outside the United States.
The league has a comprehensive website in Chinese and has conducted numerous activities in China to promote its sport.
Michael Jordan, Lebron James, Kobe Bryant and Dwayne Wade are household names in China.Follow @exnbadotcom
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