NBA still grow­ing around the world

San Francisco Chronicle Late Edition - - SCOREBOARD - By Tim Reynolds Tim Rey­onolds is an As­so­ci­ated Press writer.

It was the fi­nal minute of a pre­sea­son game be­tween Philadel­phia and Dal­las, the 76ers were up by four points with the ball, and thou­sands of fans were scream­ing “de­fense” at the top of their lungs.

A com­mon scene, with an un­com­mon de­tail: The game was in China.

“Fan­tas­tic,” Dal­las’ Dirk Now­itzki mar­veled. “Shows our fans are ev­ery­where.”

That fan­dom, and the im­por­tance of those in­ter­na­tional eye­balls, just keeps grow­ing.

The NBA has been go­ing over­seas to play ei­ther pre­sea­son or reg­u­lar-sea­son games for 40 years, and the global foot­print of the league — not to men­tion its busi­ness in­ter­ests — con­tin­ues to ex­pand. The league has opened 12 in­ter­na­tional of­fices, es­tab­lished seven acad­e­mies on four con­ti­nents, and started broad­cast­ing games to more than 200 coun­tries and ter­ri­to­ries.

This sea­son, the NBA heads back to Mex­ico and Eng­land for reg­u­lar-sea­son con­tests, af­ter the 76ers and Mav­er­icks played ex­hi­bi­tions in China ear­lier this month.

“I be­lieve we can be the No. 1 sport in the world,” NBA Com­mis­sioner Adam Sil­ver said. “When I look at the tra­jec­tory of growth, 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 num­bers touted by the NBA are im­pres­sive: 300 mil­lion peo­ple play­ing the game for fun in China alone, and their has been rapid growth in In­dia over the past decade.

But in terms of global pop­u­lar­ity, soc­cer is still tops. The NBA model of acad­e­mies seems to be loosely based on what soc­cer teams around the world have been do­ing for years; some of the top in­ter­na­tional clubs have set up those acad­e­mies in the United States, and the NBA is tak­ing its acad­e­mies into other parts of the planet.

Si­mon Chad­wick, a Sports En­ter­prise pro­fes­sor at Sal­ford Busi­ness School in Manch­ester, Eng­land, urged cau­tion when re­ly­ing too much on data com­ing out of China. He said the NBA’s bench­mark in China is ob­vi­ous, but that the league still needs to work hard “in new and emer­gent sports mar­kets” if Sil­ver’s hope of bas­ket­ball sup­plant­ing soc­cer is to be re­al­ized.

“Get­ting the strat­egy right across these dif­fer­ent ter­ri­to­ries is go­ing to be a cru­cial fac­tor in any po­ten­tial growth in bas­ket­ball’s global pop­u­lar­ity,” Chad­wick said. “Will bas­ket­ball be­come the world’s fa­vorite sport? It is not in­con­ceiv­able, although it is un­likely — at least in the short to medium-term.”

China’s affin­ity for the game isn’t truly un­der­stood un­til seen in per­son.

Marvin John­son moved from the Mi­ami area to China in 2017 to teach and coach at a bas­ket­ball academy there.

“Any­time you go out to play bas­ket­ball at a lo­cal court there is a plethora of NBA jer­seys be­ing worn by the play­ers,” John­son said. “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.”

AFP / Getty Im­ages

Chi­nese fans watch a pre­sea­son game be­tween the Dal­las Mav­er­icks and the Philadel­phia 76ers in Shen­zhen on Mon­day.

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