WHEN NBA commissioner Adam Silver took over the league from his mentor David Stern last February, the question of how to deepen the game’s roots in its largest overseas market, China, gained paramount importance.
Without a homegrown star as an anchor after Houston Rockets’ All Star center Yao Ming retired, maintaining NBA’s strong appeal to Chinese fans seemed a challenge but Silver has lived up to it by delivering authentic National Basketball Association experience across the Pacific through consistent efforts.
The 2015 NBA Global Games tour as the league’s high-profile outreach to the Chinese market has proven to be another sensation with enthusiastic fan ovation, intense media focus and growing sponsorship interest.
The highly-anticipated matchup between the glittering Los Angeles Clippers and the emerging Charlotte Hornets in a preseason game at the Mercedes-Benz Arena on Wednesday will conclude this year’s trip with a bang.
“Playing these games here gives us the opportunity to bring NBA action directly to our fans,” Silver said of the significance of hosting NBA games on a regular basis in China.
“And when we bring our teams here, it generates a lot of coverage and it gives our players an important opportunity to experience China and to get a sense of how popular the game is here.”
Still, the expectation of hosting the more serious regular-season games in China has long been raised by fans and media.
Citing scheduling issues, Silver said that regular-season games in China won’t be considered any time soon but still the door open for future.
“I am not sure and the reason is that it’s a balance for us between coming preseason when our teams have more time to spend in the market and the regular season when our schedules are so condensed that there will be much less time to experience China,” said the 53-year-old former lawyer from New York.
“Having said that, I recognize there is a difference between preseason and regular games, as the market becomes more mature in terms of the interest in NBA basketball, playing a regular-season game is something we will continue to look at.”
As the game returns to Shanghai, where Yao retired in 2011 to become a businessman and a team owner, the itch for the next Yao making his way to the NBA has been pressing and a recent target has been young center Zhou Qi.
Silver said the 19-year-old’s talent shown during the Asian Championship earlier this month has struck the league but he still is not an accomplished NBA prospect yet.
“I don’t think it would be fair to put so much pressure on Zhou from the commissioner of the NBA. But certainly, we follow young players in China, as we do in all markets, very closely,” he said.
“Zhou played a very important role in helping China win the Asian Championship and qualify for the (2016) Olympics. I think only time will tell whether he will be a true NBA prospect, we are encouraged by what we have seen so far and look forward to watching him continue to develop as a player.”
In addition to bringing games to China, Silver revealed last Saturday that the league has discussed the possibility of playing some games at about 10am on the United States east coast to better accommodate Chinese fans.
“The main interest is to give fans the ability to watch games during prime time in the evening here. I think we will experiment with it at some point to get a sense of how much it will increase our viewership.
“I will say I am a little concerned about our players’ performance levels because their body clocks are used to playing in the evening or afternoon. But as viewership continues to grow here, it’s something inevitably that we will take a stronger look at,” he added.
The league’s increasing presence on all media platforms in China seems to provide a compelling argument for such an adjustment.
The 2014-15 NBA season was watched by more than 690 million television viewers in China, while the average number of viewers per game during the playoffs reached 2.3 million on Tencent across all platforms — a whopping 160 percent increase over the previous season.