How is the strategy working? Consider China, the land of Yao Ming, the 7-foot, 6-inch Shanghai-born star of the Houston Rockets who was chosen number one in the 2002 draft. Sina.com, China’s premier sports website, estimates that one-tenth of all Chinese are soccer fans. That’s 130 million people. By contrast, the NBA reckons that 300 million Chinese watch NBA games on TV or the Internet. That’s roughly the entire U.S. population. Eighty-nine percent of Chinese aged 15 to 54 are aware of the NBA, according to a survey by the European research firm TNS of 11 major urban markets in China. Every year, thousands of basketball courts are constructed, even in the most remote provinces.
The NBA is also gaining huge popularity in other parts of Asia, Europe, and Latin America, and it is starting to make inroads in Africa. In the summer of 2007, the NBA held 262 international events in 162 cities spanning five continents—nearly double the 135 events in 87 cities in 2006. In October, the Cleveland Cavaliers and Orlando Magic played exhibition games in Shanghai and Macao. Four other teams—the Boston Celtics, Toronto Raptors, Memphis Grizzlies, and Minnesota Timberwolves—held training camps and played exhibition games in Europe. NBA Commissioner David Stern has announced that his goal is to hold regular-season games in major European cities.
Read the rest of Charles Euchner's article on whether basketball can overtake soccer as the world's most popular sport.