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NBA Lifted by Chinese Touches

The 2004 National Basketball Association (NBA) China Games ended in tremendous style with Bobby Jackson sinking a last minute jump shot from the right corner to give the Sacramento Kings a 91-89 win over the Houston Rockets.

Jackson shot the ball with only seven seconds left in the match before the Rockets failed their last attack, sending the near 17,000 strong crowd into ecstasy in Beijing's Capital Stadium. The Kings guard had also tied the game with a three-pointer leaving Sacramento trailing 89-86 one minute to go in the fourth quarter of the pre-season game.

"I always dream about taking the final shot, today I surely didn't want it to go into overtime," Jackson said. "Both teams played hard and I'm happy that we came away with the win." He had more than proved himself after missing the first game in Shanghai on October 14 when Houston pulled off a 88-86 victory.

However, there was more than one winner; this is the first time one of the world's most watched games hit the world's most populous nation since 1979, when the then NBA champions Washington traveled to China to play two exhibition games against the Chinese national team.

"We are here to present the Chinese fans the authentic NBA games," said David Stern, the ambitious NBA commissioner.

Compared to the 1979 trip, these games were definitely more entertaining with professional management, several millions of dollars' investment and Yao Ming, the Chinese Rockets superstar.

Altogether around 30,000 fans watched the two games live and got a taste of the NBA experience -- the on-court DJ, wild cheerleaders, slam dunk acrobats and team mascots and, most of all, the dazzling display put on by NBA stars. As they were broadcast to the nation, the actual audience would have been even larger.

"These two games have provided Chinese basketball fans with a special opportunity to experience the passion of NBA basketball," said Yao.

He shot 4-of-5 from the field and made 13 points and eight rebounds in 27 minutes. Fans chanted his name throughout the game while he received rolling cheers every time he touched the ball, reminiscent of the first game in his hometown, Shanghai.

The same fanatical cheers also went to other players on court including Yao's national teammate Liu Wei, currently training with Sacramento and aiming to become the first Asian guard in NBA, despite his 12-minute error-prone and scoreless play.

"The atmosphere is awesome," said Wang Han, a high school student and loyal Rockets fan. "This is much better than I expected and much better than watching the game on TV," he said as he held the famous NBA slogan "I love this game" and a poster of Yao in his hands.

NBA is China's favorite sport and the two pre-season games consolidated its No.1 status especially since that other popular sport, soccer, suffered a disastrous setback with China recently losing a crucial World Cup qualifying match to Kuwait. The national soccer league is also bedeviled by allegations of match-fixing and corrupt referees.

"I am comfortable foreseeing a great growth and success for NBA in China," Stern said on Friday in Beijing.

According to an Asia Market Intelligence AsiaBus survey in March 2003, 75 per cent of Chinese aged 15-24, 58 per cent of 15-24 year-olds and 43 per cent of 15-64 year-olds claim to be NBA fans.

This popularity has attracted the NBA to cultivate China's huge potential market and Stern is waiting for a huge return from bringing two NBA games to China.

"We never lose money and this is just an investment," Stern said.

It would not be difficult to secure a good return with the involvement of Yao, a favorite of NBA marketing activities in China.

"I did the things that I should have, I played the matches and I went to the activities that I was supposed to," said Yao who appeared at shopping centers and press conferences and oversaw the launch of the Chinese version of his new autobiography during the week long event.

"I think the marketing of the NBA is something Chinese businesses should learn," he said.

(China Daily October 18, 2004)

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