China the gem in NBA's global vision

Updated: 2014-08-05 07:20

By Murray Greig(China Daily)

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Commissioner Silver lauds 'most important market outside the US'

For Adam Silver, China is pure gold.

If ever a North American sports czar and a flourishing foreign market were meant to complement - and compliment - each other, it's these two.

Last week Silver squeezed six months' worth of goodwill into a whirlwind 48-hour visit to Beijing - his first since becoming NBA commissioner last February. Highlights included a meeting with Vice-Premier Liu Yandong, a tour of the NBA Yao School in Wukesong, ramping up CCTV's league coverage for next season and a freewheeling round-table chat with representatives of the national media.

No matter where he went, the 52-year-old Silver got rock star treatment from fans and media who hailed the personable New Yorker as a visionary who appreciates the importance of the immense Chinese market - and he more than reciprocated the accolades.

"I want to be very clear about the fact that I personally, and we as a league, consider China our single most important market outside the United States," said Silver.

"I'm already excited about returning in the fall for our Global Games, when the Sacramento Kings will play the Brooklyn Nets on Oct 12 in Shanghai and Oct 15 here in Beijing.

"I am especially pleased about having the privilege of meeting with Vice-Premier Madam Liu on this trip. We discussed a people-to-people exchange involving basketball and our shared vision to promote youth programs throughout China in accordance with the concepts taught at the NBA Yao School - the notion of discipline, hard work and teamwork being instilled in young boys and girls through participation in the sport.

"I first met with Madam Liu at a Bulls game this past November in Chicago and at that time we discussed an exchange of coaches and know-how from the NBA to China. We both agreed the exchange had been successful and that we should continue to build on it.

"We are very grateful and appreciative about the level of support and commitment to growing the game that we continue to receive from the Chinese government."

Silver said his visit to the NBA Yao School at Wukesong - where he was mobbed for autographs and requests for selfies - left a profound impression.

"We enjoy a terrific partnership with Yao Ming, who is out of the country right now, and he and I have a shared vision for continuing to develop basketball in China," said the commissioner.

"It was so encouraging to see so many boys and girls enjoying themselves with top-notch instructors. In fact, after one of the sessions several parents came up to me to say how meaningful the program has been for their children. One mother told me how it had instilled confidence in her son and given him a greater sense of purpose in terms of his devotion to physical fitness and to the game of basketball."

David Shoemaker, CEO of NBA China, echoed that sentiment.

"One thing that struck me profoundly since our spring season was seeing a young man named Zhao, who before joining the Yao NBA School sorely lacked confidence, was overweight, only ate junk food and didn't do anything physical.

"Now, 14 weeks later, he's a different boy. He has many friends to socialize with. He has stopped playing video games all day and instead is playing basketball. He has tons of confidence ... and above all he has lost 30 pounds.

"I bring this up because it's a point Yao Ming would want us to emphasize, which is that this after-school program is not designed to produce the next NBA or CBA superstar - it's to use the game of basketball to teach important life lessons and skills like leadership, team work and discipline ... and to have fun."

Silver, who played a key role in the creation of NBA China as well as negotiating the league's past two television agreements in the US and in partnering with Turner Broadcasting to jointly manage the NBA's digital assets, had high praise for the long-term deal with CCTV, which started in 1987.

"During my meeting with the CCTV executives they remarked about how our relationship began 27 years ago when (former commissioner) David Stern personally negotiated the NBA's first television deal in China," said Silver.

"Today it has grown to the point where we have 14 major media partners and our games are seen throughout China on every conceivable platform. We are tremendously pleased with that growth."

CCTV's coverage in the upcoming season will expand to five live games per week and the debut of weekly two-hour news magazine called NBA Prime Time.

Asked how a new US television deal in 2016 - projected at upwards of $15 billion - will impact player salaries, Silver was philosophical.

"Our salary caps are based on a percent of revenue, roughly 50 percent. So as revenue goes up, salaries go up. When we renew our US television deals, if their increases are as great as people are expecting, salaries will go up - and that's a good thing.

"My view is the players are partners in this league and the more revenue we are able to generate the more they are able to make."

(China Daily 08/05/2014 page24)