Play the All-Star Game in Beijing
Updated: 2013-04-19 08:44
By Dusty Lane (China Daily)
The NBA brought in so many big names for last October's China Games, you could be forgiven for looking on the court and thinking you were watching an All-Star Game.
LeBron James was there. So were Dwyane Wade, Blake Griffin, Chris Bosh and Chris Paul.
What could be better?
Well, how about the actual All-Star Game?
Let's think big for a minute.
The lone downside to last year's two-game exhibition series between the defending champion Miami Heat and the young and popular Los Angeles Clippers is that it's going to be difficult to live up to in future iterations. The Los Angeles Lakers will be playing the Golden State Warriors this fall, which means Kobe Bryant will be in China, which of course means lots of headlines.
But if the NBA insists on limiting its games here to exhibitions, how about bringing in one of the league's marquee events?
It's hard to find a reason not to.
The league clearly wants to continue building its brand in China. But bringing in, say, regular-season games might be tricky.
"We think about (what we'll do next in China), but we don't have a plan right now," NBA commissioner David Stern said last fall. "The regular season is going to be tight, quicker. And the coaches will not let their players be quite so relaxed. For us, friendly games are better right now."
He's right. It's one thing to play an exhibition when you're jet-lagged and worn out from traveling, quite another to play games that count. There's also the matter of robbing a team's hometown fans and the bars, restaurants and hotels surrounding the stadium of a precious home game or two.
The All-Star Game is another matter entirely. The next open date is 2015, but let's look at 2016. There is no stadium, no fan base, nobody on Earth who's banking on a game being played anywhere in particular on that date. Since 2016 is a leap year, the league would have an extra day of the season to work with as it looks for ways to build in travel days for the trip. They could even build it into the branding. Call it "The Great Leap" or something.
Besides, why not do it relatively soon, while there's a uniquely qualified middleman in Stephon Marbury in town?
It's not like the move would be unprecedented. Las Vegas isn't home to an NBA team, but it played host in 2007. That weekend is somewhat notorious - remember Adam "Pacman" Jones "making it rain just before he was involved in a shooting outside a strip club? - but it was one of the most talked-about All-Star weekends in recent memory. Besides, Beijing proved in 2008 it knows how to roll out the red carpet for big sporting events.
If last year's trip is indicative, players seem to genuinely enjoy coming to Beijing. It's an interesting trip in its own right, but it's also a chance to build a presence in the ever-lucrative Chinese market - especially for All-Star caliber players.
Wade, for instance, used his visit as a chance to formalize his decision to jump from Jordan shoes to Li-Ning, and signed on with a social platform called FansTang.
It's a situation in which everybody wins. The fans get to watch a game packed with motivated players who want to put on a show for Chinese fans and further entrench themselves, and the league, in the market.
TV ratings would probably be down a bit in North America thanks to the necessary tape-delay, but the All-Star Game is one of the few sporting events that doesn't demand that you watch it live, because the result is beside the point. Plus, it's one of those things that's watched in large part by diehards, who are less likely to skip it either way.
The NBA wouldn't just get to build long-term goodwill in the world's largest market, it would get a chance to make the game feel like an event again.
Play the game in Cleveland or Memphis, and everybody's going to remember it until, oh, sometime around lunch the next day.
Play it in Beijing, and nobody will ever forget.
The author is sports copy editor at China Daily. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
(China Daily 04/19/2013 page7)