TrueHoop reader Mac Lotze lives in Shanghai where he attended the Cleveland Orlando game, and emails the following report:
The basketball-crazed city of Shanghai got their money's worth.
With LeBron James forcing the ball a little too much to try and keep up with the unstoppable Dwight Howard (who looked like an MVP candidate with 31 points, 14 rebounds as well as several gravity-mocking blocks), the Cleveland Cavaliers fell to the Orlando Magic 90-86.
Although the Cavs were up for most of the contest, it was Howard who tied the game up with 1:16 remaining on a shot in the paint. LeBron addressed the crowd at halftime proclaiming that he was excited for the Olympics in Beijing, adding a "Go Coca-cola" at the end.
LeBron had proclaimed at the end of last summer that he would learn Mandarin Chinese in hope of becoming a global icon, yet did not even address the crowd with a simple Ni Hao (hello). Perhaps he is saving it for the Olympics.
James appeared to be trying a little bit too hard up until midway through the third, rushing two long-range jumpers directly after Howard's back-to-back slams with 9:35 to go in the quarter. Subsequently, the SNL star finally wowed the crowd (besides some pretty assists in the first quarter) with his only dunk of the night.
The crowd was loud even at the game's slowest points, consistently giving huge ovations to Howard in particular, but also to the NBA's dance team and a bowl-balancing unicycle rider who performed at halftime.
Jameer Nelson, or "Jammer Nielson" as the announcer put it, had a very solid performance with 24 points and six assists. Nearly every time an American sportscaster attempts to pronounce Yi Jian Lian's name (pronounced E, like the letter, Gee-en, Lee-en, the last two words rhyme, see how hard that was) the Chinese announcers have similar trouble with such gems as Roos Grassus ( Zydrunas Ilgauskas) and the untranscribable attempt at Hedo Turkoglu's name.
No matter. Fans here were thrilled. "Basketball on TV is boring, but seeing it in person I found it to be very exciting. I had no idea the players were that big," gushed Candy Wong, a Shanghai resident and newly converted basketball fan.
The NBA's gigantic potential in China is rapidly becoming realized with exposure at an all time high. In an interview being shown on the major sports channel of China, CCTV5, David Stern stated that he expected this to be the biggest year ever for the NBA in China, highlighted by the Yi versus Yao showdowns.
45-year-old Beijing native and avid basketball player Liu Wen Ming sums up the rise of the country's fastest growing sport: "Before, soccer and ping pong were the most popular sports in China. Now due to the influence of heroes such as Yao Ming and Yi Jian Lian, basketball is quickly capturing the collective attention of China."