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REPORTING FROM ... AN NBA-LESS CHINA

No, this isn't a prop from KazaamAnthony Tao

So the Lakers and Celtics are both a win away from renewing their time-honored rivalry, and everyone's giddy in anticipation. TV ratings are up , the commish is smiling (albeit sheepishly) and former players are salivating . ("Forget the league—the basketball world needs the Celtics and the Lakers," says Magic Johnson.) Even Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, understanding the international appeal of these teams, points out that the NBA can market this potential Finals matchup to "the hugely expanded audience we have in all continents."

Except in the NBA's biggest overseas market, fans have been expressing something entirely different recently:

Why are there reruns of Olympic kayaking on my TV?!?

Okay, maybe that was just us. But that's because in China, where basketball is the country's most popular sport, there's been an abrupt and surprising suspension of NBA telecasts. No sports at all were shown from May 19-21 in observance of three days of national mourning, since then CCTV has broadcast one playoff game live—the opener of Lakers-Spurs on the morning of May 22—and nothing more. The likes of ping pong, the French Open and Olympic reruns have all filled the NBA's time slot on CCTV Olympic Channel, China's equivalent of ESPN.

Some fans are speculating on message boards that this is a political maneuver on CCTV's part—Lakers reserve Ira Newble, when he was with the Cavaliers last season, issued a letter signed by most of his teammates urging China to turn up diplomatic pressure on Darfur—but both CCTV and the NBA have denied that was the case.

NBA spokesman Mike Bass, reached in his New York office this afternoon, added, "We've had a more-than 20-year relationship with CCTV, so we've had a strong, long, positive relationship, but as it relates to what's going on, you understand what they've said: our programming has been preempted in consideration of the tenor in China following the earthquake. All I can tell you is we're working closely with CCTV to ensure that our games get back on the air as soon as possible."

But it's not like Chinese fans have been without options: sports bars carry games via satellite , and there is online streaming of video content. Still, 350 million Chinese basketball fans (the total U.S. population is 304 mil.) wait with baited breath for the NBA to return. When it does for the Finals, they'll be watching.

Unless, of course, it's Spurs-Pistons.