NBA eyes stronger marketing in China

TOKYO -- The NBA will soon open an office in Shanghai to strengthen its marketing position in China, where the Rockets' Yao Ming has generated great interest in the league.

"We think our future in Asia is very bright," Stern said at
the Foreign Correspondents Club of Japan. "With Yao Ming coming to
the NBA from China, that is going to start an entirely new
phenomenon in China and throughout Asia."

Stern is in Japan for the two-game series between the Seattle SuperSonics and the Los Angeles Clippers. Seattle won 109-100
Thursday, and on Saturday morning the Sonics' Rashard Lewis scored 50 points to lead the Sonics' victory in a 124-105 thriller.

Chinese national TV broadcasts two NBA games a week. Fans in
Shanghai, where Yao starred before going to the NBA, can see as
many as six a week. Another Chinese player, Wang Zhizhi, plays for
the Los Angeles Clippers.

The Houston Rockets and Sacramento Kings will play exhibition
games in China next year in Shanghai and Beijing.

The commissioner noted that NBA games were pulled off the air in
China after U.S. planes mistakenly bombed the Chinese Embassy in
Belgrade in 1999 during the NATO air war to drive Yugoslav forces
out of Kosovo. The presence of Yao in the NBA has helped restore
good relations.

"People in China are learning about life in the U.S. through
Yao," Stern said. "And people in the U.S. are learning about
China through Yao Ming."

Stern again spoke on the NBA's European plans. Some NBA teams
could have training camps in Europe as soon as 2005.

"I think there is a reasonable chance that we'll see an NBA
team or teams in Europe within a decade," Stern said.

With many Europeans already playing in the NBA, much of the
groundwork has been done. But Stern said several obstacles must be
overcome before teams are placed in Europe.

"Europe does not have the buildings of the caliber we're used
to in the NBA," Stern said. "And there is still a lot of room to
develop fan affinity. We know that Europeans will pay a lot to see
soccer games but we need to make sure that the model will fit with
the NBA. Forty-one games is a lot more than one exhibition game."

Stern has led the NBA for nearly 20 years, a period of
tremendous growth and international exposure for the game.

"We recognize we have more markets untapped than tapped," he
said. "If you get to be No. 2 in a country, there's a good chance
you'll get to be No. 1 and that's a big part of out philosophy."