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[SPORTS] NBA in China / Basketball Without Borders

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  • madchinaman
    NBA rolls through China http://www2.chinadaily.com.cn/sports/2009-07/20/content_8448139.htm NBA in China Website: http://www.nbainchina.com/ Basketball Without
    Message 1 of 1 , Aug 4, 2009
      NBA rolls through China
      NBA in China Website: http://www.nbainchina.com/
      Basketball Without Borders in Beijing:
      NBA China Website (English):

      NBA Jam Van, the association's premiere interactive touring program for basketball fans, arrived in Beijing over the weekend, the 10th stop of its 27,000-km journey in China that will reach four municipalities and 17 provinces in the most populous nation.

      This is the fifth consecutive year that the event has traveled through China since the 2005 inaugural tour, in which the program made its way to 11 cities and welcomed over 1 million basketball fans.

      The fifth edition of the China NBA Jam Van is a tailor-made, 52-foot truck (16m) that transforms into 1,000 square meters of free basketball activities, allowing fans of all ages the opportunity to play like the pros. This year, a wide array of entertainment including a constant free throw contest is featured for fans to experience the game they love and to test their basketball skills. After the three-day event, winners in respective contests will be provided with tickets to NBA China games by NBA partner Lenovo.

      What excited fans most in Beijing was the presence of Philadelphia 76ers' guard Andre Iguodala. In the past four years, the event has brought eight NBA players to China: Shane Battier, A.C. Green, Bob Lanier, Rick Barry, Glen Rice, Vlade Divac, Damon Jones and Robert Parish


      NBA China Games 2009 in Beijing – October 11 in Wukesong Arena
      [22 Jul 2009 |

      It was announced several weeks ago that the Denver Nuggets and the Indiana Pacers would be playing an exhibition match in Taipei – on the 8th of October. Now we find that there will also be a game on the 11th of October in Beijing, China.

      It will be played in the newly furnished Wukesong Arena – one of the first "NBA-ready" arenas in China. The two teams will travel along with their cheerleading squads and mascots to provide the full NBA experience.

      Having attended the last NBA game that was held …


      Jason Kidd and the Peak Brand Tour in China starts July 24th 2009

      Short after Li Ning's successful China trip with it's main NBA spokesmen, Peak Brand will aim to follow suit with its very own tour across 6 cities.

      Lucky fans in Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, Chengdu, Chongqing, Shenyang will get a chance to see up close one of the NBA's most succesful point guards of all time, Jason Kidd of the Dallas Mavericks. The other high-profile Peak stars are long time face of the brand Shane Battier, and the bad boy of the NBA Ron Artest.

      Schedule is as follows if you happen to …


      NBA Jam Van touring in China
      19 Jul 2009

      The NBA Jam Van is the NBA's interactive touring activity for fans to get closer to the game they love, and it's currently touring around in China. From the official site:
      NBA Jam Van (…) is THE place for basketball fans of all ages! No matter what your skill level, come on out for a FREE authentic NBA experience!

      Step on the court to show off your best basketball skills. You can hit free throws, sink three pointers, compete in dribbling, passing and shooting contests, and see if you have what it …


      Baron Davis and Jose Calderon in Shanghai China
      16 Jul 2009

      Baron Davis and Jose Calderon have been in China for this past week, much like Shaq, as part of a Li Ning sponsored tour. The two spent a day in Shanghai visiting the Li Ning flagship store in Nanjing East Road – a busy shopping street in the heart of town.

      The two met fans and witnessed some traditional Chinese culture, as well as going head to head in the nation's most close to heart sport, PingPong. Baron Davis wasted no time revealing his fun personality, hugging locals and apologizing to them after …


      Yao's injury likely won't hurt NBA China biz

      Chinese basketball star Yao Ming's foot surgery will keep him out next season, but the National Basketball Association will not feel the pain in China because the US sports league has grown beyond any one player there, analysts said on Friday.

      Yao's NBA team, the Houston Rockets, said the towering center would undergo surgery next week after fracturing his foot during the playoffs in May, and would miss the 2009-2010 season.

      For a league that has focused on building its fan base in China and making money through its TV contracts and sales of its branded-merchandise, the news was not a total shock as the injury to China's most famous sports personality had previously been called "career threatening."

      However, the sport's popularity in China should allow the NBA to shake off the loss.

      "Yao was a catalyst for the NBA's growth in China but now shares the stage with so many other players and league-sponsored initiatives," said Paul Swangard, managing director of the Warsaw Sports Marketing Center at the University of Oregon.

      "Yao's absence, while disappointing, will not damage the NBA China effort," he added. "Rather, it will demonstrate how diversified the business has already become."

      The NBA has supported Chinese basketball for decades, including first hosting the Chinese national team in 1985. Chinese interest spiked after 7-foot-6 Yao joined the NBA in 2002 and the league now has 51 different networks broadcasting games in China.

      An estimated 300 million people -- a total equal to the entire US population -- play basketball in China, the NBA has said previously. China's government also is planning to build basketball courts in up to 800,000 rural villages.

      Those numbers in turn add up to rising TV ratings and sales figures for the NBA.

      NBA revenue in China, the league's largest international market, is rising 30 percent to 40 percent per year. The league previously projected retail sales in China to rise 60 percent this year and another 70 percent in 2010.

      And the NBA's popularity in China seems to have taken root as sales of Yao's jersey rank only No. 10 there, trailing such American stars as Kobe Bryant and LeBron James.

      "I don't think the NBA's success in China is solely predicated on Chinese players," said Robert Boland, professor of sports management at New York University. "All the great leagues have gone on without injured superstars."

      Meanwhile, the number of viewers of NBA programming in China rose 34 percent last season to a record 1.6 billion, while traffic on the Chinese section of NBA.com has surged more than 50 percent.

      In October, the NBA formed a joint venture with sports and entertainment group AEG to build at least a dozen "NBA-style" arenas in major cities throughout greater China, and in January 2008 the league formed NBA China, a venture that could evolve into an NBA-affiliated league.

      Without Yao, a seven-time NBA all-star, the NBA could see a small dip in Chinese TV ratings, but the damage will not be serious, said Marc Ganis, president of Chicago consulting firm Sportscorp Ltd.

      "It will have an impact on viewership in China, but the foundation that has been built is at a relatively high level so there will still be good ratings," he said.


      Yao Ming's Absence: A Threat to the NBA's 2009-2010 Global Audience

      Last October, the NBA announced it was laying off 80 people in the U.S., about 9% of its workforce, because of the slowing American economy.

      About the same time, the league announced a massive program, with AEG, to "design, market, program and operate multi-purpose, NBA-style sports and entertainment arenas in major cities throughout Greater China." The press release also mentioned that "the NBA opened its Hong Kong office in 1992 and currently employs 100 people in four offices in greater China. NBA.com/China has become the most popular sports Web site in China."

      Meanwhile, in recent years, shoe companies have increasingly spent their most precious resource -- the off-season free time of their highly paid pitchmen like LeBron James, Kobe Bryant and Chris Paul -- wooing Asian audiences.

      It doesn't take an MBA to assess that the powers that be are betting big on international audiences, especially in China.

      So, what happens if the single biggest driver of Chinese interest in the NBA is missing from the league, at a time when basketball is desperately in search of revenue?

      I mentioned that my friend Max was bitten by a spider, nearly died, and in his recovery had all kinds of interesting thoughts, one of which inspired a post yesterday about NBA players who have played in the most games. (In the comments, IceKeenan wondered: "Dude had a near death experience, and it made him talk about Yao Ming?" In fact, IceKeenan, yes.)

      Max asked me yesterday: If Yao Ming misses the entire NBA season, as expected, does that really mess with the NBA's bottom line?

      Games featuring Yao have been, by various measures, perhaps the most watched in basketball history. China's love of the NBA has roughly tracked Yao Ming's NBA career, which began in 2002.

      Is there any way to guess what the upcoming season's Yaolessness, due to his recent foot injury, might do to the NBA's popularity in his enormous and important home market?

      Renjun Bao covers the NBA for China's Titan Media, and agreed to help shed some light on the issue. In response to my questions, he e-mailed:

      Before Yao was drafted in 2002, indeed there were some NBA fans in China. Although I don't have statistics, I guess that the percentage of whole population who paid attention to the NBA was less than five percent. There were no national basketball newspaper at that time. There were three national basketball newspapers and tons of basketball magazines by around 2005.

      It is safe to say the major reason is Yao.

      Besides the printed media, TV and internet has more and more coverage on Yao, the Rockets and the NBA. Yao became the top celebrity in China and his team, the Rockets, have arguably become the most popular professional team among all sports in China. (That's why many players on that team get endorsement contracts from the Chinese companies.)

      In 2008-2009, China Central Television (CCTV, the only state owned national TV in China) broadcast 39 NBA regular season games. 13 featured the Rockets, almost double the second most commonly shown teams, the Lakers and the Cavaliers, who were tied at seven apiece.

      Again I don't have official data here, but I think at least 20% of whole population pays attention to the NBA, and I'd guess at least half of them do this because of Yao.

      If basketball has not passed soccer to become the No. 1 sport in China, it's getting close. Before 2002, that idea would have sounded ridiculous.

      It is not hard to predict that Yao's injury will impact the TV ratings here

      Renjun Bao estimates that the NBA's popularity in China has spread, during Yao's NBA career, from less than 5% to more than 20% of the population. These are guesses. But for the record, approximately 15% of the more than 1.3 billion people living in China would be about 200 million people. Or, roughly double a good TV audience for the Super Bowl. He further estimates that about half of them follow because of Yao Ming.

      It's hard to imagine any sports league could cope with losing a Super Bowl's worth of supporters.

      The notion that China's love of the NBA was driven mainly by Yao Ming's presence seems unimpeachable. The idea that, now that the NBA is already popular in China, fans might turn away in similar numbers, however, is more complicated.

      Renjun Bao says several factors could mitigate a cooling of interest from Chinese sports fans while Yao is sidelined:

      There are more and more Chinese elements involved in the NBA besides Yao Ming. Yi Jianlian's popularity will catch up a little bit next season. As you might know, a China born investor became a minor owner of the Cleveland Cavaliers. CCTV is considering airing more Cavs games next season. Shaquille O'Neal, Baron Davis, Jason Kidd ... a lot of NBA players with China endorsement contracts are featured in the commercials on TV in China.

      Kobe Bryant and LeBron James are two of the most popular international sports stars in China. All of these will remain despite Yao's injury. As a result, I don't think Yao's injury will bring inevitable damage to this market.

      And of course, Yao's injury is not career ending, which will keep a lot of people's spirits up.

      Last but not least, the NBA China branch is growing rapidly these days. I am sure they will do what they can to keep the game as popular as ever.

      related income. New ways for teams to borrow money, facilitated by the League. More teams talking about carrying shorter rosters, to save money.

      Many people are looking for signs that such hard times could be coming to an end. A stock market rebound, for instance, could free up resources for owners, sponsors and ticket purchasers alike. Optimism in the real estate market could have a similar effect, as might a return to normalcy in credit markets.

      But as far as the NBA is concerned, another key economic indicator to watch for is the return of Yao Ming.


      Take-Two Brings NBA Game To China, Launches 2K Online With Tencent
      Tameka Kee

      Take-Two Interactive (NSDQ: TTWO) is ready to make its first big leap into the online gaming arena, and it's partnering with Chinese internet and gaming portal Tencent to do it. The publisher has inked a multi-year deal with Tencent to launch the best-selling NBA 2K sports franchise in China. It's an attempt to capitalize on a number of regional trends: the growing popularity of the NBA in China, the booming Chinese online gaming market (which grew by 61 percent last year to reach $2.75 billion in revenue) and the strength of sports game franchises for online play in Asia (FIFA Online is generating around $1 million in monthly revenues from micro-transactions for EA in Korea).

      Take-Two said the game is currently in development, but didn't give a release date; NBA 2K Online will feature all the current teams and players when it goes live. Tencent is an ideal partner for the launch; the company already runs five massively multiplayer online games (MMOGs), in addition to multiple social networks and IM platforms—and it reported Q408 profits and revenues that were up almost 80 percent year-over-year.

      Partnering also seems like the best way for U.S.-based publishers to deal with multiple languages, currency conversions and game infrastructures: Activision Blizzard subsidiary Blizzard Entertainment, for example, licenses MMOs like World of Warcraft and StarCraft 2 to Chinese portal NetEase.


      Disney near deal for stake in NBA China

      The NBA and the Walt Disney Co. are nearing a deal that has the entertainment giant buying a minority stake in the league's nascent NBA China entity.

      Sources close to the deal said that the NBA's current plan is to sell less than a 10 percent share in NBA China to Disney. The next step will be for the league to sell another small stake to a Chinese-based company to foster local investment. It is possible that the league could sell off additional stakes in NBA China.

      The dollar value of Disney's expected investment is not known. Goldman Sachs, which has been hired by the league to advise on its China business, estimates the value of NBA's China operations at up to $2 billion, sources say.

      Neither Goldman Sachs nor the NBA would comment on the possibility of a sale. Disney did not return calls seeking comment.

      The deal could be announced as early as this week but other sources said it could be a month before the deal is done. The NBA announced in April that it is creating NBA China to run all aspects of the league's business, eventually expected to include an NBA-run league, in the country of 1.3 billion people.

      While controlled by the NBA, the new division will have its own chief executive and its own base of operations in China.

      Realizing a return on its international business has created a difference of opinion among NBA owners, some of whom want to see some cash from the league's investment while others want to hold off on selling an equity stake in order to maximize the value from a minority share.

      But the NBA favors an equity sale given that the expected deal would bolster its China business entity and help establish an actual valuation of its business in that country.

      "It would add credibility for the NBA in China, and there are all kinds of synergies for Disney and the NBA to do different types of programs together," said Bruce O'Neil, a consultant for the Chinese Basketball Association and president of the U.S. Basketball Academy.

      Disney is the parent of the ABC and ESPN networks, which are expected to be part of the league's new eight-year television agreement, but sources called Disney's stake in NBA China a separate deal.

      "They have nothing to do with each other," a source said.

      Disney has been aggressively building its business in China. The company opened Hong Kong Disneyland in 2005 and has more than 4,000 merchandise outlets throughout China. Partnering with the NBA only helps expand that effort.

      "It's a strategic match," said one source familiar with the NBA/Disney deal.

      Disney will also be able to tap into the league's revenue stream in China. What is not known is how Disney and the NBA will be able to use each other's marks in branding efforts.

      Disney was a sponsor of the NBA's 2004 "China Games" that sent the Sacramento Kings and the Houston Rockets to Beijing and Shanghai for two games. The NBA is returning to China in October with preseason games between the Orlando Magic, the Cleveland Cavaliers and the Chinese national team, but Disney's role this time around is uncertain.

      "Disney and NBA already teamed up to bring games to China and in launching Disneyland Hong Kong, but ESPN and the obvious synergies aside, it sounds like a smart business move," said Jeff Sofka, a former NFL licensing executive who is now principal of Bendigo Co., a New Jersey-based marketing agency with a series of joint ventures and alliances in China, minutes after getting off a plane from China. "The NBA in China filling the content vacuum after the Olympics would be a huge play, and Disney is in the sports and entertainment business. I can't think of a better investment in a market so hungry for quality content. … The NBA is killer content there, and they can execute."

      The NBA in the past year has signed marketing deals with Chinese companies Haier, Lenovo, China Mobile, and the Inner Mongolia Mengniu Dairy Industry Group. The league also has three offices in China, and it's expected to increase its merchandise sales there by 30 percent this year


      NBA Announces Formation of NBA China (2008)

      The National Basketball Association today announced the formation of NBA China, a new entity that will conduct all of the league's businesses in Greater China.
      Five strategic partners will invest $253 million to acquire 11% of the company in preferred equity. The strategic partners are an elite group of exceptionally prominent and successful entities: ESPN, a division of The Walt Disney Company, Bank of China Group Investment, Legend Holdings Limited, Li Ka Shing Foundation and China Merchants Investments.

      "The opportunity for basketball and the NBA in China is simply extraordinary," said NBA Commissioner David Stern. "The expertise, resources and shared vision of these immensely successful companies will help us to achieve the potential we see in the region. The strategic investment from these companies will allow us to continue working with the General Administration of Sports and the Chinese Basketball Association to grow our sport and emphasize, in both rural and urban Chinese communities, its contributions to fitness, healthy lifestyle and an appreciation of teamwork."

      "I would like to congratulate the NBA on forming NBA China," said Mr. Li Yuanwei, Chinese Basketball Association Executive Vice President and Secretary General. "With the support of its strategic investors and additional investments in China, I think the NBA and the CBA can expand upon our past cooperation to further develop basketball in China."

      Tim Chen, the former CEO of Microsoft Greater China, joined the NBA on October 15, 2007, and will lead the new entity as its CEO. NBA China will be governed by a Board of Directors that will include representatives of the strategic investors as well as Indiana Pacers owner Herb Simon, Minnesota Timberwolves owner Glen Taylor and NBA executives Adam Silver, Deputy Commissioner and COO, Heidi Ueberroth, President of Global Marketing Partnerships and International Business Operations, and Commissioner Stern.

      The NBA has interacted with Chinese basketball for decades, including first hosting the Chinese National team in 1985 and regularly providing training for the Team through U.S. coaching clinics, exhibition matches against NBA Development League teams and an invitation to the 2007 NBA Summer League. The NBA currently has relationships with 51 Chinese telecasters including a partnership of more than 20 years with national broadcaster CCTV, has organized hundreds of touring basketball events for fans and currently maintains 16 marketing partnerships with a combination of Chinese-based corporations and U.S.-based multinationals.

      The NBA opened its Hong Kong office in 1992 and currently employs 100 people in four offices in Greater China. NBA.com/China has become the most popular single sports site in China and NBA is consistently the most searched sports term on Baidu.com, the top search engine in China. More than 500 unique NBA products are available in China at Wal-Mart, Carrefour, adidas stores and many other retail locations. The NBA became the first American sports league to stage games in China in 2004 with the NBA China Games 2004 in Beijing and Shanghai. The league returned this season for NBA China Games 2007, three preseason games played in Shanghai and Macao.

      Goldman, Sachs & Co. acted as strategic advisor to NBA China and as exclusive placement agent for the offering. Proskauer Rose LLP acted as the legal advisor for NBA China.


      The NBA Has Become A Leading Export to China
      By Edward Cody (2006)

      Li Yimin, an economics student who was playing a pickup game in the Beijing smog, said he got his moves under the basket from watching Shaquille O'Neal on television. Li Yuan, who was working on backward layups at a neighboring court, said he learned leadership from watching Kobe Bryant. And a shy friend who barely rose above five feet in his best sneakers expressed admiration for nimble playmaking by the retired Utah Jazz guard John Stockton.

      Nobody mentioned Yao Ming.

      The National Basketball Association, which seemed to explode in popularity here when the 7-foot-6 Yao started playing NBA ball in 2002, has gone on to become way more than a showcase for the Houston Rockets giant from Shanghai. For Chinese fans who have been saturated with television coverage and advertising, NBA games this season have come to mean Bryant, Allen Iverson and Tracy McGrady in addition to the legendary Yao.

      McGrady, merchandisers reported last month, has the best-selling jersey in China, followed by Iverson and then Yao.

      Although some American players have surpassed him in popularity in China, Yao was still the top vote-getter globally in balloting that determines starters for this weekend's NBA All-Star Game, receiving more than 2.3 million votes. On Sunday, fans in the United States, China and 213 other countries will tune in to the game to watch their favorite stars.

      Cheong Sau Ching, senior communications director in the NBA Asia office in Hong Kong, said Chinese youths tend to identify with relatively shorter players noted for agility, personality and on-court leadership. In that light, China's Li-Ning sportswear manufacturer recently signed a two-year promotional contract with the three-point specialist Damon Jones of the Cleveland Cavaliers, whose showmanship is rated higher than his scoring average.

      Yao generated a lot of attention for basketball among his countrymen, but Cheong said American players have always enjoyed a popularity here independent of national pride in Yao's achievements. Recognition surveys back in the 1990s, she noted, showed Michael Jordan outranked even Zhou Enlai, the revolutionary hero and companion of Mao Zedong who figures prominently in Chinese schoolbooks.

      The broadening appeal of the NBA in China has grown from relentless marketing and steady growth in the number of NBA games being broadcast. But the salesmanship has found a ready ally: the tendency among Chinese young people to regard imports from the West as sophisticated and with-it. If basketball is fun, the adolescent reasoning goes, then basketball from the United States must be even better.

      "I think Yao Ming came along at just the right time," Cheong said. "He came at a time when China was stepping out on the world stage, and Yao Ming came to represent that."

      Television broadcasts of NBA games began in 1987 and went live in 1994. This season, 24 Chinese stations have signed on to broadcast games, double the number from four years ago and reaching 30 million viewers weekly. In major markets such as Shanghai, Beijing and Guangzhou, NBA officials calculated, Chinese fans can see six different games a week, live or delayed for prime time, and several related shows such as "NBA Jam."

      Similarly, newspapers have begun regular coverage of NBA games and stars, sometimes assigning sportswriters to follow the season. That is a far cry from a decade ago, Cheong said, when editors used to tell her to stop sending faxes with NBA news because it used too much paper, or suggest that coverage of NBA games would come only at a price. Now editors and reporters call her, she said, and write informed commentary on the games.

      "We knew it was going to be big, but we had no idea how big," she said.

      The NBA, which has offices in Hong Kong, Shanghai and Beijing, began its presence in China with a pair of exhibition games matching the Washington Wizards, then the Bullets, against the Chinese national team in 1979. The Houston Rockets, with Yao, played the Sacramento Kings in preseason matches in Shanghai and Beijing in 2004. Since then, the NBA has worked to expand its appeal with tours by well-known players, weekend clinics for aspiring stars and a Junior NBA China program that results in a national championship playoff.

      This year's winner, No. 9 Middle School in Nanjing, got an expenses-paid trip to the NBA All-Star Game in Houston this Sunday for Coach Cai Yongning, his chief assistant and eight of their 14- and 15-year-old players, including a 6-foot-5 prospect in whom Adidas representatives have expressed interest.

      Cai said that when he was a student at No. 9 Middle School, he was the only one in his class who could afford basketball shoes, and he used to lend them to classmates eager to see what they felt like. With China's growing economy, he said in a telephone conversation, the players now pick whatever shoes they want and eat healthier diets, raising his hopes that China will produce more Yaos in the future.

      "I hope I can play on a professional team some day," said Li Ruji, 15, who was one of those on the way to Houston. "My biggest expense is sneakers. I wear out three pairs a year, and each pair costs between 800 and 900 yuan [$100-$115]. My parents are very supportive."

      His teammate, Zhen Wen, 15, said most of the 54 students in his class like to watch basketball on television. "I love watching NBA shows," he said. "I hope I can get a picture taken with Kobe when I visit the States this week."

      In a country of 1.3 billion people with rising disposable income, such popularity has naturally attracted the attention of advertisers. The Li-Ning deal with Jones was the latest in a growing list of product endorsements aired during games and sponsorships tied to NBA broadcasts.

      Amway, which makes Nutrilite health products, helped sponsor the middle school tournament. Adidas and Nike have signed advertising contracts, and Reebok, which will be worn by Iverson and Yao at the All-Star Game, participates with the NBA in sportswear shops across the country.

      Not all of the marketing has been smooth. Nike was forced to pull an ad 14 months ago because Chinese authorities took offense at a scene in which LeBron James of the Cavaliers trounced cartoon versions of ancient Chinese characters, including a kung fu master and dragons.

      The latest deal involves Homenice, China's leading flooring company. It announced a marketing partnership with the NBA at a Beijing news conference Friday at which Hall of Famer Dave Cowens, 57, showed up to tell assembled sports reporters that he likes quality wood flooring because he used to fall down a lot during games


      New Push Into China by N.B.A.
      Keith Bradshaw

      In an age dominated by Chinese exports, one import from the United States has stood taller than most here: basketball.

      Now, in a move certain to highlight the growing importance of China to both the National Basketball Association and the sport, the N.B.A. plans to announce Wednesday the formation of a Chinese subsidiary. To head it, the league has chosen Timothy Chen, chief executive of Microsoft's China operations and one of the best-known business executives in China.

      For the N.B.A., China is a growth opportunity. It is already the N.B.A.'s largest market outside the United States. Nearly a third of the traffic to NBA.com comes to the Mandarin Chinese side of the site. And branded N.B.A. merchandise is now sold through more than 50,000 outlets here. Still, like Microsoft, the N.B.A. has found that the toughest hoops in China are in the corridors of power.

      Microsoft's big task has been to persuade China's central, provincial and municipal governments to crack down on pirated software and respect intellectual property rights; the N.B.A.'s challenge has been to win government agencies' approval for arena construction and to persuade television stations owned by local and provincial governments to join national broadcasters who already carry N.B.A. games.

      David Stern, the N.B.A. commissioner, said that these challenges helped make Mr. Chen the best contender for the job. "It wasn't just about intellectual property; it was his experience in navigating difficult governmental and business issues," Mr. Stern said in a telephone interview.

      The league will own 90 percent of the China subsidiary while selling a 5 percent stake to a "U.S. media company" and another 5 percent to Chinese investors, Mr. Stern said.

      He declined to provide more details, except to say that he would probably identify the other investors during a trip to Shanghai in mid-October for an N.B.A. preseason game. Goldman Sachs is advising the league on the transaction, and while the American media company has already been chosen, the league is still negotiating with potential Chinese investors, mainly corporations, Mr. Stern added.

      A person with knowledge of the negotiations, who insisted on anonymity, said in June that the American media company was the Walt Disney Company, which owns ESPN and ABC. The N.B.A. is rushing to expand its presence in China as quickly as possible before the Beijing Olympics next year, where the Chinese national team will try to avenge its poor showing at the Athens Olympics in 2004.

      For Microsoft, Mr. Chen's departure presents a challenge. Before his arrival, a succession of executives had cycled through the top China job but had little success in forcing the Chinese leadership to get even government agencies to use licensed copies of Microsoft software.

      Mr. Chen abandoned a strategy that relied on litigation and public criticism in favor of close cooperation with the central government and much more investment in Chinese software companies. Microsoft's partnership with the authorities has provoked the ire of human rights advocates, most notably for having its MSN Internet portal censor searches performed in China on subjects that Beijing deems sensitive, and for killing a blog that offended Chinese authorities.

      But Mr. Chen has had considerable success as the central government has urged local and provincial governments to buy licensed software. Chinese law enforcement agencies cooperated with the F.B.I. in July during raids that captured what the F.B.I. described as more than $500 million worth of counterfeit software.

      Raised in Taiwan, Mr. Chen took the top job in Microsoft's 13,000-employee China operations four years ago. Before that, he was the chairman and president of Motorola's China operations, having worked his way up through the ranks except for a yearlong foray in 2000 and 2001 as the chief executive of a Hong Kong Internet business.

      "Certainly his technical background we think is a great fit in our new media and digital area," said Heidi Ueberroth, the N.B.A.'s president for global marketing partnerships and international business operations. N.B.A. China has just 80 employees but plans rapid expansion.

      Mr. Chen became interested in basketball while studying for an executive M.B.A. at the University of Chicago and started rooting for the Chicago Bulls, Mr. Stern said.

      The N.B.A. estimates that 300 million Chinese play basketball, a number equal to the entire population of the United States. At nearly a quarter of China's population, that estimate may be high, but basketball has caught on here in a way that other Western sports have not.

      The Las Vegas Sands Corporation has chosen to have two exhibition games featuring N.B.A. teams next month to celebrate the opening of its indoor sports arena in Macao, attached to the new Venetian hotel complex. The game pitting the Orlando Magic against the Cleveland Cavaliers sold out 10 hours after tickets went on sale.

      Yao Ming, the Houston Rockets center from Shanghai, has helped popularize N.B.A. basketball over the last four years, but the N.B.A. tapped the Chinese market early. In 1979, just three years after the death of Mao Zedong, the Washington Bullets came to China to play the national team.

      Tom Doctoroff, the chief executive of greater China operations for the JWT advertising agency, said basketball was particularly suited to the current tastes of young Chinese for activities showcasing agility, ingenuity and individualism. "In China, the quickest and cleverest guy is also the sexiest," Mr. Doctoroff said.

      "The N.B.A. is Eve's apple; it's brash individualism," he added. "It's something to admire from afar."
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