Shanghai Seems Poised To Become A Regular NBA Destination

While the National Basketball Association was busy showcasing a sliver of its many assets to the world during the 2013 Global Games last week, so too, as it turned out, was the city of Shanghai.

One of four Asian venues including Manila, Taipei, and Beijing for a preseason game featuring two marquee NBA franchises, the mega-metropolis of Shanghai, with its mind-blowing population of twenty-three million, played host to not one, but two premier events hosted by the NBA. It wasn’t a coincidence that the odds were in favor of Shanghai for two large NBA-sponsored events. While NBA fan focus is now on opening week and on making early picks for NBA futures, many overseas fans look to the future of pre-season opportunities to see their favorite teams up close and personal.

Event Number One in Shanghai was Fan Appreciation Day, held at the beautiful Oriental Sports Center, which could have been mistaken for Padme Amidala‘s palace on the Star Wars planet of Naboo. Inside, in front of over 11,000 fans, both the Los Angeles Lakers and Golden State Warriors took turns with light workouts, followed by a Three-Point Shootout and Skills Competition, in which fans pre-selected out of the audience also participated.

The Oriental Sports Center is mainly used as a swimming center, often referred to as the Shanghai Aquatic Sports Center. Construction began on December 30, 2008 and completed in late 2010.

Shanghai’s Oriental Sports Center.

Event Number Two was the second of two preseason games (the first of which was held in Beijing) hosted by the Mercedes Benz Arena, which can easily be mistaken for a giant parked blue-ish UFO, just across the Huangpu River not too far from Pudong, Shanghai’s version of New York City’s prestigious, centrally located Manhattan borough. Over 17,000 fans got to watch the Warriors win that match.

The Mercedes Benz Arena was built in 2007 and opened in 2010.

“As David Stern said, it’s remarkable that there are two world-class arenas here in Shanghai,” NBA deputy commissioner Adam Silver remarked in the pre-game press conference at Mercedes Benz Arena.

“Shanghai is critically important for the NBA in China. It’s the center of commerce in NBA,” added Silver, “We look forward to decades more of cooperation.”

“I’m sure we will return here many times,” Stern said.

Shanghai as a basketball venue has come a long way since the NBA’s first trip to China with the then-Washington Bullets playing against the Chinese National Team in 1979. In 2004, the NBA held its first so-called “China Games”, featuring Yao Ming and the Houston Rockets against the Sacramento Kings in both Beijing and Shanghai.

That was followed by the 2007 China Games in which the Orlando Magic, Cleveland Cavaliers, and Chinese National Team played three games in Shanghai and Macao. Finally, in 2008, the NBA returned again with the Warriors and Milwaukee Bucks playing two games, one in Beijing, and the other, as part of the NBA’s efforts to help the victims of the earthquake that ravaged the Sichuan province, in Guangzhou.

“The changes since 2004 have been extraordinary,” Stern said from the press conference room located somewhere in the annals of the flying saucer otherwise known as Mercedes Benz Arena, “We played in a building that needed lighting, video, sound system, locker room upgrade, and basketball court.”

Shanghai’s Mercedes Benz Arena

Shanghai Sports Bureau Director Li Yuyi made it clear that he wanted the NBA to return.

“If you really want me to say what my dream might be,” Li said, “I would say that I would actually like to utilize the two world class facilities you mentioned in Shanghai to have the two (regular season) NBA games held here.”

In the forthcoming 2013-14 season, the NBA will hold two regular season games on foreign soil, one in Mexico City, featuring the Minnesota Timberwolves and San Antonio Spurs, and one in London, featuring the Atlanta Hawks and Brooklyn Nets.

“I think that the level of cooperation of the Shanghai Sports Bureau means we will continue to favor Shanghai with games in the future,” Stern replied.

“Regular season games are for (future) Commissioner Silver and Mr. Li to decide,” Stern added, referring to his privilege of not having to make such important decisions anymore as he steps down as the NBA’s commissioner in February 2014.

Li then asked the heir-apparent Silver if he concurred that both the NBA and the Shanghai Sports Bureau would like to deepen their cooperation, and that he believed one day, a regular season game would happen in Shanghai.

Alluding to his 24-hour flight from Rio de Janeiro (where the NBA held one of its 2013 Global Games) to Shanghai, Silver said, “I do, and it would be helpful to have those faster planes that I mentioned earlier.”

Stern jumped in on the audience’s laughter: “We’re working on rocket ships.”

He had forgotten that he was already sitting in one.

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