The state of NBA China

February, 1, 2012
2/01/12
5:55
PM ET
Abbott By Henry Abbott
ESPN.com
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Remember when David Stern was talking about the NBA starting its own league in China? That multi-billion dollar plan called for a new league in new stadiums all over China.

Just Stern's saying that, reports Jim Yardley in The New York Times, ushered the plan's doom:
Stern’s comments at the Reuters Summit, delivered almost as an aside, were quickly picked up in the Chinese media and caught the attention of the man who then ran the C.B.A., Li Yuanwei. A former college professor, Li was known as a reformer who admired the N.B.A.’s business model. I spoke with Li during my season following the Shanxi Brave Dragons, and he recalled being stunned when he learned about Stern’s plans for an N.B.A. league.

"He had never said this before to us," Li said. "If he had said he wanted to cooperate with the C.B.A., then that would have been understandable. But he didn’t say a word, which meant he knew nothing about China." ...

In an unpublicized meeting, Tim Chen, then chief executive of N.B.A. China, presented a proposal to Li Yuanwei, in which both sides would equally control a new eight-team league under the N.B.A. brand. C.B.A. owners would have the first right to buy a team for $50 million. Li Yuanwei, already distracted by preparations for the Olympics, flatly rejected the plan and postponed any further discussions until after the Games. Instead, when Stern returned to Beijing for an exhibition game, a month and a half after the Olympics, he discussed the N.B.A.’s plans to help develop and manage a network of new arenas across China. "If we do get to the point where we have that cooperative league," he said, "we’ll have the buildings already."

The N.B.A., however, has largely suspended those grand plans for the foreseeable future, while also stalling plans to build N.B.A. retail stores throughout the country. David Shoemaker, who became N.B.A. China’s chief executive in June, said the N.B.A.’s agenda now involves several collaborations with the Chinese league, including exchanges in which Chinese coaches and referees receive training in the United States, as well as a basketball academy in southern China to develop elite players. As for a league? Shoemaker called it a distant possibility.

Henry Abbott | email

TrueHoop, NBA

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