Saturday, November 10, 2007
Yi vs. Yao matchup draws estimated 100 to 200 million TV viewers in China
BEIJING -- The Milwaukee Bucks and Houston Rockets game had
a distinctly local flavor for NBA fans in China.
Among the estimated 100 to 200 million TV viewers in China were
more than 400 who packed a Beijing bar at breakfast time Saturday
to watch a live televised broadcast of Rockets star Yao Ming
against Bucks' rookie Yi Jianlian in the Chinese players' first NBA
"We're here for those two Chinese," said Wu Disong, a
27-year-old designer watching the game on a large TV at the Goose
and Duck pub. He and other fans ate an American-style breakfast
while cheering on Yao and Yi at the NBA-sponsored event.
Millions of others watched at home. National broadcaster China
Central Television carried it on its sports channel as did 13 other
TV stations and three Web sites, according to the NBA's China
subsidiary, NBA China.
"This is the biggest Chinese player rivalry in NBA history,"
sports writer Zhang Qiang wrote in a column on the Web site
Sina.com. "This is a good thing for Chinese basketball as well as
for the NBA."
The NBA declined to estimate the audience size, though Chinese
sports commentators predicted it would be 100 million to 200
Last season's Super Bowl between the Indianapolis Colts and
Chicago Bears had about 93 million viewers in the United States.
Friday's night matchup and the attention it drew further
cemented the NBA's popularity among the Chinese and enhanced the
league's drive for a share of China's growing sports market. Heidi
Ueberroth, the NBA's president for international business, this
past week called the potential audience size "just
While the NBA has been popular in China for more than a decade,
first Yao and now Yi's presence have boosted the sport.
At the Goose and Duck, Shen Xiaolei said he started watching the
NBA in 2002 when Yao left the Shanghai Sharks for the Rockets. Now
the 24-year-old telephone company worker said he can identify more
than 250 NBA players and hosts a blog that features predictions of
"I'm excited every time my prediction is close to the actual
result," Shen said. He expected Yi to give a good performance but
that the Rockets would win. In the end, the Rockets won 104-88. Yi
had 19 points and nine rebounds, while Yao had 28 points, 10
rebounds and three assists.
Though Yi drew plenty of cheers, the Rockets were clearly the
favorite, with the crowd at the Goose and Duck whooping and
applauding every time they scored.
"After all, we've watched Rockets games for longer time so we
have deeper affection for the Rockets," college student Cathy
Beyond the fun and market potential, the emergence of two
Chinese stars in a sport is seen as another sign of China's growing
"First the economy, now sports," said Li Weizhan, a
66-year-old retiree who used to work at a sporting goods retailer.
Liu Jing brought her 4-year-old son, hoping that the Yao-Yi
matchup would inspire a love of basketball in him.
"Chinese power is emerging in the NBA," wrote Zhang, the
sports columnist. "There's no loser in this match. It's glory for
Yao and Yi and for Chinese basketball."