With the emergence of Yao Ming, the games at the 2008 Olympics, and a flurry of NBA players traveling to China this past summer, it would be an understatement to say that basketball is now a big deal to the Chinese. David Stern knows this, and also realizes that the NBA can expand further into the globe. Many people mark the Dream team at the 1992 Olympics as the point where the NBA had arrived in Europe. What gets mentioned far less is that two years prior to Barcelona, the Jazz and Suns were already playing regular season games at the Tokyo Metropolitan Gymnasium, splitting two games before playing out the rest of their season as usual.
That might have been the first time the NBA played in Asia, but it would definitely not be the last. Since those two games in 1990, the Sonics, Rockets, Blazers, Clippers, and Kings have all played in the Orient, with the most recent NBA games played in 2004 at Shanghai Stadium in China. Exhibition basketball from the Redeem team in Macau last year took it one step further, and now we see the Nuggets and Pacers playing at Taiwan Stadium, which previously has been uncharted territory for the league.
What many of us don’t have the opportunity to see is how the game is viewed in Asia. It’s one thing to watch a game broadcast from the region, but a completely different experience to see it with their commentary and views. As I am currently writing this from Hong Kong, I had the fortune of watching a live broadcast of the Nuggets/Pacers game on Hong Kong’s leading English-language network, TVB Pearl. This is what I saw:
- The game begins its broadcast here with about 1:26 left in the first quarter. The score is currently 26 – 21, Pacers. The game is being broadcasted in both English and Cantonese. Cantonese-language crew seems to be rambling a bit, so I’m opting for the English commentary.
- The camera feed that is being taken looks like it’s from ESPN Asia. Many of the borders and graphic overlays look just like the games on ESPN and ABC, but lack the actual network logos.
- Chinese crowd is in awe over Roy Hibbert’s rejection of Joey Graham late in the first. Block was great, but considering that Joey Graham was the one taking it to the rack, it’s obvious that the subs are out in full effect.
- Best play of the night so far, and it’ll be a tough one to top later: lob pass to Dahntay Jones for the alley oop, and he dunks it… right between the backboard and the rim. The ball is stuck and possession goes back to the Nuggets. Announcers are stumbling here, trying to make sense of what they just saw.
- TV crew ops not to cut to a commercial in order to show festivities between quarters, which consist of high-flying Mascot dunks off trampolines. It seems common to American fans to see this, but the broadcast crew mentions it’s a first in Taiwan. This is immediately in the awe of the crowd, which is both audible and visible.
- Second quarter begins with an announcement of Larry Bird in the stands. He’s given a standing ovation by the fans in Taiwan. It is also announced at this time that the event is being played to a sold out crowd at Taiwan Stadium.
- TV announcers mention the tremendous popularity of basketball as a sport in Taiwan, as well as the amount of support there is in the region for the Taiwanese National Basketball team, which placed fifth at the last East Asian Games. So let me get this straight: if China places eighth at the Olympics, and the other Asian teams don’t even qualify for the Olympics most years, how bad is a fifth place finish at the East Asian Games?
- How many minutes do the Pacers actually plan to give Roy Hibbert when the season starts? When he gets the ball on offense, he does not look comfortable at all. Either he’s really that lost on the floor, or he’s giving the best Yinka Dare impression I’ve ever seen.
- Troy Murphy keeps hitting threes (3/3 in the early part of the quarter), and the television crew is sort of puzzled by it – not by his ability to make them, but his form. They comment that each shot looks like a “one-armed left-handed three point attempt.” It might work for him, but I’m in agreement here: it’s ugly.
- First commercial break. Only in Hong Kong I’m guessing will you see the NBA take a break to advertise for America’s Next Top Model.
- The Indiana Pacers superfan (wearing a construction helmet) appears to have made the trip to Taiwan with the team, but with a new weapon in his arsenal: bilingual English/Chinese signs to taunt the opposition.
- During free throws, the Denver Nuggets mascot, Rocky, looks very content in patronizing with the crowd. He’s over these Taiwanese fans like white guys with Asian fetishes are all over the girls here.
- Pacers are building their lead against a Nuggets line of Anthony Carter, J.R. Smith, Renaldo Balkman, Joey Graham and Chris Andersen. I know it’s preseason, but this Nuggets second unit just looks lost on the court. Even the smallest bit of on-court chemistry is not visible with this group.
- The “Where Amazing Happens” ad campaign just aired four times in a row during a commercial break. Apparently, people in Hong Kong don’t watch the VMA’s.
- At the 3:51 mark of the second, Carmelo Anthony gets his first playing time of the quarter. The Taiwan crowd gives him a huge ovation.
- Talk of things to look out for in the coming season has begun with the commentary crew, and their choice was to talk about Blake Griffin and his potential impact as the #1. It subsequently lead to discussion over previous top picks, with a blatant mention that Andrew Bogut is not worth $60M.
- Third commercial break of the quarter, and second one filled with NBA-centric ads. The NBA seems to be content with airing all the exact same ads they produced for the postseason last year as if they are brand new.
- Melo makes his first trip to the line this quarter, and you can hear a pin drop with how quiet the crowd becomes. As there is no true sense of team affiliation with most of its fans, most of the fanfare goes to the superstars. The amount of respect for these guys is huge, and with each made free throw, the crowd applauds in unison.
- I realize the CW has revived 90210 and now Melrose Place, but does Josh McRoberts really have to celebrate that with a haircut that looks like it came off of Luke Perry?
- The culture of the fans here is so much more restrained than fans of other regions. At most, the fans here either give oohs and aahs or shower applause for a great play. A missed opportunity never really gets more than a collection of groans. The amount of fanfare and fanaticism seen from Western fans is far different.
- There is definitely far more of a casual fan perspective in the approach of the commentators, which explains how much emphasis they’ve put in discussing the major transactions of the offseason. Also discussed as if it just happened yesterday: AI’s “Practice” blowup, David Stern’s dress code and the brawl at The Palace.
- Toronto’s acquisition of Hedo Turkoglu is loved by the TV crew here, but their view on it is hilarious. They talk about Hedo as the difference between Chris Bosh being happy with the upcoming season and Chris Bosh having a severe case of depression.
- Malik Allen makes his first appearance in the game in the third, but the real story: how did it take me this long to realize the guy looks like Mike Epps?!?
- If it wasn’t for the crowd being predominantly Chinese, it would be hard to believe this game is being played in Taipei. The hardwood floor was imported from the States, and rally music consists of familiar tunes like Jump Around and Everybody Clap Your Hands. Those expecting to hear Richie Jen or Wang Leehom are sorely disappointed right now.
- They might love Carmelo Anthony here, but they must not know too much about him. This is evidenced by the guy waiving the foam finger that reads “UCLA #1” as Melo goes to the line for a three-point play.
- Like I said earlier, fans here are more attached to the players than they are the teams. There’s even a fan in the crowd right now wearing a Kobe Bryant jersey as if he’s oblivious to the fact that the Lakers never intended on making the trip to Taiwan in the first place. Even crazier is the fan that is wearing a homemade Nuggets jersey just a few rows over.
- Josh McRoberts is starting to resemble a fatter Sasha Vujacic. Not only do they physically look alike, but they are equally inept when on the floor.
- Before the second commercial break of this quarter, my grandpa walks in to check the score. He subsequently watches an offensive possession by the Nuggets, then leaves, laughing hysterically. That’s the type of game it’s been for Denver.
- TV crew make a comparison of Roy Hibbert’s defensive game to Shaq and Dwight Howard. That’s the first and last time anyone will ever make that mistake.
- Cameras pan to Ang Lee in attendance at tonight’s game, which follows with applause. Considering he is practically the only celebrity from Taiwan that most people worldwide can recognize, I guess that’s fitting.
- Indiana hits the century mark with just under nine minutes in the game remaining. Part of that is the lack of Nuggets defense, but the turnovers have definitely helped. Also, how does any team allow its opponent to shoot 63% through three quarters?
- Adrian Dantley looks like he’s about to fall asleep over on the Denver bench. This game has been that embarrassing, though Nugs are trying to make it up with an alley-oop from J.R. Smith to Birdman, which has been their best offensive possession all night.
- Think Dahntay Jones has a reputation for being a dirty player? When getting the ball against Joey Graham, Graham leaps from the paint into the third row upon the slightest contact. Refs call a blocking foul, which is the right call for the worst acting on a basketball court ever seen.
- 3:30 left in the game, and Josh McRoberts puts down a thunderous dunk, which nobody seems to really care about.
- The funny thing about all the “Where Amazing Happens” ads aired here is that all the text has been completely removed. When I saw the clip of Tony Parker driving towards Shaq, I was hoping to see the “Where Fee Fi Fo Fum happens” caption, but to no avail.
- Game ends in a blowout, and announcers mention that it was great for Taiwan to see NBA’s finest. Considering the dud the Nuggets put up, I wonder how the people of Taiwan would react if they saw a game where more than one team actually tried.
From here, the two teams move to Beijing, which will air on TVB Pearl this Sunday afternoon. The same commentary crew will likely call the game, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see many similarities between the crowds. It was definitely a different experience watching a game over here, even if it was on TV. Still, make no doubt about it: people here love the NBA.
Follow our NorCal AND International correspondent, Brandon, on Twitter. His name is @dingyu. He's probably a bigger fan of 90210 than I am.We're always up late. How about buying us a coffee? Or an energy drink!?