Fans in China still are buzzing about the latest NBA Global Games days after the Golden State Warriors and Minnesota Timberwolves wrapped up the second of two preseason games in Shanghai.
The Warriors defeated the Timberwolves 142-110 to split the pair of games behind a memorable 40-point effort from Stephen Curry.
"Every year I am so moved from the bottom of my heart by how enthusiastic the fans are; this year has been no exception," said Fan Feifei, a member of the NBA China staff who has helped stage the event for the past six years.
Fans continue to flock to Chinese social media platforms to discuss the games, which for many are the only opportunity each year to see NBA players in person.
And to think: All of this hype is over two exhibition games. Which begs the question: Is it the right time for China to host an NBA regular-season game?
Players, fans underscore China's significance
Warriors stars Draymond Green and Klay Thompson both took home stories about interactions with Chinese fans: A male fan cried after Green autographed a jersey, while a woman followed Thompson to every single city he visited in China.
"Obviously, the fans are just incredible here in China," said NBA China CEO David Shoemaker. "The way ... Chinese fans reacted to players is really something special. But I actually would single out the way ... our players treat the fans in China; it's the thing that's most impressive to me.
"[The players] kind of have an extra gear," Shoemaker said. "They come over here to China, they know something special is happening. I even remember when Chris Paul was here with the Clippers and he was nursing a hand injury, and he still said, 'I want to play for my fans in China.'"
The games played in Shenzhen and Shanghai this year were the 23rd and 24th NBA preseason games played in China. Tickets have sold out for all 24 games. The face value of the tickets ranged from as low as $55 (U.S.) for an upper bowl seat to as high as $2,800 for a courtside seat. But tickets go so fast in China, there is no guarantee a fan will be able to secure a seat even with cash in hand.
"I had no idea how it happened, but it seems like the tickets are all gone only a few seconds after we started to sell," said Ziwei Shao, a staff member of WeTicket, the NBA's ticket sales partner for the China Games. "All gone in a few seconds. Nobody I know got a ticket."
In the secondhand ticket market, the cheapest tickets were going for six times face value. Hours before the Shanghai game, undercover police were patrolling for ticket scalpers outside the Shanghai Mercedes-Benz Arena. A dozen arrests were made, according to police.
The NBA played regular-season games in Japan for six years before shifting the focus of the Asian market to China in 2004. The Global Games in China are evidence of the meteoric rise of the market.
With interest so high, many fans and media ask why China hosts only preseason games.
"We don't have that plan," NBA commissioner Adam Silver said.
Silver offered more details to USA Today's Sam Amick.
"We can play games in China and Europe, or occasional preseason games as a one-off, but under existing airline technology, the planes aren't fast enough to at least play in the current framework of our regular season," Silver told Amick. "[But] it may be something we'll be looking at over the coming years, is what a regular-season schedule looks like a decade from now.
"It's very difficult for the NBA to expand in China because of the length of travel from the United States to China. Although maybe that will change -- Elon Musk is working on a rocket that will make me able to commute from New York City to Shanghai."
Warriors forward Kevin Durant has a different vision.
"I believe that the NBA will bring more games to China, just like we are in China now. I believe in the next five years, the NBA will bring regular-season games to China," Durant said. "We just need to wait for the league's decision and the development of technology; we just need to wait for future possibility. We never know what's going to happen."
However, Silver did say one of the most significant changes has been the improvement of arenas and facilities in China. It has made him aware of China's capability of hosting an international sporting event.
"When we first came to play in China in 2004, you didn't see these kinds of NBA state-of-the-art arenas that you see today," Silver said. "This Mercedes-Benz Arena is as nice as any arena we play in the world. That's made a very different experience."
Virtual NBA games?
Silver also shared some of his thoughts on another possible expansion of the NBA in China -- an esports league.
"We are launching the NBA 2K league spring of next year 2018, with 17 NBA teams," Silver said. "It's my hope that over time we can add franchises in our esports league right in China. Then you can have Shanghai competing against the Golden State Warriors and New York Knicks."
The NBA esports league already has set its foot in the China market. During the Global Games week, players from the Warriors and Timberwolves took part in an NBA 2K Online event in Shenzhen hosted by Tencent, ESPN's media partner in China.
"Esports has become very big, not just in America but across the globe," said Warriors forward Andre Iguodala. "You can tell how big it is [in China[, the response we've got. Everyone showed up and played at the same platform; they've got an announcer for a video game. That's pretty cool."
Shoemaker sees it as a full-service attitude for the Chinese fans.
"Over the course of the entire year, we are constantly working to bring to our fans in China big events, small events, grassroots events, to make sure our fans are engaging and consuming NBA content in every way they want," Shoemaker said.