October 7, 2019 / 5:19 PM / 7 days ago

Factbox: NBA taking flak in China, a valuable market with 500 million fans

(Reuters) - The National Basketball Association (NBA) came under fire on Monday for its response to a tweet by a Houston Rockets official supporting protests calling for democracy in the Chinese-ruled city of Hong Kong.

Rockets General Manager Daryl Morey apologized on Monday for his tweet, which he quickly deleted over the weekend, but his support for the demonstrations in the Chinese-ruled city angered China’s government and others in the world’s No. 2 economy.

In a statement, the NBA said it recognized that the views expressed by Morey had “deeply offended many of our friends and fans in China, which is regrettable.” A Chinese-language version issued by the league appeared to go further, saying the NBA was “extremely disappointed” in Morey’s “inappropriate remarks.”

Here are some facts and figures showing how vital China and its fan base is to the NBA:

- Basketball is the most popular sport in China, the world’s most populous country with 1.4 billion citizens. Some 300 million people play the game in China, NBA deputy commissioner Mark Tatum said in an interview with Reuters earlier this month.

- The NBA has had a presence in China since 1992 when it opened its first office in Hong Kong. It now has relationships with a number of television and digital media outlets throughout China, including a three-decade partnership with CCTV, the league said.

- The Houston Rockets are widely followed in China after the franchise drafted Chinese player Yao Ming with the first overall pick in the 2002 draft. Yao became a star and helped build the NBA’s following in China. The eight-time NBA All-Star was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame in 2016.

- NBA China, which conducts the league’s business in the country, was launched in 2008. It is now worth more than $4 billion, according to Forbes.

- Since 2014, 17 NBA teams have played 26 games in Beijing, Guangzhou, Macao, Shanghai, Shenzhen and Taipei. Los Angeles Lakers, led by four-time NBA MVP LeBron James, will play a pair of exhibition games against the Brooklyn Nets in China in October.

- The NBA and Tencent, a Chinese media outlet which provides a live streaming platform, announced a five-year extension of a partnership through the 2024-25 season. The deal is worth a reported $1.5 billion while Tencent has estimated that there are about 500 million fans in China consuming NBA content, ESPN reported.

- NBA franchises gained 47 million new followers on Chinese social media platforms during the 2018-19 season, according to the league’s annual report on teams’ digital performance.

Reporting by Brendan O'Brien in Chicago, Editing by Franklin Paul

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