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September 21, 2023

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Cavs lose to Magic in Shanghai as NBA looks to expand to China

SHANGHAI, China – LeBron James stood in the middle of the court at halftime, an advertisement as big as any for next year’s Olympics.

He waved a replica of the red and silver torch for the Beijing Games while Chinese and U.S. flags hung from the rafters of newly built Qizhong Arena.

The public address announcer mingled English with Chinese. NBA commissioner David Stern was at the game. Jazz musician Kenny G sat in the front row.

“The atmosphere was amazing,” James said. “Everything I expected and more.”

James and his Cleveland Cavaliers lost an exhibition game on the outskirts of Shanghai on Wednesday, beaten 90-86 by the Orlando Magic.

But the final score was the least of it.

This was the first of the NBA’s three “China Games,” and Stern was on hand to explain the league’s massive expansion plans in a country with the world’s fastest growing major economy. This is also where 300 million people – the entire population of the United States – are reported to play basketball.

The halftime show – James aside – featured a juggler balancing one-legged on a unicycle. She began with a dozen bowls stacked on her head. She then succeeded in flicking a half-dozen more atop the stack, throwing them with flicks of her right leg.

“I thought it was a big deal tonight even though it was a preseason game,” Cavaliers coach Mike Brown said. “It almost felt like the electricity you feel in some of the buildings in a game that kind of matters.”

The teams play again Saturday in the former Portuguese territory of Macau. Today in Macau, the Magic face a Chinese all-star team.

James finished with 17 points in 28 minutes and was on the bench in the final quarter when the Magic rallied after trailing nearly the entire way.

Dwight Howard’s 31 points and 14 rebounds led Orlando, with Jameer Nelson adding 24. Larry Hughes scored 16 points for Cleveland in 27 minutes. He and James rested late in the game when Orlando took control. The Cavaliers’ Daniel Gibson did not see time because of a right hamstring injury but might play in Macau.

Orlando’s new coach Stan Van Gundy, with a few top players injured, didn’t rest anyone.

“Every night is a test for us as a young team,” Howard said. “We’ve really got to stay focused. They didn’t play their guys the whole game, but just to be out there was a good test for us.”

The Magic tied it 84-84 on Howard’s inside basket with 1:16 to play, then drew away with Nelson hitting four of four free throws down the stretch.

“It showed their first five is better than our second five,” said Brown, who promised to use his starters more.

Cleveland general manager Danny Ferry acknowledged the China trip was taxing, but said it might pay off during the year.

“I think it’s a pretty good team building experience when you go to the other side of the world as a group and kind of bunker down that way,” he said.

Before the game, Stern discussed the NBA’s new China subsidiary, NBA China. Timothy Chen, one of China’s top business executives, began work Monday as the company’s new chief executive officer. Stern said plans call for setting up “the second NBA, the NBA of China.”

He didn’t elaborate but said the expansion will involve working with the 16-team China Basketball Association.

“This is a long-term project where discussions have literally just begun and would, of course, involve the securing of significant financing from capital sources to finance substantial arena development throughout China,” Stern said.

The NBA generated about $50 million in revenue last year from China, the league’s largest market outside the United States. That pales compared with overall NBA revenue of almost $4 billion. But NBA officials have said the 80-person staff in China is set to grow five times in the next several years with increased revenues sure to follow.

Stern has held two days of meetings in China talking with TV partners, advertisers and sponsors about ways to expand basketball in China.

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