BEIJING - The NBA has come to booming, basketball-crazy China - but it doesn't expect to make any money soon.
The league flew more than 100 people halfway around the world for its first games in China, featuring the Houston Rockets - with Chinese-born star Yao Ming - and the Sacramento Kings.
"We have spent several millions of dollars," NBA commissioner David Stern said yesterday at a news conference. "But the NBA will not make any money from these games."
For the first matchup Thursday in Shanghai, fans packed the refurbished 11,500-seat city stadium as the Rockets - led by hometown hero Yao Ming - beat the Kings 88-86.
A second exhibition game takes place in Beijing today.
In addition to players and coaches, the NBA has brought Hall-of-Famers Clyde Drexler and Bill Russell, rising WNBA star Diana Taurasi and veteran China watchers from New York's Asia Society.
The NBA looks at the tour as an investment in promoting itself as a "lifestyle brand" for products ranging from clothing to video games for China's swelling consumer class, Stern said.
"We never lose money. We just make investments," he said. "And we are a very patient investor."
Fans in Beijing will also be watching another Chinese player - Kings hopeful Liu Wei, who made his NBA debut in Shanghai's game.
"Yes, he is going to get the opportunity to play in Beijing also," said Kings coach Rick Adelman. "We hope to grow a little bit and play a little better on Sunday."
Liu already is a star with the Shanghai Sharks, but he said his tryout for the Kings is the toughest thing he's ever done.
"I will try my best to get accustomed to the pressure," Liu said. "When I first heard I was going to play Yao Ming in China I was very excited, but now I have calmed myself down."
Players were also battling jet lag.
"I think it could take a toll on your legs," said Kings rookie guard Kevin Martin. "But I think it's a mental thing. ... I try not to think about it."
Yao arrived at the morning news conference bleary-eyed. He said he had just been awakened from a nap 10 minutes earlier, but launched into a pitch for Chinese basketball.
"This is a great opportunity for us to learn from the NBA's success," he said.
China's basketball fans need little education after more than a decade of NBA broadcasts on Chinese state television.
Rockets coach Jeff Van Gundy said he was pleasantly surprised by the enthusiasm that greeted the NBA in Shanghai, and said the crowd was more knowledgable than he'd expected.
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