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US-China political tensions, tariffs don’t worry NBA boss

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NBA commissioner Adam Silver said Thursday he is unconcerned about US-China political tensions and tariffs as league players prepare for China trips later this year to grow the sport globally.

Minutes before the first NBA Finals game outside the United States tipped off, Silver said he and former NBA star Yao Ming, now chairman of the Chinese Basketball Association, have spoken about issues and hope “basketball diplomacy” might follow the US-China “ping pong diplomacy of 1971.

“I’m not concerned at this time,” Silver said. “We’ve been in constant touch with the Chinese Basketball Association and I’ve talked to Yao Ming directly about it.

“Of course we’re not immune from global politics, so it’s something we’re paying a lot of attention to.”

NBA players will compete at the World Cup of Basketball later this year and in October, the LeBron James-led Los Angeles Lakers and Brooklyn Nets are set to play pre-season games in China.

“I look though to sports, and this is something Yao and I have discussed, where we can use basketball maybe in the way ping-pong was used in the days of Richard Nixon, that there could be something called basketball diplomacy, and it is an area where our two countries have excellent history of cooperation,” Silver said.

“I see it as an opportunity, again, to demonstrate to people that through sports there’s commonality and we can use the values of sports hopefully as a positive force to continue to bring people together.”

A US table tennis team playing at the worlds in Japan in 1971 was invited to visit China, the first American delegation there in more than 20 years.

Yao’s groundbreaking star turn with the NBA Houston Rockets and various international games and exchanges, including the US gold medal team of NBA stars at the 2008 Beijing Olympics, have brought US and Chinese NBA fans closer.

“We work closely with the Chinese Basketball Association on player development, referee development,” Silver said. “We have talked a lot to Yao… about the rules, the Constitution that underlies his league and how to create greater competition.”

The league works to develop young talent in China and across Asia, with the Sacramento Kings and Indiana Pacers set to play pre-season games in Mumbai, India, next October.

China will send a team to compete in the NBA Summer League in Las Vegas this year for the first time since 2007, what Silver called “an important sign.”

“What I believe we can do more of is work directly with the Chinese Basketball Association,” Silver said.

“Also, we’re building academies in China to help develop the young players.

“So I think we’re although we’re incredibly popular in China, there’s a lot more we can be doing.”

– NBA eyes Africa growth –
Silver also sees big growth potential in Africa, where the NBA is helping assemble a 12-team continental league to open in 2020. While 25 percent of NBA players are from outside the United States, more and more key players have African ties.

“It absolutely speaks to the opportunity across the roughly 55 countries of Africa. I think it’s one of the places we’re looking in the world where we see enormous opportunity,” Silver said.

Silver said the expansion of cell phone viewing possibilities has opened up big African opportunities.

“It has been revolutionary in terms of the people of Africa’s ability to watch our games in realtime on handheld devices,” he said.

– ‘Milestone’ finals –
Silver said this year’s final between the defending champion Golden State Warriors and the Toronto Raptors being the first to take the NBA Finals beyond US borders could be groundbreaking worldwide.

“I think symbolically having our first Finals outside the United States maybe has a big impact on countries that follow the NBA but don’t have teams, whether that be in Asia or Latin America,” Silver said.

“As we look back in time at the NBA calendar, this clearly is a marker of sorts… That will, I think, be a milestone.”

But those hopeful for other expansion teams in US or global markets are in for a long wait.

“We’re just not in expansion mode at this time,” Silver said. “It’s not on the agenda.”