SHANGHAI – Like water that crawls under the proverbial bridge, the NBA Global Games in China, had passed us by, soon to be forgotten when the highly-anticipated 2017-18 regular dribbles away next week.
But the memories of that swing in the Far East will linger for a long time, if not forever. To many basketball fans in China, the NBA isn't just a playing field to worship, it is a way of life.
And this explained why both the Universiade Sports Center in Shenzhen or the Mercedes Benz Arena in Shanghai were filled to the rafters when the Golden State Warriors and the Minnesota Timberwolves played a pair of exhibition games there last October 5 and October 8, respectively.
They came in droves. Young and old. Short and tall. Thick and thin. Everyone united in one love for the NBA. They all went home happy, smiles hanging across their faces, many on the verge of tears, tears of unbridled joy.
And like it does in other places in the world where it routinely visits, the NBA loved China back, embracing it with appreciation and hospitality, plus the real promise of even bigger, better shows in the future.
While the on-court exploits of the Warriors and Timberwolves provided thrills, the NBA's off-court offerings provided purpose and philanthropy, thanks largely to NBA Cares, one of the league's charitable vehicles.
Several fan activities were lined up, including the sixth annual Fan Appreciation Day which was presented by Dongfeng Nissan in which thousands of fans participated in on-court games and watched the visiting teams practice. A Fan Zone was also featured in Shanghai.
Rashard Lewis, Marcus Camby, Chauncey Billups, Jerome Williams, Adonal Foyle and Dikembe Motumbo were among the former NBA great who joined the China trip. Kevin Durant, in coordination with Nike, held a meet-and-greet with fans at a local gym and was blown away by the intensity of the fans' passion for the NBA.
Jet lag did not stop the Timberwolves from participating in the NBA Cares legacy project where 100 students from Huaying Migrant School got free lessons on the fundamentals of basketball. They played table tennis, too, and unveiled newly-refurbished basketball courts and a reading and learning center for the school.
CHINESE FANDOM. The NBA's popularity in China is unimaginable. Consider this: according to one stat, there are more people in China who watch the NBA on TV than there are actual people in the United States. And with the explosion of social media, expect that following to rise consistently over the years.
With over 3.7 million followers on Weibo, China’s version of Twitter, the Warriors were easily the crowd favorite over the re-tooled Timberwolves. The pregame dunks of Kevin Durant and the hypnotic dribbling drills of Stephen Curry sent the rafters in bombastic euphoria.
The games held no meaning in the official standings but both were played with an eagerness and enthusiasm that rivaled the crowd's. The Timberwolves captured the Shenzhen leg with a 111-97 victory while the Warriors won the Shanghai stop with a dazzling display of shooting on the way to a 142-110 rout.
“You got 5 fouls in 24 minutes. This is not like you,” a reporter asked Curry at the post-game press conference.
“Hopefully I can get rid all the fouls in the preaseason. This is what preseason games are for. I’m just trying to get back into the game speed and stop hacking. What’s the Chinese word for hacking?”
Long after the Warriors and Timberwolves return stateside to go on with their lives, they too, will look back at those hectic days in China where they touched so many lives. They will cherish the adulation, the warm welcome they got, the loud cheers, and many other little things that a lot of rich athletes often take for granted.
An ESPN piece narrated a story on how Draymond Green was moved by a fan who began crying his eyes off while meeting the Warriors power forward.
This is the NBA. This is real. And this is why we love this game.