“They do this occasionally. It's a big deal for them too, having N.B.A. in China, ”said Looney. "Hundreds of millions of people watch basketball in China – and I know they are unhappy with the lack of access. But I doubt anything will happen during this NBA season, unless the government decides that bringing the game back would be a welcome distraction. the public health crisis. ”
The stakes are high for the league. Since 2004, the N.B.A. played 28 games in China. Star players travel every year for promotional tours. Footwear sales are an important source of revenue for manufacturers. There are more basketball fans in China, a country with 1.4 billion inhabitants, than in the USA, which has a population of 330 million. The league still has offices across China, including Shanghai, Beijing, Taiwan and Hong Kong, with about 200 employees.
"I see this as something that will take time," said Todd Ramasar, an N.B.A. agent with clients abroad who also negotiated deals in China. "I don't think it's as simple as saying it is centered in the north of the country. This is much bigger than that."
The timing of the All-Star game on Sunday could be a stroke of good luck for the NBA. because of the larger domestic policy involved. On Friday, the first phase of the trade agreement signed last month between China and the U.S. will take effect, signaling the hottest point in the relationship between the two countries since President Trump took office.
Earlier this month, in his State of the Union address, Trump said, "Perhaps we have the best relationship we have ever had with China, including President Xi," referring to China's leader, Xi Jinping. On February 7, Trump praised Xi by the Chinese government response to coronavirus.
But there are also mixed messages – an indication of the often complicated relationship between the two countries. In late January, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo called the ruling party in China "the central threat of our times".