Los Angeles: Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping attended the Los Angeles Lakers` game against the Phoenix Suns on Friday night.
Expected to become president of the world`s most populous nation next year, Xi began the final day of his four-day US visit at a downtown trade conference hosted by the Chinese Ministry of Commerce and then accompanied Vice President Joe Biden to a suburban school in South Gate that specialises in Asian studies.
The day ended at Staples Centre, across the street from the JW Marriott at LA Live, where Xi was staying.
The NBA has been enormously popular in China since the arrival of 7-foot-6 centre Yao Ming, who spent eight seasons with the Houston Rockets before retiring in July. On Thursday, the league announced that its 21-game broadcast schedule of games during the Chinese New Year celebration in China from January 21-28 was watched by 96 million viewers there — 79 million on the league`s television partners in China, and another 17 million on digital platforms.
The recent exploits of Jeremy Lin, an American-born point guard from Harvard who has had a phenomenal two-week run with the New York Knicks, has only added to the popularity and hype of the NBA in China. Lin is the first American-born NBA player of Chinese or Taiwanese descent.
The league had been staging preseason games in China over the previous few years, although international play was scrapped this season because of the lockout.
A number of NBA players who became free agents at the end of last season played in Japan during the 149-day lockout, including JR Smith, Wilson Chandler and Kenyon Martin.