The roar of the crowd rose and fell with every move James Harden made for the Houston Rockets against their Southwest Division rivals, the New Orleans Pelicans. At other points, the crowd could be heard chanting, “AD! AD! AD!” whenever the ball found its way to the Pelicans’ Anthony Davis. By the time the final buzzer sounded, Harden would end the preseason game with 26 points and 15 assists, while the Pelicans’ E’Twaun Moore and Davis put up a fight, scoring 25 and 23 points, respectively, for their end. Ultimately, though, the consistently close match would close with the Rockets winning, 123-117.
While the excitement was familiar, the environs were far from it, for this wasn’t any preseason game, and the stadium wasn’t in New Orleans or Houston – it wasn’t even in the United States. This was the Mercedes Benz Stadium in Shanghai, China, and the game had been part of this year’s NBA Global Games.
Even the crowd wasn’t the typical NBA crowd, as it included six teams of gifted young athletes from all over Southeast Asia: the 2016 Jr. NBA and Jr. WNBA All-Stars – young basketballers whose skills, discipline, and determination had set them apart from tens of thousands of aspirants.
The Philippine contingent consisting of ten boys and five girls had arrived in Shanghai on Saturday as part of the culminating activity of their Jr. NBA experience that began back in January when this year’s training camps kicked off.
To the young cagers who’d made the long journey to see their very first NBA game in the flesh, this experience was definitely one for the books; it wasn’t just that their hard work had brought them to this point, but they were witnessing firsthand just how basketball crazy an Asian country other than their own could be.
From the time the Pelicans and Rockets had landed in Shanghai, Chinese fans were on hand to welcome them at the airport and at their hotel, chanting the names of their favorite players all the way in hopes of securing a photo or autograph.
“It’s a big fan base,” said New Orleans’ Terrence Jones, of the Pelicans’ reception. “Everybody feels really passionate about the game of basketball and is excited to see us and Anthony (Davis). It’s just exciting and a blessing to be here, to get the opportunity to put on a show for them.”
The Friday before the game, a Fan Appreciation Day was held at the Oriental Sports Center, where both teams had been practicing since arriving. On that day, Chinese basketball lovers were able to get up close and personal with their idols, snapping selfies and taking part in activities such as three-point shootouts, a rookie dance-off, and getting to experience, firsthand, what being an NBA fan is all about.
While the 2016 edition marked the Pelicans’ first trip to China, the Rockets go back as far as 2004, when Chinese superstar Yao Ming was on the squad. 12 years on, with the Pelicans-rockets match-up marking the 10th edition of the Global Games in China, the NBA’s popularity in the country has only increased, and this was the mania that the Philippine All-Stars witnessed.
For the Chinese fans and the Philippine All-Stars, this taste of the NBA universe will surely go down as an experience none of them will ever forget.
The second of the 016 Global Games between the New Orleans Pelicans and Houston Rockets will take place tomorrow, October 12, in Beijing.
Image source: Shanghai Daily