NBA China CEO Derek Chang discusses value of NBA China Games, All-Star Game possibility, more

NBA China CEO Derek Chang discusses value of NBA China Games, All-Star Game possibility, more

Following the NBA obsessively is the norm in China, a country where an estimated 300 million people play basketball, per the Chinese Basketball Association, and where nearly half of the population watched NBA programming during the 2017-18 season, according to the NBA.

Getting kissed on the head by Joel Embiid or playing ping pong with Markelle Fultz, however, is something entirely new.

NBA China CEO Derek Chang says that opportunity to experience the league and its players on an intimate level is one of the biggest benefits of the NBA China Games.

“This is the one opportunity we have to bring the in-depth, full-on NBA experience to China and deliver that to our passionate fans,” Chang said Sunday in a phone interview from Shenzhen with NBC Sports Philadelphia. “They’re thirsting for this more than ever.”

Chang emphasized that this trip by the Sixers and the Dallas Mavericks is just one aspect of the league’s reach into China. There are a ton of other ways that he’s trying to grow the game in a country already in love with basketball. 

Year-round broadcasts; more digital content; the expansion of Jr. NBA programs, in collaboration with the Chinese Ministry of Education, reaching 4,000 schools and four million children; his partnership with Hall of Famer Yao Ming, the current president of the Chinese Basketball Association, as the country seeks to develop more elite players — it all matters to Chang. 

But he recognizes that, for Chinese fans, nothing compares to getting to meet the stars they see on billboards every day and watching them up close instead of through a television or computer screen.

“This is my first China Games that I’ve been part of,” Chang said. “I showed up at the hotel in Shanghai the other night where the teams (were) staying, and the crowds of people waiting to see the players coming out of the hotel was unbelievable. It’s like they’re all mega pop stars — which, in China, they are. You do actually have to come here to experience it. Even for me, I’ve been to some of the biggest sporting events in the world, and this was something special.”

It’s not as if the Sixers have just been cooped up in their hotel rooms on this trip with a couple basketball games as bookends. The league has made a concerted effort to get the players out into the community and face-to-face with their obsessed fans. 

Joel Embiid appeared at a charity event in Shanghai, sharing some tips about basketball and life (and also swatting away a young man’s shot, as he is wont to do.)

Ben Simmons attracted plenty of attention at Nike and Beats by Dre events. 

On Sunday, a group from the Sixers that included six players and GM Elton Brand attended an NBA Cares event at Lishan School in Shenzhen, helping to dedicate a new outdoor basketball court and student reading room.

That’s where Fultz tried his hand at ping pong.

Even if it’s a difficult trip as far as far as travel time and jet lag, it’s one the Sixers seem to be enjoying. Embiid, Simmons and Fultz have talked repeatedly about their appreciation for the “insane” fans

“(Joel) was actually talking about it before, he thinks we should have an All-Star game over here,” Simmons told reporters after the Sixers’ 120-114 win over Dallas on Friday. “I think that would be amazing.”

Does Chang think that could happen one day?

“Hypothetically, it’s a great idea and we would love to have that here,” he said. “I don’t think I’m in a position to sit here and really fully understand what the logistical implications are to get something like that to happen.

“I think the players love it. As you said, Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid suggested it would be a great idea to do it. They love it because they see how popular it is, and they see how that helps their own brand grow and develop.”

The Sixers wrap up their trip Monday with their second game against the Mavs, at 8 p.m. Shenzhen time, 8 a.m. on the East Coast, at Shenzhen Universiade Center.

For stars like Simmons and Embiid, it doesn't seem likely that this will be their last time in the country.

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Sixers Talk podcast: The Sixers are bound to go on a run

NBCSP/USA Today Images

Sixers Talk podcast: The Sixers are bound to go on a run

Danny Pommells and Paul Hudrick discuss Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons' relationship, if the Sixers are going to go on a run, stability around the team and more on this edition of Sixers Talk.

• Are you encouraged by the way Jo and Ben acted toward each other during All-Star weekend? (2:00)

• The team's mettle will be tested with six of the next nine games on the road (5:45)

• Are the Sixers finally poised to go on a run? (7:43) 

• Eastern Conference betting odds (14:40)

• Is there enough stability and structure in the organization? (20:54)

• How troubling would it be if Jimmy Butler and the Heat go further than the Sixers? (31:47)

Click here to download the MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Flyers, Sixers and Phillies games easily on your device.

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Brett Brown is more interested in Joel Embiid's head than his hand

Brett Brown is more interested in Joel Embiid's head than his hand

CAMDEN, N.J. — In Sunday night’s NBA All-Star Game, Joel Embiid did not appear bothered by his left hand. He sought out contact, didn’t seem to be in pain or discomfort, and posted 22 points and 10 rebounds. He also did not wear a splint on his left hand, as he'd done since returning from a torn ligament in his ring finger.

A team spokesperson said Wednesday that will remain the case with the Sixers, and that Embiid will now use buddy tape on his hand.

After Embiid shot 6 for 26 on Feb. 6 against the Bucks, head coach Brett Brown told reporters in Milwaukee he thought Embiid’s hand was affecting his shooting. 

Embiid had also said his hand was having an adverse impact.

“The Miami game, you’re kind of scared sometimes, you’re just trying to look for a foul or try to be physical,” he said. “Especially on the rebounds — I think that’s where it affects me the most. But, like I said, it’s not an excuse. I’ve gotta just figure it out and keep pushing.”

Still, Brown leaned toward the metaphorical after practice Wednesday when asked a broad question about Embiid’s health. 

I think the place that interests me the most, where I see his conditioning incrementally getting to an elite level, is his head. I think he is in a space that is excellent as it relates to his excitement, seeing this final third home — to grab the team by the throat and lead us in a bunch of different areas. ... I've been with him a long time, and when I look at him and I talk to him and I hear his words ... and we're always sort of, like you would with your children, judging their body language and all that. 

“I just think he's in a really good space. As it relates to the physical conditioning, we just went up and down hard for about 60 minutes — really up and down, up and down, up and down — saw no drop off. If you study the tape from the other night and you watch Joel Embiid run the floor and some of his rim runs … we all would be saying, 'Well, shoot, it can't get any better than that.' And so I think his fitness level is fine, and I think his headspace is even better. 

As for Embiid’s hand, Brown deferred judgement. After missing nine games with the injury, Embiid has played in eight contests, averaging 21 points and 10.4 rebounds. He’s shot 44.1 percent from the floor, 38.2 percent on three-point shots and 69.9 percent at the foul line.

“I believe I'll be able to tell more when when he gets double teamed at what I call the up block … and he's forced to pass more with his left hand, which used to be all bandaged up,” Brown said. “I used to get worried in that environment where people would come hard looking to whack it or double team him from that floor spot. I look forward to seeing him pass from that floor spot.

“It's easier on the other side, the down side, with his right hand, and I think that's where it will stand out probably the most for me, to see the difference of no wrap and the one that used to be wrapped.”

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