(STAR) By Joaquin Henson – NBA commissioner David Stern said yesterday China’s enthusiastic response to efforts in bringing the league closer to the Mainland is a clear indication that exponential growth is just around the corner in Asia.

Stern couldn’t be more pleased with Shanghai’s warm welcome of the Orlando Magic and the Cleveland Cavaliers who played a preseason exhibition at the Qizhong Forest Sports City arena last Wednesday.

After the Shanghai game, Stern boarded a chartered jet plane – one of two that transported the teams from the US – and landed here at 5:30 a.m. That night, he sat beside deputy commissioner Adam Silver and Las Vegas Sands chief operating officer Bill Weidner as Orlando walloped the Chinese national team, reinforced by three imports, 116-92, at the Venetian Arena.

The NBA preseason road tour began in Europe over two weeks ago with games in Rome, Istanbul, Malaga, London and Madrid before heading to Shanghai. It ends with the Magic playing the Cavs once more here tonight.

Silver said next year, the NBA will likely bring the US Olympic men’s and women’s basketball teams to Shanghai and Macau before playing at the Beijing Olympics. In October, two NBA teams will play exhibitions again in China.

“Coaches like to bring their teams to play overseas before the season because it’s an opportunity for bonding, for breaking in the new players and getting everyone in shape,” said Silver. “With more and more teams using chartered planes during the season, you don’t see too many opportunities for players and coaches to hang out in airport lounges. We expect a lot of teams to line up for the next China Games.”

Silver said Orlando and Cleveland were perfect as this year’s protagonists.

“Cleveland was the Eastern Conference champion last season and LeBron (James) is such a popular figure all over the world and Orlando, with Dwight Howard, is one of the most promising teams in the league,” said Silver. “They wanted to come over to Asia and we thought they made a great pairing.”

Silver said a future plan is for the NBA to schedule a regular season game in Asia like it did in Japan once.

Backing up its upbeat forecast of the Asian market, the NBA recently inaugurated a representative office in Beijing with Tim Chen as CEO.

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The Venetian Arena has a capacity of 11,000. Its first-ever event was the Orlando-China game last Thursday.

The $2.4-billion, 32-storey, 10.5-million-square-foot, 3,000-suite hotel opened its doors officially last Aug. 28. It is the largest single structure hotel building in Asia and the world’s second largest.

Roger Federer and Pete Sampras will play a best-of-3 tennis match at the Arena on Nov. 24. Tickets were sold out in just a few hours. Other acts in the calendar are Air Supply, Beyonce and the Black-Eyed Peas.

The hotel’s gaming area is the world’s largest with 550,000 square feet of casino space featuring 3,400 slot machines and 800 tables.

Hotel owner Sheldon Adelson intends to pour in $12 billion for the construction of 20,000 hotel rooms in the Cotai Strip in Macau by 2010. Adelson envisions a Las Vegas-style Strip where he will own and operate a wide range of hotels including the Four Seasons, Sheraton, St. Regis, Shangri-La, Traders, Hilton, Conrad, Fairmont and Raffles.

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Tickets for last Thursday’s games went for the equivalent of P1,800 (cheapest), P3,000 and P6,000.

An NBA source said for two teams to play in a foreign country, the host must be prepared to bid at least $3 million. “The bid price keeps on increasing,” said the source. “The global interest in the NBA is unbelievable.”

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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