Ball to the wall

NBA targets China with all-star prod'n

In China, where basketball functions as a kind of religion, news that the NBA and China’s Shanghai Film Group are teaming to produce the first NBA-themed pic outside of North America was loudly cheered.

Some 300 million people play basketball or watch it regularly in China, and the NBA is targeting this huge potential market on the back of the success of local hero Yao Ming, who plays for the Houston Rockets.

“Amazing” features NBA All-Stars Carmelo Anthony of the Denver Nuggets and Dwight Howard of the Orlando Magic, augmenting such Asian talent as Chinese heartthrob thesp Huang Xiaoming and South Korean actress and ubiquitous commercials model Kim A Joong. Chinese helmer Hu Xuehua directs.

Talks are also under way with other NBA stars to appear in the movie — indeed, blogs have bounced around names like Kobe Bryant.

Deal is SFG’s first with a U.S. sports league and the NBA’s first with a movie partner outside the U.S. The NBA has long had ties with the Shanghai Media Group, with whom it launched its League Pass program on IPTV. SMG can broadcast up to 14 games a day and translates them into Mandarin.

“We’ve had a number of movie partnerships in the U.S., and we’ve been using entertainment as a critical way to engage our fans. Now we’re applying the same philosophy internationally,” says Emilio Collins, senior VP of global marketing partnerships for the NBA.

Pic is being made for Chinese auds, but Collins says it’s possible they will seek U.S. distribution “if we decide it has broader appeal.”

That the NBA would get into the Chinese market is not surprising: China has its own professional basketball leagues, and the CBA is peppered with U.S. journeyman players and NBA wannabes, while the local B.O. looks set to hit $1.5 billion this year, up 61% on the previous year. Local fare makes up more than half the market.

China has long embraced the basketball genre, from 1957’s “Girl’s Basketball Player No. 5” to 2007’s hit “Kung Fu Dunk” to 2008’s “Slam,” which stars Zhang Yishan, who also hosts basketball show “Made in the NBA,” a lifestyle series broadcast across more than 40 channels in China. “Made in the NBA” is one of a number of hoops-themed TV shows in Asia.

“Amazing” is about young people achieving their dreams through hard work — something that will resonate in China — and is scheduled to bow in the summer of 2011.

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