For the past two weeks, I have spent time at Sendai University in Japan. I have had the chance to speak to students from many different countries including: Japan, China, Taiwan, Thailand, and South Korea. Sendai University is unique in that it is a Physical Education university, this means that almost every student here has significant interest in sports and I was surprised to learn one of the most popular sports was basketball.
Speaking with the students I found out a few things. Their favorite players seemed to be one of the four: Kobe Bryant, LeBron James, Stephen Curry or Jeremy Lin. Their favorite teams were almost exclusively the San Antonio Spurs or the Los Angeles Lakers, with Lakers fans making up the larger portion. The students over in Asia love the NBA and are able to name off just as many players from different teams as you or I could.
But if were to talk about merchandise? The only NBA gear that I’ve seen in Japan has been Los Angeles Lakers. Almost immediately if you mention you like basketball either the Lakers or Kobe Bryant will be brought up. Jeremy Lin is also widely loved over here, while most students do acknowledge he isn’t as good as the Kobe’s, Durant’s, or LeBron’s of the world.
NBA games are broadcast in Japan frequently enough that students have no trouble following the NBA and are up to date on the latest news, such as Byron Scott’s hiring and the Kevin Love trade rumors. Taking a look at the NBA’s international television schedule, you can see that in Japan, fans are given about 1 game per day, a solid number for a sport that is played at a 16 hour time difference. Last season without Kobe Bryant for the majority of the year, the Lakers only received limited viewership in Japan. But with his return and the addition of Jeremy Lin, the Lakers are sure to be one of the most popular international draws.
If my brief view into Asian culture regarding the NBA is a good representation of the rest of the region, expect to see Kobe Bryant starting in the All-Star game until he retires and don’t be shocked if Jeremy Lin is voted in as a starter this season as well. If the Lakers international presence continues to grow, Lakers Nation might need to be re-named Lakers World.