By Will Koulouris
SYDNEY, June 23 (Xinhua) -- In China, basketball is experiencing a resurgence under the stewardship of NBA Hall of Famer Yao Ming while in the land down under, the sport is also undergoing somewhat of a renaissance.
The chief executive officer of the National Basketball League, Jeremy Loeliger, told Xinhua this week their change was running concurrent with the great strides being made in the Chinese Basketball Association (CBA).
"We have really reinvigorated the product and as a result our partners have really got behind it and are helping us put it back into the mainstream sporting environment here in Australia, and obviously we are starting to make headway overseas as well," Loeliger said.
As basketball is the most popular sport in China - according to the Sporting Goods Industry China Report 2015 - as well as being the sport with the biggest market in the Asia-Pacific, Loeliger hopes the relationship between the NBL and the CBA could grow stronger.
Currently, NBL games are streamed into China, while at the same time teams from both countries participate in pre-season exhibition games against one another, and according to Loeliger, this is only the beginning.
"Basketball is a truly multicultural sport, it's played in virtually every country in the world," Loeliger said.
"We need to transcend the borders of the Australian population in order to be sustainable and successful in the long term,"
"We will be sustainable here in Australia, but in terms of taking the game to the next level, both for the Australian market and for the Chinese market, I think we, and the CBA, need to work more closely together," he added.
One of the ways in which both leagues are actioning this "mutually beneficial" process, according to Loeliger, is through player movement between the two leagues, which not only allows for them to test their mettle in a different style of play - but also allows for more of a cultural dialogue to be opened between the players, coaches, and fans as well.
"It is a win-win situation because the CBA is always striving to improve the quality of its players, and we are encouraging them to do that by playing some of them here in Australia when it suits them, to get some of their players out here and play a different style of basketball," Loeliger said.
"They are two very different styles of games, and I think it's very entertaining to see them go head to head."
This process began during the course of the last season in the NBL, with the move of two players from the hugely successful Shanghai Sharks franchise, to the Brisbane Bullets which allowed youngsters Wang Tong and Yan Peng.
At the time, current Bullets and Australian national team coach Andrej Lemanis said that this move would hopefully be one which is built upon in the future between the two leagues.
"Hopefully they can learn from our players, our league and our coaches and return to their league as better players and enhance Chinese basketball," Lemanis said.
Loeliger contends that this process will indeed continue, and said that this initial method of encouraging player movement through the free agent process has the potential to expand as the burgeoning partnership between the two leagues continues to develop.
"The last thing we want to do is take talent away from the CBA because they need to strive to continue to build their league as well. But I think there will be opportunities where CBA clubs will see the benefit of some of their players coming and participating in the NBL for a season or two," Loeliger said.
"I'd love to see that expand so that there are other clubs who are exchanging or loaning players to one another, to help round out their games."
While the player exchanges have the potential to help both sides due to the different styles of play, the leagues themselves are also very different in how they are structured. While the NBL is privately owned and geared towards a corporate structure, the prime objective of the CBA is to develop talent for the wildly popular Chinese national team, a fact that Loeliger acknowledged.
"In the CBA it's been very much about ensuring that the national team uses the league to give the most court time to its best players who are going to go on and represent the country," Loeliger said.
"It's a little bit different in Australia, because of the fact that a number of our national players do play in overseas leagues."
Despite the different purview, the CBA is really hitting its stride and beginning to "open its doors", according to Loeliger, who said this process currently being undertaken by leadership will serve to further liberalise, and commercialise the game in China.
"I think you will see a more entertaining product, a more broadcast friendly product, and a more family friendly product under the stewardship of Yao Ming, who is doing a fantastic job already as the first private appointment to the presidency of the CBA," Loeliger said.
As the head of basketball in Australia, Loeliger has plans to head to Beijing in the coming weeks to meet with representatives of the game in China, and said that engaging with his counterparts at the CBA in a mutually beneficial way that will see both leagues continue to prosper is his number one priority.
"There has to be a consistent give and take. We'd love for parties to meet halfway on a journey, but often one party will have to get there first to meet the other. We are both very aware of that I think, we are both willing to make compromises in order to achieve a better outcome for both parties in the bigger picture," Loeliger said.
"So I will certainly continue to hold out the open hand of the NBL to help the CBA however we can, and certainly the encouragement we have been getting from the CBA to date has been very promising in that regard also."
While the CBA has long been a spot for current, fringe, and hopeful NBA players to ply their trade - with notable mentions to Stephon "Starbury" Marbury, JR Smith, and Michael Beasley to name but a few - the NBL has only reemerged in recent times to also serve as a landing spot for these talented individuals, individuals like Terrance "2K" Ferguson.
Ferguson suited up for the Adelaide 36ers last season in the NBL, after forgoing offers from many powerhouse programs in the NCAA collegiate system in the United States, and rather chose to be paid develop his game for a year in the Australian league.
"It was very physical - it was a grown man league." Ferguson said recently after a workout with the Charlotte Hornets of the NBA.
This choice to join the NBL rather than take up a "one-and-done" opportunity with Kentucky, Arizona, and others, culminated in his selection as the 21st pick overall in the 2017 NBA draft on Friday, which will now see the talented young shooting guard join the Russell Westbrook-led Oklahoma City Thunder in the upcoming season.
The Australian-based league being seen as an alternative pathway to the NBA is encouraging to Loeliger, who said that Ferguson joining the league last season helped to improve the exposure of the NBL even further to a worldwide audience.
"So, you've got Terrance Ferguson drawing attention to the league which is great, we had every NBA team sending a senior scout to have a look at the NBL this year and as a result, other guys are getting looked at and picked up around the world as well," Loeliger said.
"It is a fantastic marketing tool and it will start to encourage those potential one-and-done players, like a Ferguson, to the NBL instead of going and playing NCAA ball in America - or perhaps instead of going to Europe - to come and play against some really good competition in Australia."
Ferguson was not the only player with Australian ties to be drafted on Friday, with Australian Jonah Bolden, son of NBL legend Bruce Bolden, selected with the 36th pick of the draft by the up-and-coming Philadelphia 76ers - a team who already has another Australian player with a father who played in the NBL, last year's number one pick overall Ben Simmons.
The future is bright not only for Australian basketball domestically, but globally, and Loeliger said he wants Australia to "continue to be a global powerhouse" as if Australia is considered as being part of Asia for FIBA, it is now the highest ranked team in the Asia-Pacific.
"I want to see those world rankings continue to trend in that direction as well. I am very excited about the fact that our NBL players will be the backbone of our national team for the majority of the time leading into those event every four years into the Olympics, or the FIBA World Cup," Loeliger said.
"We look forward to a time of continued growth, continued success, and a sustainable league here in Australia that will be here for many many years to come,"
"But now being part of Asia, we are ready to walk hand in hand with all of our partners in Asia to develop the game in the region, and ready to go toe to toe in terms of bolstering those rivalries on the court," he added.
As both the CBA and the NBL strive forward in building these mutually beneficial partnerships through sport, the exchanges, whether they be financial, cultural or otherwise will only serve to strengthen the ties between China and Australia.
Ties that will be shaped, cultivated, and bolstered by a game created over one hundred years ago.
One can only wonder when Dr James Naismith decided to hammer peach baskets to a raised surface if he ever imagined the positive impact that this game of basketball would have on cementing the friendship that both countries enjoy today.
The game of basketball truly is a slam dunk for bilateral relations between China, and Australia.