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NBA Permitted ... Even In Forbidden City

June 6, 1996

It took more than a million laborers 14 years to build the Forbidden City, where five centuries of Chinese royalty hung out with their concubines until 1912. The basketball court presumably came along sometime later.

And then, finally, to complete Chinese history, the NBA televised its first All-Star game to Beijing in 1987.

This week, the NBA Finals will be seen in more than 150 countries, carried around the world by more than 100 broadcasters. Soccer might be the most popular team sport in the world, but basketball must be the fastest growing.

``Everywhere we went on our most recent trip _ and we were in five countries in Asia _ the response was the same,″ said Mike Dresner, NBA vice president of media programming.

``We walked into the Forbidden City and there, right inside the inner gate, was a basketball court. No graffiti. No bent rims. Just this beautiful basketball court.″

That must have been where the eunuchs played.

The NBA has been seen internationally since the 1978-79 season, when CBS first handled distribution. In 1981, the NBA began to take over distribution itself, and by the 1986-87 season, it had taken over entirely.

NBA International operates offices worldwide in Geneva, Miami and Hong Kong. NBC might have America’s 250 million people, but NBA International’s got the rest of the world.

Now, NBA International is finding out that _ just as the NBA did at home _ the league needs to get the kids interested. To do that, NBA International has begun programming its fast-paced studio show, ``Inside Stuff,″ outside the United States. Germany became the first target in 1993.

``In Japan it’s called `Fastbreak,‴ Dresner said. ``They’re looking for a lot of highlights. In Canada, it’s called `Dunk Street,′ and they want a lot of features. In Mexico, they call it `Rafaga,′ which means something like `fast gust of wind.‴

In many cases, the NBA’s popularity overseas is outgrowing the TV industries of the countries in which it’s seen.

``In China, it’s a top three sport. In Russia, it’s one of the top three. But these are not big TV countries yet,″ Dresner said. ``Wait until they become big TV countries.″

Of all the foreign countries where the NBA is taking off, Dresner said he is probably most surprised by England.

``Channel 4 in the U.K. is a youth oriented channel, and for the first time it’s carrying the NBA,″ Dresner said. ``They’re investing huge amounts of money to attract more kids. They carried our All-Star game, they’re carrying the finals live, and they’re doing two studio shows.

``Why? What they told us is that in their market surveys, the NBA is perceived as being hip, being cool, and that’s the right image for Channel 4,″ Dresner said. ``That sounds a lot like what we’re hearing in the United States about Fox and baseball, doesn’t it?″

OUT TAKES: John McEnroe has a new baby at home, and Tracy Austin just recently gave birth to her first. Chris Evert could be having her third kid as we speak.

``This is like the Breeders’ Cup,″ said Mary Carillo, one of the few NBC tennis analysts who hasn’t had or is about to have a new baby. ``I’ve got a boy. I’ve got a girl. That’s it for me.″

Carillo, who has done a lot of work for CBS, ESPN and USA Network, is subbing for Evert on NBC’s French Open coverage beginning Friday. Evert is expected to return to work at Wimbledon.

``Chris Evert is the best clay court player of all time, so I know I’m a weak substitute. But I’m so glad to be here,″ Carillo said.

The French Open was the only Grand Slam title of Carillo’s career.

``That was back in 1977. It was John McEnroe’s first Grand Slam title and my last,″ she said. ...

Steve Garvey, the former Los Angeles Dodger who holds the National League record for most consecutive games played, looks like he’s trying to break it as a broadcaster during the College World Series.

``I think I’ve set some kind of record,″ he said. ``I’ve done eight games in five days _ Saturday on ESPN, doubleheaders Sunday, Monday and Tuesday, and then I go back and do the championship game on Saturday for CBS.″

Garvey will work with play-by-play man Sean McDonough when CBS televises the College World Series final Saturday. He’d rather be doing that than broadcasting major league games.

``People ask me why. Because they’ve got short hair, they run on and off the field, and they say `Yes, sir. No, sir.′ And they look at Steve Garvey, and they remember me,″ Garvey said. ``Players have no sense of history once they’re good enough to make the majors.

``They forget about the guys who laid the foundation of the players association and played for $12,000 a year in wool uniforms on bad fields and traveled on trains. They become so self important that nothing else matters.″