While the NBA lockout continues back at home, the stars of the league are hitting the road to soak in the adoration of fans abroad as they run skills clinics, play charity games and spread their brands into emerging markets like China and the Philippines. Kobe Bryant is leading a squad of NBA standouts to the Philippines this weekend to play in a pair of charity games against a selection of players from their top league, on Saturday, and the Philippines national team on Sunday.
According to the Times-Picayune, Bryant will be joined by teammate Derek Fisher, New Orleans' Chris Paul, Chicago’ NBA MVP Derrick Rose, Oklahoma City's Kevin Durant and James Hardin, Sacramento's Tyreke Evans, Minnesota's Derrick Williams and Washington's JaVale McGee.
With President Aquino expected to make an appearance at possibly both of the sold-out games, the charity matches give the NBA stars a chance to connect with a fanbase which avidly follows a league half the world away but rarely sees their favorite players in the flesh. They also might get a taste of what playing abroad might be like should an NBA lockout extend into the 2011-2012 season.
LeBron James might not be interested in playing abroad, but Chris Paul said this week he would consider it, making him the latest in a lengthening list of players who have stated their openness to playing overseas.
Most of the players arrived in Manila on Friday morning, and took to Twitter to express their surprise at the welcome they received at the airport.
What a WELCOME from the fans here in MANILA!!! Can't wait to get out on the court 2moro!!! #yesirrrr
S/O to all my fans in Manila. They showed me love at the airport.
For Bryant and Rose, the stop in the Philippines is just one of several in a series of promotional trips in Asia spreading the NBA brand as long as their lines of basketball products (Nike for Bryant, Adidas for Rose). Kobe flew in to Manila from Shanghai, and Rose is headed to China in August to build on his growing popularity there.
"If you're from Shanghai, you may not grow up to be 7-6," The vice president of global basketball for Adidas told ESPN. "But [Rose's] aggressive playing style and the position he plays and the fact that he's 6-3, all players, whether they live in Chicago or Shanghai, can [try to] be a point guard in the NBA. "They love Yao Ming [who officially retired this week] but they aspire to be Derrick Rose."