One thing the NBA has done very well over the past couple of decades is increasing its popularity overseas.
China has become a massive NBA market and the popularity of some players there is unbelievable. The Los Angeles Lakers have witnessed this previously with Kobe Bryant‘s unreal stardom there and now the same is the case for LeBron James.
Much like Bryant and Michael Jordan before him, James is an absolutely massive star overseas, garnering huge crowds whenever he takes trips outside of the country. Of course, the Lakers took a trip to China during the 2019 NBA preseason and Jared Dudley was witness to the James phenomenon in real-time.
You know how big he is over here in the States. In China (last September) we had a players-only dinner at, I think, Morton’s Steakhouse inside the hotel. We go up there and he’s telling stories about last year’s team and this year, and getting us all ready. We leave, and when we leave, we go down the elevator (of the restaurant, inside the Ritz-Carlton in Shanghai). There might have been 4,000 people chanting his name. And they rushed the elevator to get through; security couldn’t hold everyone back. And one of Kyle Kuzma’s managers was trying to hold people back, and the weight of the people pushing was so much, he basically dislocated his shoulder and had to have surgery.
Dudley would admit that he has never played with anyone who could cause that kind of scene:
… And they kept chanting his name, “King James, King James.” I even got a video of it early on because I was behind him. And I was like, it was so crazy, they were rushing him. … It was mayhem. That’s when I knew this year would be special. I’ve never played with anyone, even though Jordan drafted me, I’ve never played with anyone else that would have something like that.
Obviously, most players in the NBA haven’t played with someone who could cause that as there were very few who could, especially in China. In actuality, James, Jordan, and Bryant are likely the only NBA players who would bring out that type of crowd aside from Yao Ming.
It is truly a testament to just how big James is worldwide. There are plenty of players who can become All-Stars and superstars in America, but only the biggest can make that kind of impact internationally.