SHENZHEN, China — With a couple of minutes remaining in pregame warm-ups, LeBron James made his way from the court to the Los Angeles Lakers‘ bench. He sat down, closed his eyes and let out a deep breath.
After a long week in China, where the NBA’s burgeoning business in the Far East was tested nearly to its breaking point, it was time, quite simply, to play a basketball game.
The second of the league’s two preseason exhibitions between the Lakers and Brooklyn Nets tipped off about 30 miles from Hong Kong, but one wouldn’t know anything was amiss inside the Shenzhen Universiade Centre.
A sellout crowd of 17,396 was in the arena, and the section of seats immediately behind the Lakers’ bench featured fans proudly draped in NBA gear — not just Lakers and Nets jerseys but also garb supporting the Spurs, Raptors, Magic, Celtics and Kings.
There was hardly a reminder that the games were in jeopardy, outside of the photographers on the baseline wearing official vests for the event printed with “NBA SHENZHEN GAME 2019 Presented by,” with a piece of black