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Jenni Carlson: Yao Ming opened up China for Kevin Durant and the NBA

by Jenni Carlson Published: July 8, 2011

About the same time that news of Yao Ming's retirement from the NBA began circulating Friday afternoon, Kevin Durant posted a blog on his website.

“I'm in China!” it was titled.

The Thunder superstar wouldn't have been if not for Yao.

He was the poster child for the globalization of the NBA. Other international players came before the Rockets' center, who decided to hang it up after eight injury-plagued seasons, but no one opened a market bigger than China. Yao made the NBA important to his 1.3 billion countrymen.

That was a game-changer for the NBA.

Ditto for players like Durant.

He made his first foray to the Far East two summers ago when he spent time in Hong Kong as part of a trip set up by the NBA. Then last summer, he went on a three-city tour of China that was part of a brand-expansion excursion set up by Nike.

It set up a pair of basketball courts at the Great Wall of China, where Durant held a clinic. The whole thing was quite the scene. Banners with the KD logo hung from parts of the more than 2,000-year-old landmark as a thick crowd gathered to get a glimpse of Durant.

He got a similar reception everywhere he went.

Those closest to Durant said he was surprised and flattered by the attention.

This summer, he is back in China for a four-city tour with Nike Basketball. He made a quick stop in Hong Kong — “No joke,” Durant wrote on his blog, “I went out to a night club our one night there and guys there had a ping pong table set up in the middle of the club. They were going at it tough too!” — but now, he's on the mainland in Guangzhou. There, he released his newest shoe, the KD III scoring champ.

Not all that long ago, the idea of the NBA's scoring champ going to China for the official release of a shoe would've been lunacy.

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by Jenni Carlson
Jenni Carlson, a sports columnist at The Oklahoman since 1999, came by her love of sports honestly. She grew up in a sports-loving family in Kansas. Her dad coached baseball and did color commentary on the radio for the high school football...
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