Pro basketball from China possible as a TV fill-in for the NBA?


JEREMY LIN ONCE inspired an NBA fervor called “Linsanity.”

Now, could he and his colleagues in the Chinese Basketball Association serve as enough of a TV draw to help get America through its current “Death Valley Days” of no fresh live sports on the pixels?



That is the scenario that appears to be developing as the CBA prepares to restart its season after an 11-week hiatus prompted by the initial COVID-19 outbreak in China.

Lin and other foreign players — a maximum of two per team in the 20-member league — were told to report for 14-day quarantining beginning last week.

The California-born Harvard grad did so. He won an NBA championship ring with the Toronto Raptors last season.

With a $3 million contract in hand, he had been averaging 24 ppg for the Beijing Ducks prior to the interruption.

Initial indications were that the CBA planned to resume play late next week.

On Wednesday, informed international sources said that resumption has now been pushed back deeper into April. ESPN reported the restart could be in May.



Still, with the NBA on an open-ended hold, at least two American broadcast concerns are said to be foaming at the prospect of getting any sort of live new action on air.

Jonathan White, the sports editor of the English-language South China Morning Post in Hong Kong and an authority on basketball in China, told The Daily Herald:

“I can see no problem provided there is significant financial incentive. The barriers are the CBA actually restarting and no broadcast deals.

“Youku is the online partner and CCTV (the state national TV in China) the terrestrial broadcaster. There are no international deals that I know of.

“On top of that,” the British-bred White added, “Someone might need to learn all about the CBA quite quickly to commentate.

“Following comes the biggest barrier of the lot — getting Americans to watch. The quality is nowhere near the NBA and that might frustrate fans.



“But these are difficult times.”

Indeed they are, to the point that the guiding axiom could be, “Air it fresh and new, with changing scores and reasonable competitiveness, and segments of America will watch.”

This is the league that developed Yao Ming after all, and once featured Metta World Peace in the autumn of his career.

So now, in the most unanticipated sports icebreaker since “Ping-Pong diplomacy” began the end of a 22-year freeze between the United States and then “Red China” back in 1971-72, baskets back on TV could be at hand.

STREET-BEATIN’: IOC officials can spin it as they wish, but Comcast subsidiary NBCUniversal simply couldn’t risk a fall schedule that included the Tokyo Games, the NFL and college football. (Regarding the Olympics postponement to 2021, no network pressure need be applied when a shared, cascading jackpot of a couple of billion dollars is involved.) …

If Illinois transfer Alan Griffin winds up at Duke, could that turn up the heat on star Max Christie of Rolling Meadows to make his commitment? Griffin would be joined by younger brother A.J. Griffin — a five-star — in 2021. Some basketball minds think Christie is too good to wind up at Northwestern, where mom, Katrina Hannaford Christie, starred in the mid-1990s. …

For those keeping score, Disney/ESPN has now whiffed through Tony Romo, Peyton Manning, Drew Brees and Philip Rivers while trying to resuscitate its languid “Monday Night Football” platform. (Maybe 82-year-old Fred Williamson is done making his “Shaft” knockoffs and once again available.) …

Adrift in a sea of sports-talk simpletons, Tom Waddle and Marc Silverman of ESPN AM-1000 had one of the few good guest “gets” of the week with Steve Kerr. (Kerr is that extraordinarily rare basketball bird who has long possessed a true world view and understood the wicked lure and limits of gym rat-ism.) …

Scott Hazelton (Bartlett High, Class of ’00) will be front and circling winners if TVG’s live horse racing coverage does indeed air on NBCSN Friday and Saturday afternoon (3 p.m.). He’s the son of the late Richard Hazelton, a legendary hooch-and-cooch trainer on the Arizona-Chicago circuit who should be in Racing’s Hall of Fame. …

No less than Taylor Bell — along with Bob Frisk, the two greatest prep sports writers of the past 60 years in Chicago-area journalism — had the temerity to tell the insouciant that Pete Rose should never be in The Baseball Hall of Fame. (Bell and Frisk were part of a remarkable orange rush at The Daily Illini that included Roger Ebert, Bill Nack and Dennis Swanson.) …

A golden golf junket for Bobby Klein, Don Madl and Ralph Klein with other regional spawn in Arizona last weekend: On consecutive days, they played TPC Scottsdale, Copper Canyon and Desert Mountain. Main COVID concessions were outdoor drinking and dining only, no pins on the practice greens, and that flags on the course be touched with gloved hands only. …

And the news is not good about Billy Johnston, 84, long the unquestioned kingpin of harness racing in Illinois. The crisply candid Johnston — a pallbearer at the funeral of shoe-boxing secretary of state Paul Powell — had one of the more memorable insights into Illinois ovaling when he said: “I don’t know why these (horse players) don’t just drive in before the races, hand us the money they’re planning to lose, and then go have a pleasant day with their families.”

• Jim O’Donnell’s Sports & Media column appears Thursday and Sunday. Reach him at