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News » Former Wizards to return to China 30 years later

Former Wizards to return to China 30 years later

Former Wizards to return to China 30 years later
BEIJING (AP) - Thirty years after the Washington Wizards became the first NBA team to visit China, veterans of the team plan a return trip next month to the country where basketball's popularity is now soaring.

Hall of Fame center Wes Unseld, a star of the 1979 team then known as the Bullets, will be joined on the visit Sept. 5-15 by current Wizards players Caron Butler and Randy Foye, the team said. Joining them will be another former Bullet, 7-foot-7 Gheorghe Muresan of Romania, one of the tallest men to play in the NBA.

The trip will include a series of clinics, including one with last season's China Basketball Association championship team, Guangdong Hongyuan. The visitors will travel to Beijing, Shanghai and parts of the Sichuan province that were devastated by last year's massive earthquake.

"We thought the best way to pay homage to the anniversary of our historic trip in 1979 was to return to China, because 30 years ago it was unheard of to travel overseas with an NBA team," Wizards owner Abe Pollin said.

The 1979 visit came at the invitation of former Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping as part of the celebration of diplomatic ties between Washington and Beijing that year.

That team, led by Unseld and fellow future Hall of Famer Elvin Hayes, played exhibition games against the Chinese national team and the People's Liberation Army's Bayi team. The Americans were also shown historic sites, including the Forbidden City, Tiananmen Square and the Great Wall.

Since then, basketball in China has boomed, thanks in part to Chinese star Yao Ming of the Houston Rockets. State television began showing NBA games in the late 1980s, and in 2004 the Rockets and Sacramento Kings played the league's first games in China, a pair of preseason exhibitions.

Teams and sponsors have also found a lucrative market for merchandise in China's surging economy, and NBA stars LeBron James, Kobe Bryant and Dwight Howard receive rapturous receptions from fans during regular offseason visits.

Author: Fox Sports
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Added: August 26, 2009


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