When Patrick Baumann, the late secretary general of the International Basketball Federation (Fiba), gave his opening address to the World Basketball Summit in the Chinese city of Xi’an at the start of October, he said the conference marked the start of a 10-year journey. In a typically enterprising speech, Baumann challenged those in the room to make basketball the most popular sport in the world by the time of the Los Angeles Olympics in 2028.
Tragically, his death just a few days after the summit robbed him of the chance to see his crusade through, but if there was any solace to be found in his untimely passing, it was that the collaborative tone of the conference represented a fitting end for a career that was defined by an emphasis on the collective.
The presence of luminaries like NBA commissioner Adam Silver and Chinese Basketball Association president Yao Ming at the event bore testimony to Baumann’s ability to galvanise some of the most powerful figures from the sport.
“I think we genuinely feel that affection for each other and feel that what is good in one country, one league or federation, supports the game overall,” said Silver in a joint panel discussion with Baumann and Yao Ming. “We’re competing against other sports, but maybe more importantly, we’re competing against other forms of leisure and entertainment and our main mission is to get young people all over the world to play this great game.”
Baumann said the choice of Xi’an, a former Silk Road city, as the location for the event was appropriate because it represented a focal point for relationships between the East and the West. He looked forward to the Fiba World Cup in China next year, expressing his hope that national basketball would continue to provide a gateway for new audiences to discover the sport.
“The driving force is the name of the country on the front of the shirt,” he said. “It talks to people who don’t follow the game normally.”
The conference heard from advocates of 3×3 basketball, the shorter variant of the game championed by Baumann because it gave smaller nations the chance to compete on an equal footing with the superpowers of the sport. Italian Rae Lin D’Alie, a Women’s 3×3 World Champion, and Myagmarjav Luvsandash, president of the Mongolian 3×3 association, spoke about the increased opportunities for success and basketball development provided by the new format.
Speaking after the conference, George Raveling, former director of international basketball for Nike, and a fellow 3×3 advocate, thought Baumann’s international outlook would be his greatest legacy.
“I believe that when historians write this era of basketball, his name will be one of the first mentioned,” he said. “The impact that he’s had on the globalisation of basketball will be indelible.
“He contributed in a variety of impactful ways and I think one of his biggest strengths was he was a visionary, but he didn’t just have a vision. He had a commitment to make the vision a reality.”
Here are some other highlights from the Fiba World Basketball Summit:
Adam Silver thinks esports offer NBA the chance to be a ‘truly global league’
In a stellar panel that brought him together with Baumann and CBA president Yao Ming, NBA commissioner Adam Silver said esports offered the NBA the chance to be a ‘truly global league’.
While the NBA China Games were disruptive to players and team schedules, he thought esports competitions like the NBA 2K League offered the opportunity to easily schedule fixtures across time zones.
“I can imagine a scenario in arenas where the Xi’an team is competing directly against the Houston team and they’re competing in a virtual way and that what’s technology will allow for.”
Baumann said esports, like 3×3 basketball, provided consumers with an alternative way to engage with the sport.
“There are people who are interested in our sport through esports, and through that digital community we need to grab them,” he said. “There are people out there that don’t want to be in a traditional, typical structure and we should provide them with a home.”
Yao Ming said the CBA was “just a little baby” where the application of technology was concerned, but he hoped the CBA’s relationship with media company Tencent would help it to mature in this respect.
Looking ahead to the 2019 Fiba World Cup in China, the retired basketball player and former NBA All-Star also stressed the importance of the national team to the growth of basketball in China.
“We have a lot to do,” he said. “We need to build a perfect training system that can turn out top players on a constant basis. In the USA you have the NBA and NCAA, so there are a limitless and boundless supply of good trainers and top players. We need to do a lot of manual and detailed work so that we can reach the top of the pyramid.”
Wasserman says sport is ‘on the precipice’ of monetising social media
Celebrated sports agent and Wasserman Group chairman and chief executive Casey Wasserman said sport was on the cusp of monetising social media. “That’s not really happened yet,” he said.
He envisioned a point in which companies like Nike would use players to ‘distribute and sell’ products and referenced the way the NBA was using social media to promote fourth-quarter streaming.
Wasserman said the NBA deserved credit for the way it had embraced social media and had optimised its product for mobile audiences.
“They are leaning into what the future of a broadcast looks like more than any other league and that will benefit them,” he said. “If you have the NBA app on your phone, the mobile view is better and different on your phone than it is just watching a stream of a traditional broadcast. Basketball is the perfect product for where the world is and where the world is going technologically.”
Participation in China not where Nike would like it to be
Although enthusiasm for basketball is huge in China, Craig Zanon, global head of basketball at Nike, said participation in the country was not where the brand wanted it to be.
He said Nike worked with Fiba and China basketball to bring the Fiba World Cup to the country and would use the event as a ‘springboard’ to elevate the game there. The brand was now developing new apparel and footwear that it would launch in conjunction with the Chinese national team at an innovation summit leading up to the World Cup.
“We leverage our brand positioning and our marketing horsepower, and the design is we can galvanise this nation through our marketing efforts around the China national team, around basketball and around the joy of sport.”
Of the company’s global marketing efforts, Zanon referenced the way Nike had created a collection of products for the upcoming Uncle Drew movie, which expands on a series of short-form branded videos by Pepsi and NBA player Kyrie Irving.
Tencent relies on AI bots to write basketball news
In a disheartening presentation for the journalists in the room, Tencent vice-president Caitlyn Chen explained how the Chinese media company has developed an AI bot to generate basketball news stories. Chen said it took a human writer an average of 28 minutes to write a formulaic match report whereas it takes its Dreamwriter bot just 0.94 seconds to write a similar story.
She said the technology was necessary to provide users with a ‘diversified’ content offering and keep them engaged. Tencent, which has media deals with the NBA, Fiba and the CBA, has conducted audience research which revealed only 22 per cent of audiences in China watch a basketball match in its entirety, placing an even greater importance on providing users with an enhanced viewing experience.
According to the same research, 71.5 per cent of audiences use a mobile phone to watch sport in China and that there is a growing number of female basketball fans in the country.
“Out of 10 boys there are three who would be interested in basketball,” she said. “For women, out of 10, there would be five who are very interested in basketball games.”