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Since then, basketball's popularity in China has soared. State television began showing NBA games in the late 1980s, and in 2004 the Houston Rockets and Sacramento Kings played the league's first games ever in China, a pair of preseason exhibitions.
Teams and sponsors have also found a lucrative market for their merchandise in China's booming economy, and current NBA stars such as LeBron James, Kobe Bryant, and Dwight Howard receive rapturous receptions from fans during their regular offseason visits.
Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
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