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Long Island Nets almost played games in China last year, says G League chief

Greensboro Swarm vs Long Island Nets Photo by Michael J. LeBrecht II /NBAE via Getty Images

The G League wants go international. They originally planned to field a team in Mexico City this coming season and hope for an international expansion over the next five years. And last year, the league wanted to send the Long Island Nets to China.

On this week’s “The LIneup” podcast, co-hosted by J. Alton Byrd, Long Island’s vice president of business operations, he and Shareef Abdul-Rahim, the NBA G League President, talked about how they wanted Nets G League team to play some games in China before last October’s “China Games,” which pitted the Brooklyn Nets vs. the Lakers.

“Alton [Byrd] and I talked a lot last season when the Brooklyn Nets were going to China, we had an idea of taking the Long Island Nets ahead of that to China to play games against some CBA teams. Some things broke down there that did not allow us to do that but opportunities like that are right of us.”

Their idea was to have the Nets G League affiliate play games against Chinese Basketball Association teams. Neither Byrd nor Abdur-Rahim provided details. Joe Tsai has been heavily involved in bringing both collegiate and NBA teams to China. He has pushed Alibaba’s sponsorship of the PAC-12’s annual China game as well as serving on the board of NBA China.

The disappointment in not getting Long Island to China has not deterred Abdur-Rahim. He emphasized the importance of making the G League more international in talking with Byrd. He wants to establish a larger global footprint and is hopeful that international players commit to the G League as a new route to their aspiring NBA dreams.

“We want a larger global footprint,” Abdul-Raheem said on the podcast. “We haven’t truly started scratching the surface of appeal we can have from a global standpoint. Attracting international players directly to the G League as their pipeline and their jump to the NBA.

“We are starting to do that but we haven’t really started scratching the surface of that yet.

The “China Games” between the Nets and Lakers of course became highly political after then Rockets GM Daryl Morey tweeted out a message in support of democratic activists in Hong Kong which enraged the Chinese government.

The controversy led to the boycott of NBA TV games on CCTV-5, China’s big sports channel, and almost resulted in the cancellation of the China Games. The boycott ended in the Finals but there’s no agreement on whether the NBA will return to CCTV-5 once the new season begins next month.

Tsai, who took over the Nets later that month, tried to explain China’s position in a Facebook post, but was heavily criticized for calling HK protestors “separatists.” (It would appear that the Morey controversy had nothing to do with the Nets G League team traveling to China. That trip was supposed take place before the NBA arrived. The Nets arrival in Shanghai came just as China began reacting to the GM’s tweet.)

Abdur-Rahim also called the Nets “one of the leaders” in the G League.

“The Long Island Nets and the Brooklyn Nets organization is really one of our leaders as being an example of how an NBA organization totally integrates, drives, and uses the platform of the G League,” Abdur-Rahim told “The LIneup,” which is hosted by WRHU, Hofstra’s student radio station.

In the bubble, seven of the Nets 14 players spent time in Long Island or with another G League affiliate team last season: Justin Anderson, Chris Chiozza, Donta Hall, Rodions Kurucs, Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot, Jeremiah Martin, and Dzanan Musa.

Abdur-Rahim also laid out his long-term priorities for the G League.

“Today, the focus has been around basketball,” Abdur-Raheem said. “In five years from now, we want to have a greater emphasis on the value of our team business. How our partners can understand how connecting with our team businesses add value to them. How communities engage with our teams. We want greater emphasis on that and define that more.

“We want to lead more around innovation that is happening around our teams and around our league in forms of new ticket selling strategies, be at the forefront of what is being discussed what is being discussed about the G League always leaning in on who we are as a basketball resource but we want that to be in the forefront more.”

“From a digital standpoint - how we reach fans and how we reach folks that build that infrastructure, we really have the opportunity to build ourselves out as a digital first league. In five years from now, we want to look back and look at all the ways this generation of basketball fans connected to the G League.