MIAMI—At a Nike event in Shanghai last summer LeBron James was embraced like visiting royalty. He recently added a multimillion-dollar promotion forDunkin' Donuts in China.
At the post-game press conferences for the NBA Finals, Dwyane Wade, who also has endorsement deals in China, can be seen flashing his Swiss-made Hublot watches.
And it's no accident either
The Heat have been one of the most aggressive teams in cultivating business interests and partnerships internationally, particularly in China (Tsingtao beer became a major sponsor this season) and Latin America.
With a roster of superstars, who pitch products around the globe, it's no wonder the eyes of the world are focused on South Florida this week with three games of the NBA Finals at AmericanAirlines Arena between the Heat and Oklahoma City Thunder.
"Being in the Finals helps fuel what has really become a global phenomenon for us," said Eric Woolworth, the Heat's president of business operations. "And it's phenomenal for this community too, by the way."
More fans than ever have tuned into the Finals around the world, watching the games live in 215 nations and territories in 47 languages on television, computers, mobile phones and tablets. A record 278 million are following on social media, many of them on the NBA's 11 international Facebook pages.
The value of the worldwide exposure is impossible to quantify, but tourism officials are delighted, as are the Heat and their sponsors.
"We've got Dwayne Wade doing a postgame interview that's being seen all over the world wearing his Hublot watch," Woolworth said. "When you're Hublot, you just can't buy that kind of exposure."
Bill Talbert III, president of the Greater Miami Convention & Visitors Bureau, said his wife watched one of the games last week in a hotel in Rio de Janeiro where the commentary was in Portuguese.
"It's just priceless coverage. I don't have money to buy all this coverage," Talbert said. "And it's all beauty shots. It's an infomercial for Miami."
The NBA's wildfire-like spread of popularity internationally in recent years is due to advances in technology, including high-definition television, the Internet and social media, according to Steve Hellmuth, executive vice president of operations and technology for NBA Entertainment. It has made stars such as LeBron familiar to fans in far-flung regions and made those fans feel a part of the action.
The international feed Sunday included a montage of photos of backyard and playground basketball hoops sent by fans througout the world.
"The remarkable thing about the game is that it transmits so wonderfully," said Hellmuth.
And how are LeBron and the Heat viewed internationally? The Heat's Facebook page has 6.1 million friends, half of them from outside the continental U.S., Woolworth said. LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh received worldwide attention in the Olympics and, along with Shane Battier, have endorsement deals in China.
In Turkey, fans set their alarms to get up at 3 or 4 a.m. to watch the games live, said Kaan Kural, who is part of more than a dozen foreign broadcast teams describing the action for viewers in their countries from an upper corner of AmericanAirlines Arena.
"It's probably the most watched event after soccer events," said Kural, noting that Turkish interest skyrocketed after Hedo Turkoglu began playing in the NBA.
"The NBA represents what all the dreams are for the young players from our counties. It's the top level in the world," said Belgium TV's Jacques Stas, a former professional player.
The video footage that is seen throughout the world comes from the basic feed produced by ABC. That is processed for international distribution in a truck crammed with monitors outside the arena by NBA Entertainment. Replay packages, features and statistics are added to fill gaps occupied by commercials and network promos on American TV that aren't shown elsewhere.
"We cover the huddles, we cover the in-arena entertainment, which is of great interest around the world. We do a continuous feed so that their broadcasters can take whatever part of it that they want," said Hellmuth.
The most sophisticated and interactive foreign coverage is provided by China's CCTV, which gives fans a chance to vote up to three times per game on its website CNTV.cn as to which player they want the "Star Cam" isolation camera to focus on.
India's Ten Sports is broadcasting onsite and also chronicling the experiences of two fans who won trips to the Finals through the "NBA's Biggest Fan" trivia program.
The games are being shown in 48 European nations and territories, as well as in Asia and Africa, Australia and New Zealand, the Caribbean and Latin America. They are on live in movie theaters in seven Mexican cities. The Phillipines are No.1 in NBA-related Facebook and Twitter activity outside the United States.
Even the Middle East is tuning in via Al Jazeera.
"With the Internet generation, everybody is well informed as compared to 10 to 15 years ago," said George Eddy, who broadcast the Finals for the first time on French TV in 1991, when Italy and Mexico were the only other foreign countries broadcasting them. "Everybody is an expert now."