The NBA will announce today that the Denver Nuggets will be playing the first ever exhibition game in Taipei on October 8, 2009. The Nuggets will face off against the Indiana Pacers at the Taipei Arena.
There are two things that come to mind when I read this release. First of all, from a basketball perspective I do not think it is ever good when your team has to travel thousands of miles to play a game. That is a long trip and it will take time for the Nuggets to recover once they return. The NBA has played games in Asia in the past and they seem to do a pretty good job of scheduling a long break for any team who is returning from a trip to that part of the world. I am sure the Nuggets and Pacers will have a week without any additional preseason games once they come back from Taipei, but it will still be a physically draining experience that might impact their ability to practice for a few days after their return to Denver.
The other interesting thing I noticed is that there are two references to Taiwan in the press release. Taiwan is a country on the island of Formosa off of the coast of China. The nationalist forces of Chiang Kai-shek fled there after being defeated by the Communist forces of Mao Zedong in 1949 marking an end to the Chinese Civil War. Communist China has never recognized Taiwan as a legitimate country and they throw a hissy fit whenever someone in the international community refers to Taiwan as Taiwan or the Repulbic of China.
The two governments struck a compromise that would allow Taiwan to participate in international competition as long as they are referred to as Chinese Taipei.
Now, when the NBA says the Nuggets and Pacers will play in Taipei, they are referring to a city in Taiwan and using the term that Communist China prefers. The NBA press release announcing the game there did not mention where Taipei is thus not mentioning Taiwan. However, in a quote from Tim Chen, the NBA Greater China CEO, has the following quote:
“October 8th will be an historic day for the NBA and for the millions of basketball fans in Taiwan,” said NBA Greater China CEO Tim Chen. “Taiwan fans are very passionate about the game and we are honored to be able to present a matchup of these two great teams for them.”
I find it interesting that in the bulk of the press release the NBA almost goes out of its way to avoid mentioning Taiwan, but then the man who you would expect to be the most sensitive to the issues involving using the name Taiwan says it twice.
I am never as smart as I think I am so I am probably reading something into this that is not there, but I would think Chen’s use of the term Taiwan is intentional. His use of Taiwan could be a slap in the face of the government of Communist China or it might be no big deal at all. I tend to think it would be considered the former due to the effort Communist China has gone to prevent Taiwan from being considered Taiwan for decades.
In m y mind it certainly is possible Chen is challenging China by his use of the term Taiwan. We have seen Ping Pong Diplomacy in China that lead to the normalization of relations between the United States and China in the 1970′s. Could some roundball diplomacy lead to some normalization of relations between the People’s Republic of China and Taiwan?