Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping wrapped up his four-day U.S. visit in Southern California style — in a box seat at the Los Angeles Lakers' game against the Phoenix Suns on Friday night.
Expected to become president of the world's most populous nation next year, Xi began the final day of his U.S. visit at a downtown trade conference hosted by the Chinese Ministry of Commerce and then accompanied Vice President Joe Biden to a suburban school in South Gate that specializes in Asian studies.
The day ended at Staples Center, across the street from the JW Marriott at LA Live, where Xi was staying. He entered the arena on a red carpet toward the end of halftime, then watched the entire third quarter and part of the fourth alongside Gov. Jerry Brown and Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa as the Lakers beat the Suns 111-99.
Xi and his party then left for the airport.
During the game, Villaraigosa presented Xi with a Lakers jersey that had his name on the back. Former Lakers star Magic Johnson came up to the suite to meet him, as did Los Angeles Galaxy soccer player David Beckham.
Kobe Bryant, who scored 18 of his 36 points in the third period while Xi was in the building, had a pair of autographed shoes sent up to the Chinese dignitary.
The NBA has been enormously popular in China since the arrival of 7-foot-6 center Yao Ming, who spent eight seasons with the Houston Rockets before retiring in July. On Thursday, the league announced that its 21-game broadcast schedule during the Chinese New Year celebration in China from Jan. 21-28 was watched by 96 million viewers there — 79 million on the league's television partners in China, and another 17 million on digital platforms.
The recent success of Jeremy Lin, an American-born point guard from Harvard who has had a phenomenal two-week run with the New York Knicks, has only added to the NBA's popularity in China. Lin is the first American-born NBA player of Chinese or Taiwanese descent.
The league staged preseason games in China the previous few years, although international play was scrapped this season because of the lockout.
A number of NBA players who became free agents at the end of last season played in China during the 149-day lockout, including J.R. Smith, Wilson Chandler and Kenyon Martin.