(Joe Murphy/NBAE/Getty Images)
The Chinese media use an acronym to describe the Spurs’ Big Three.
“GDP,” says Dong Wang, sports anchor for Best TV in Shanghai. “That stands for Ginobili, Duncan and Parker. These three players are very, very popular in China.”
“There are posters of them everywhere,” Dong says. “If you asked Tim Duncan to go to China right now, he could not go to any street because he would be surrounded and mobbed by people who would be asking for autographs.”
The Spurs enjoy a large following in China, Dong says, and not just in the major cities of Shanghai, Beijing and Guangzhou. “Even people in second or third tier cities, like local, inland cities, recognize the Spurs,” Dong says.
Dong is one global voice in a sea of hundreds at the AT&T Center. Approximately 350 international media members from 34 countries are covering the NBA Finals. Dong and his peers say they enjoy reporting on the Spurs and their We-Are-The-World roster of nine international players.
Consider Greek broadcaster Rigas Dardalis, who has a special affinity for Spurs center Aron Baynes of Australia. Dardalis once served as the press officer for Ikaros Kallitheas, the team Baynes played for in Greece during 2011-12. “I dealt with him every day,” Dardalis says “He’s an excellent guy. A sleeper. The Spurs made an excellent move by signing him.”
It is fitting the internationally-flavored Spurs find themselves under a global television lens, their series with the Miami Heat watched by viewers in 215 countries and territories in 47 languages.
One unscientific measure of the Spurs’ global popularity can be gleaned from social media. Of the team’s 1.66 million Facebook friends, more than 900,000 hail from outside the U.S. There are 160,000 Facebook friends from Argentina, home of Manu Ginobili, and 53,000 friends from France, home of Tony Parker, Boris Diaw and Nando De Colo.
The country with the largest contingent of Facebook friends may surprise.
There are no Filipinos on the Spurs roster, but there are 212,000 friends from the Philippines.
Predictably, the Spurs claims tens of thousands of Facebook friends from Canada (which produced Cory Joseph), Brazil (Tiago Splitter) and Australia (Baynes and Patty Mills). But they also claim tens of thousands from Mexico, Indonesia and Taiwan, nations without a single Spurs player.
The Silver and Black have no player or coaching connection to China. But Dong says the Chinese marvel at the cohesiveness and success of the team.
“The Spurs are fantastic,” says Dong, who is covering his third NBA Finals for Best TV. “They are such an organized team. They are well behaved, well disciplined. Under the influence of coach Gregg Popovich, their demonstration of a collective team effort to make things happen, and the style of basketball they play -- we love it. We love it.”
Dardalis, the Greek journalist, echoes the sentiment.
“The Spurs are very popular in Greece,” he says. “I will tell you this. We get emails after we broadcast the games, and without exaggerating, 80 percent of the ones we get during the Finals are from fans rooting for the Spurs. Only 20 percent are rooting for the Heat.”
Basketball exploded in popularity in Greece during the 1980s. First, Dardalis explains, the Greek national team won its first FIBA European Basketball Championship in 1987. Then, fans became captivated by the NBA and its top stars: Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson and Larry Bird.
Two decades later, Dardalis explains, Greek fans have fallen for another NBA star, one who plays in San Antonio.
“Manu Ginobili has beaten us as a member of the Argentinian team many times,” Dardalis says. “But he’s the only guy that, well, we like him to beat us. He’s such a good guy, an excellent guy. Everybody sees the way he acts inside and outside the court and everybody loves Manu.”
The Greeks also love another Spurs legend. “In Greece, we have success as a basketball country because we pay attention to details and to fundamentals,” Dardalis says. “So Tim Duncan is a perfect guy. He is the dream of every coach in Greece, the dream of every fan. He is the ideal basketball player because he does exactly what he’s supposed to do at the exact moment.
“He’s a perfect pick-and-roll player. He knows how to shoot that famous jump shot using the glass. He’s a good defender. A good rebounder. A good shot blocker. He’s good at everything. So we love Duncan.”
The world seems to love him, the rest of the Spurs and the Heat, too. Millions upon millions in 215 countries and territories are tuning in.