MANILA, Philippines (AP) The Indiana Pacers and the Houston Rockets are in the Philippines to treat overseas fans to the first NBA game in this basketball-crazy Southeast Asian nation.
Both teams flew in early Monday ahead of the NBA’s preseason Global Games in the Philippines on Thursday evening.
Basketball is the country’s most popular sport and the NBA game has created a buzz on social media and radio and TV, with tickets going on sale months in advance.
“We’re just excited to come over to play the game and give Filipinos a great show,” Houston Rockets guard James Harden said.
The Rockets squad for the games in the Philippines and Taiwan includes Jeremy Lin, the league’s first American-born player of Taiwanese descent. The Indiana Pacers roster features Danny Granger and NBA All-Stars Paul George, Roy Hibbert and David West.
Organizers said the game is part of the NBA’s comprehensive global schedule that will have eight teams play in eight cities in six countries this October. After Manila, the Rockets and Pacers play in Taipei on Sunday.
In the Global Games series, there will be 12 teams playing outside the U.S. and Canada, the most ever, and the league will play regular-season games in two countries beyond those for the first time.
There are stops in old standbys and first-time trips to cities in Brazil and Spain that will be hosting major international competitions in the next few years.
The Philippines tops the list of countries following the NBA on Facebook and Twitter outside the United States, the organizers said. Additionally, the NBA each year conducts local events in the Philippines, including the Jr. NBA program, which has reached more than 60,000 students, parents and coaches over the past five years, and NBA 3X, the league’s global fan event.
A total of 16,000 tickets went on sale for Thursday’s game at the seaside Mall of Asia Arena, with premium seats going for 32,300 pesos ($751) and the cheapest 550 pesos ($12), in a country where wrenching poverty affects a third of the population of 96 million.