NEW YORK -- More people are watching the NBA in China than when Yao Ming played.
The league said Thursday that its schedule of games during its Chinese New Year celebration was watched by 96 million viewers in China, continuing its strong performance there even after the retirement of the country's greatest basketball star.
The first Chinese New Year event ran from Jan. 21-28 and featured a 21-game broadcast schedule. The games attracted 79 million viewers on the NBA's television partners in China, while another 17 million watched games and special programming on digital platforms.
Live games on CCTV5 are up 39 percent compared to the same period last year. The league drew more viewers last year on TV and digital than ever before, even as Yao's NBA career was coming to a close because of injuries. More than 1,300 games were available last season on TV, digital and mobile.
"We just concluded our strongest year ever on several fronts, and our Chinese fans' consumption of NBA basketball continues to climb at a strong pace," NBA China CEO David Shoemaker said.
The league also said its products are available in more than 25,000 retail locations in China, and that it was 41 million followers on Chinese social media -- up from 16 million when Yao retired last summer.
The NBA has long been popular in China, where more than 300 million people played basketball before the 2008 Olympics in Beijing. The league had been staging preseason games there in the last few years, though international play was scrapped this season because of the lockout.