MIAMI (AP) — LeBron James is visiting China for the ninth time, which makes him one of the resident Miami Heat experts about the world's most populous nation.
Specifically, the food choices there.
“If anyone comes back with any body fat from this trip, then I don't know what they were doing on their free time,” said James, the NBA's MVP.
So maybe it's fortunate that this doesn't exactly include a ton of free time for the Heat, who arrived in Beijing on Monday night for a weeklong trip.
The reigning league champions play the Los Angeles Clippers twice during the NBA China Games, starting in Beijing on Thursday and then again Sunday in Shanghai.
“Should be fun,” James said. “It's a very long trip to be bonding together but we're going to use it and not waste an opportunity.”
The itinerary has been hectic, with VIP receptions, a trip to the Great Wall of China and other excursions. The Heat are trying to ensure that players and personnel have time to experience some elements of Chinese culture on their own.
“You only have these type of opportunities so often,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said.
“You want to take advantage of it. This is the preseason. We understand the big picture. It's a great program that the NBA runs when you have an opportunity to play overseas. Our last trip was tremendous when we went to Europe. Great team-building — and you get to see another part of the world and do it together.''
The Heat played games in France and England during the 2008 preseason against the Nets, who then called New Jersey home.
Miami left on Saturday for Atlanta, played the Hawks there in the preseason opener for both teams on Sunday afternoon, then boarded a charter for the flight to Beijing, lasting a little more than 14 hours.
“We're looking forward to the opportunity,” guard Dwyane Wade said.
Wade did not play in Atlanta on Sunday as he continues recovering from offseason knee surgery. He is hopeful of playing at least once in China and went for a late-night workout after the plane landed.
He remembers what those Nets-Heat games were like in Europe four years ago and said the element of facing the same team twice in the span of a few days helps raise the competitive bar a bit, even in an exhibition.
“The second one was a little bit more of a grind-out game, where you really wanted to win,” Wade said.
“The first game will be fun and will give the fans a show. The second one's going to be a little more intense. Guys will want to get at it and try to win. No doubt, you need some competitive situations. You need to be pushed, you need to feel fatigued, all those things.”
The NBA allows teams that are traveling internationally during the preseason to open camp a few days earlier than everyone else, which, Spoelstra said, was helpful.
Chinese culinary options can seem unique, even though some on the trip are quick to point out there are American fast-food restaurants all over Beijing. But, for those with more adventurous palates, some unusual choices can be had.
“I'm sure we're going to eat some funky meals where we can all say, ‘Oh, that was nasty,’” said forward Shane Battier, who has endorsed the Chinese shoe brand Peak since 2006. “Those experiences are good. And for guys who have never been to China before, it'll be fun to see their reaction. And those things, I think, can build a team.”