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 the coming week won'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 is hectic, with VIP receptions, a trip to the Great Wall of China and other excursions planned. 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, one that lasted a little more than 14 hours. The Heat landed around 9:30 p.m. local time.
Heat guard Mario Chalmers remembered to turn his phone's international plans on before leaving the U.S. Apparently, he forgot to account for the time difference halfway around the world — tweeting that he slept for about 11 hours on the plane, meaning he was rested and refreshed around what would have figured to be bedtime in China.
"I ain't gettin no sleep tonight," Chalmers wrote.
If he was groggy Tuesday morning (still Monday night in the U.S.), when the Heat held their first practice in China, it didn't show. Photos posted to social media sites by the team showed Chalmers was just fine when he left the team hotel for the buses. Later Tuesday, the Heat were planning to take about six hours to visit the Great Wall.
"We're looking forward to the opportunity," Heat guard Dwyane Wade said. "I think as an organization, as players individually, once we get over there it will be a great opportunity to continue to grow our game."
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 Monday night. 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."
It would seem like he's ready for his preseason debut. Another photo released by the Heat on Tuesday morning showed Wade dunking in practice — a sign that his knee is just fine.
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.
Sure, it's a logistical challenge, but Spoelstra isn't worried.
"There's a lot of good things about trips like this with the NBA, and that's why we're looking forward to it," Spoelstra said. "If we didn't have this training camp I'd be thinking that this is a tough thing, a lot of distractions and so forth. But we've had a full training camp. Now we get to go away, together, and spend an inordinate amount of time around each other in a place that's a little bit out of our comfort zone. That usually is good for team-building."
Those meals might create a team memory or two as well.
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 Heat 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."
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