Hard to believe our nation's star athletes have time to go to the gym and practice jumpshots or whatever, what with all their marketing strategy meetings and reality shows and plotting to invade China like the second coming of opium. Sports stars and their sponsors have known for years that China is the market of the future-"If only 1% of Chinese buy our sneakers, that's $300 million more in revenue blah blah..." just like every other business in the world. But the Olympics have whet athletes' appetites even more. They want to rule China. The question is, why is China letting them do it?

The Olympics were an eye-opener to some foreign athletes visiting China. Hundreds of millions of Chinese tuned into the games on television, and Kobe Bryant, the popular Los Angeles Lakers player, was greeted everywhere he went in Beijing to chants of "Kobe! Kobe! Kobe!" Sales of his National Basketball Association jersey - and those of eight other N.B.A. stars, including Mr. Wade - top even those of China's own basketball giant, Yao Ming.

What's with this lack of xenophobia? America didn't come to be the world's economic powerhouse by buying up the jerseys of foreigners. One sports marketing executive in China says the whole business is "extremely imperial," which is rather impolitic considering the context. But he does hint at the psychological aspect of the issue: "Anyone who can't be the emperor of basketball or the queen of tennis won't make it." The Chinese better step up their own basketball and tennis games quickly, or they may risk funneling money out of their own country to support their own middle class' taste for foreign goods. Hey, that's what we do! [NYT]