Riding the wave of enthusiasm for basketball star Yao Ming, Internet company Sohu.com last week officially launched a Chinese-language site devoted to the National Basketball Association (NBA). 'Yao's popularity has been a major contributory factor to the launch of our site,' Sohu chief operating officer Victor Koo said. 'Of males between 15 and 64, 57 per cent consider themselves fans of the NBA. Over the past two weeks, without promotion, we have had one million page views.' The site offers real-time notes and scores of NBA games, clips and highlights, analysis, features, biographies and a database - but not live coverage, for which fans still have to tune into state television's sports channel and 13 provincial stations. The 2.26-metre Yao, from Shanghai, started playing last October for the Houston Rockets and has become a hero in his home country, helped by averaging 12.9 points and eight rebounds a game. He is the first Chinese to have secured a regular place in an NBA team, and is one of 67 players from 35 foreign countries in the league. Mr Koo said the new site would give fans real-time access, whereas they had to wait before. 'We would probably have done this without Yao, but he is the icing on the cake,' he said. NBA Asia managing director Michael Denzel said that Yao had adapted quickly to the United States game, raising his standard faster than many had expected. Yao uses an interpreter. 'Such a player comes once in a generation. He is one of the tallest players in the NBA. He has height, mobility and the ability to shoot,' Mr Denzel said. 'He could play for 15 years. His personality - intelligent and straightforward - has endeared him to fans off the court. 'But the teams play 82 games, seven per fortnight, against four in China. It is a long season,' he said. This popularity has been translated into many offers of sponsorship and marketing for Yao. Mr Denzel said that Reebok had launched NBA shoes in China in December and that the NBA would launch caps, uniforms and T-shirts in retail outlets in April and May. A replica of the jersey that Yao wears for the Houston Rockets will cost US$45 to US$50. China is already the biggest market outside North America for NBA basketballs manufactured by Spalding. Mr Denzel said an average of 15 million Chinese watched NBA games broadcast on state television's sports channel - five million for the live game in the morning and 10 million for the repeat. He said retail distribution had lagged the NBA's coverage on television and in the written media. The biggest sports store on Wangfujing, Beijing's main shopping street, with four floors, has merchandise and posters of soccer stars Michael Owen, David Beckham and Rivaldo and tennis star Monica Seles - but no posters or uniforms of Yao. Sohu, now in its sixth year of operation, is listed on the Nasdaq. China has an estimated 58 million Internet users.