TOKYO - Japanese fans of U.S. basketball paid as much as $350 a seat to watch two exhibition games and National Basketball Association stars such as Shaquille O'Neal and Charles Barkley.
In all, 14 NBA players will participate in the games on Wednesday and Thursday night, including 10 all-stars.
NBA games have long been very popular in Japan, with some televised live. But this is being billed as the first offseason, all-star exhibition game ever played outside the United States.
By the evening, 70 percent of the 38,000 seats in Tokyo Dome had been sold, including all 500 of the $350 courtside seats.
During a news conference Monday, the Houston Rockets' Barkley said he came up with an idea to play the games in Japan and invited some players to join in.
Besides O'Neal of the Los Angeles Lakers, participants include Houston's Clyde Drexler, Miami's Alonzo Mourning, Charlotte's Glen Rice, and Atlanta's Dikembe Mutombo.
"I wouldn't invite anybody I don't like," a relaxed Barkley said with a laugh.
The players will be split into two teams - one led by Barkley and the other by O'Neal.
Seattle's three players - Shawn Kemp, Gary Payton and Detlef Schrempf - will be on Team Shaquille and seek revenge against Team Barkley, which includes him and Houston teammate Clyde Drexler. Seattle lost to Houston in the second round of the NBA playoffs in May.
During the news conference, some players were asked about the dispute that Kemp, Seattle's power forward, is having with his team.
Kemp, who did not attend the press conference, demanded a trade after the Sonics were eliminated in the second round of the playoffs, saying he was unhappy with the way he was being treated by the team. Under his contract, which runs through 2003 and cannot be altered before Oct. 8, he is scheduled to make $3.6 million in the 1997-98 season.
Payton said he and Schrempf are doing their best to talk Kemp out of leaving the team.
"Hopefully he will be with us, and I think he will," Payton said. "It's just a little tension going on between him and the Sonics right now."
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