On a recent Sunday afternoon, a basketball fan in a Cleveland Cavaliers jersey took his seat for a preseason NBA game in a sold-out arena. This would have been unremarkable if not for the fact the game was taking place 5,000 miles away from U.S. shores and the Cavaliers weren't even part of it.

This year’s NBA Japan Games were a marketing executive’s dream, mobilizing fans and wallets and further marrying the league’s brand with the sport’s growing popularity internationally. Scores of people packed in to watch a pair of preseason games between the Washington Wizards — featuring Rui Hachimura, one of two Japanese players in the league — and the reigning champion Golden State Warriors. The crowd went nuts anytime Hachimura touched the ball.

All of it was organized by the NBA and Rakuten Group Inc., the Japanese e-commerce giant that's been leveraging its sponsorship of the Warriors to build name recognition in the United States. The company signed up with the team in 2017 at a cost of $20 million a year. That deal featured a logo patch on players’ jerseys and a partnership around merchandising. Rakuten and the Warriors renewed and expanded their pact in May — excellent timing because the team won the championship a month later.