Tag Archives: Li Ning

The good, the bad and the unexpected of CBA All-Star Weekend

March 1, 2013

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Jumping around a mininature car shoe whose hood is 5 inches off the ground equals “bad.”

OK, we’ll admit: Our recap of All-Star Weekend sucked this year. In part, that’s because our opinion from the 2011 Beijing edition has already been aired out loud and clear. But mostly it’s because our guy at Shark Fin Hoops, Andrew Crawford, made the journey down to sunny and warm Guangzhou last weekend to take in the festivities first-hand and to write us a report. Here’s the good, the bad and the unexpected from his Southern journey.

And if that’s not enough All-Star coverage for you, James Howden has a great write-up over on his blog about the game as well.

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Dwyane Wade to play in China post-NBA?

March 1, 2013

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Dwyane-Wade-Li-Ning-01

After a lot of talk about their lack of size, rebounding and and off-and-on play, the Miami Heat are rolling as they enter the month of March. Currently on a 12 game win streak, the defending champs lost only one game in February and have won 17 of their last 19 overall.

LeBron James, whose historic play has been the main headline generator in recent weeks, is obviously a major reason for that. But Dwyane Wade, whose supposed athletic decline was brought up by Charles Barkley earlier in the season, has quietly returned to dominance. How is this for a one month stretch: 23.9 points, 6.2 rebounds, 5.5 assists, 2.5 blocks and 1.7 steals and a very efficient 53% shooting clip.

Maybe that explains why Wade, who readers should know signed a multi-year deal with Chinese shoe brand, Li-Ning, over the off-season, has a new nickname, “WOW.” (One that LeBron finds corny, on a side note.) The nickname is referring to “Way of Wade,” which is the slogan for his shoe.

Nickname aside, one thing is clear: For Wade to leave Brand Jordan and join up with Li-Ning, there had to be a lot of money on the table. Just how much? Jalen Rose, on the Grantland Network’s “Jalen Rose Show” with David Jacoby, passes along a rumor that Wade’s deal is worth in the hundreds of millions of dollars and that he has an agreement in place to play in China when his NBA career is over.

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New sponsorships bring new complications to CBA

December 6, 2012

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Beijing’s Lee Hsueh-lin has been one of 12 players to be fined by the league for not wearing Li-Ning shoes during games. The fine comes as a result of the CBA’s new sponsorship deal with the Chinese shoe brand.

It’s been an exciting start to the season, to say the least. Amidst all the ongoing stories, however, the most important to the league long-term are the new deals that the CBA has signed this past summer. After inking a five-year contract with Infront Sports and Media, now the official marketing partner of the CBA, the league scored 23 new sponsorships, headlined by Li-Ning’s massive CNY 4 billion (US $721 million) commitment.

With these contracts comes an unprecedented windfall for the league’s 17 teams. Having previously received a comparatively measly CNY 2 million from the association, each of the league’s 17 teams will now have around CNY 10 million to spend on salaries, stadium improvements (heating comes to mind), and anything team higher-ups decide on. You don’t need us to tell you this is a boon for the league: money means better imports, more experienced coaches, nicer facilities, and by extension, elevated quality of play and a more refined basketball product for all.

Of course, all this good news does not come without its complications. More sponsors means more advertisements, from CCTV-5 broadcasts to on-court exposure. Whether it be the new Li-Ning apparel, advertising boards, or even the Tsingtao Beer cheerleading squads, you can be sure that these sponsors will make their presence known. Taking on these sponsors also means less autonomy for individual clubs, as teams are now left with only two sections near the courtside audience seats of ad space for sale. Apart from ticketing revenue and individual sponsorships like those on some team’s uniforms, all of the CBA is now dependent on the league to cover their operating costs, a questionable practice at best. Another problem is that of rising costs: even with this injection, with some of their revenue producing avenues cut off, teams may still find it hard to produce a profit.

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Dwyane Wade to Li-Ning looks like a done deal

September 10, 2012

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After spending the last three years with Jordan Brand, Dwyane Wade is splitting ways to join up with Li-Ning.

We wrote about Dwyane Wade possibly moving to Chinese shoe brand, Li-Ning, a few weeks ago after reports surfaced in the States that the two-time NBA champion had grown discontented with Nike and Jordan Brand… and now it looks like the move is coming closer to reality.

On Thursday, SneakerWatch wrote a report saying they have “received confirmation that Dwyane Wade will no longer be repping Jordan Brand. Instead Wade has made his way to Chinese brand Li-Ning in a speculated multi-million dollar deal.” On Friday, Ira Winderman of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel followed up with a report confirming the news.

Said Wade when asked for an official comment, “We’re still negotiating, until you get to the point where you decide which way to go. There’s many shoe companies that obviously know that I’m up this summer. But I still have the respect for and the obligation and the willingness to sit down and to the company I’m with.”

No official word can be given out by both player and company, but it certainly appears that this deal is done. But is this deal good?

The answer will depend on how you feel about Wade and his current pecking order in the list of NBA superstars. While he’s now been displaced as The Man in Miami by LeBron James, Wade is still one of the most recognizable players in the league and is far and away the biggest name Li-Ning — or any other Chinese shoe company for that matter — has gotten to wear their shoes.

Yet Wade has never been an elite shoe seller, and now on the wrong side of 30 with a playing style that likely won’t age as gracefully, Li-Ning’s investment could also be seen as a risky one, especially considering since they’ve seen sharp declines over the last two years.

Lance Madden over at Forbes.com has a nice piece weighing the pros and cons of Wade’s decision and is definitely worth the read.

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Dwyane Wade to sign with Li-Ning?

August 19, 2012

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Dwyane Wade looks like he’s set to join Evan Turner at Li-Ning

Is a Chinese shoe company about to sign a major, in-their-prime NBA superstar? Well, if you believe everything you read on Twitter, it certainly sounds like it.

From a dude who knows a thing or two about sneakers, SoleCollector’s Nick DePaula on Friday:

Hearing from several people that Dwyane Wade will likely leave Jordan Brand and sign with Li-Ning. Huge shift.

The news comes after the word that Wade’s current shoe company, Jordan Brand, has cancelled his Fly Wade 3′s and the two sides are reportedly seriously considering a split, with the eight-time All-Star contemplating a switch to Li-Ning.

This isn’t the first time Li-Ning has dipped its toes into the NBA waters. Former and current endorsers include Shaquille O’Neal, Jose Calderon, Baron Davis, Evan Turner and Hasheem Thabeet. It would be the first time, however, that Li-Ning, or any one of the other Chinese sneaker companies (Peak, Anta, 361 Degrees, Qiaodan) would be able to secure a player of Wade’s pedigree.

For a brand that’s been struggling as of late, the addition of Wade may be what it needs to move past what has been a rocky and unprofitable period.

After the 2008 Beijing Olympics, Li-Ning aggressively expanded into the American market, opening an office in Portland, Oregon. But, their ambitions failed to come to fruition as a partnership with Champs Sports ultimately fell through as did plans for retail stores across the United States. As a result, net profit dropped 65% in 2011 and the company was forced to close down its Portland office last February. The company has since relocated to Chicago, where they are in the process of building a strategy that will focus on e-commerce over retail.

Apparently, that strategy built around a top-10 NBA player as well. Wade, although not an elite sneaker seller, still commands respect in the American shoe market and would increase Li-Ning’s credibility among consumers in the American market. In China, he’s a clear second behind LeBron James in the Miami Heat pecking order, but Wade is still a huge name out here and an agreement with Li-Ning would certainly generate some buzz in the PRC. He’s put in work over in the Chinese market over the last few years, coming over to travel the country on summer promotional tours with Brand Jordan. His name has further been enhanced in China from starring on the 2008 Beijing Olympics gold medal American squad.

For Wade, a move to Li-Ning could be more lucrative than sticking with Nike, who has James, Kobe Bryant and Kevin Durant all overshadowing him as the brand’s centerpieces. Things would obviously be much different at Li-Ning, where he’d immediately become the front guy for a company based in the fastest growing market in the world. With the Heat threatening to build a dynasty, Wade — and his new kicks — would be in the forefront of a market that some people stands to make another shoe company, Nike, US $4 billion in revenue off of the team’s “not one, not two, not three, not four…” potential championships.

Since entering the NBA in 2003, Wade has been with Nike subsidiary, Converse, and Jordan Brand , the latter of which he has been with since 2009. His deal with Jordan is worth a reported US $10 million a year.

Wade’s potential signing marks another major event in what has been a busy and expensive summer for Li-Ning. In the Chinese basketball world, the company just recently paid CNY 2 billion to become the official outfitter of the Chinese Basketball Association. The deal starts this season and will last through the next five.

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China – Spain Recap

July 31, 2012

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Yi Jianlian’s game-high 30 points were the highlight of a very respectful performance from the Chinese against Spain. Photo: Sina Sports

China was always a longshot (if a shot at all) in their 2012 Olympics-opening match-up against Spain — also known as the rematch of the 2008 Beijing Olympics preliminary round game that China should have won, but coughed up at the end of regulation before eventually losing in overtime — so it’s tough to feel too down about the 97-81 loss that went down on Sunday night. In fact, people should feel quite the opposite. China played well throughout and kept the game competitive, never once looking overmatched or out of place. Just too much size and skill for Spain, who played tiki-taka in the half-court (an incredible 27 assists on 36 makes) en route to 57% shooting from the field and 11-19 from three.

But there were some positives for Big Red and if they continue to play at this level, they very may well come away with a win (or even two) in the group.  Yi Jianlian was sensational offensively with 30 points and 12 boards, and Chen Jianghua played 30 excellent minutes at the point guard spot. As a team, they only turned the ball over eight times and shot well from the field at nearly 52%.

China plays Russia next at 4:00pm local Beijing time today. If you’re going to miss it, this is your go-to tomorrow and everyday after that.
Here’s eight bullet points, because you know… eight is lucky and all.
  • Is there a guy in this tournament with more irrational confidence than Wang Shipeng? Dude hasn’t played a good stretch of basketball in about eight months, including the entire summer, and then he goes out guns blazing last night and drains every shot he takes in the first quarter (the best of which was a rediculous fadeaway on the left side over Rudy Fernandez that was just…  ridiculous). Good to see Wang back. They’ll need some more performances from him because…
  • Sun Yue did not enjoy one of his better nights. 1-9 from the field, three points and one rebound. He was active on D and came up with four steals, but China needs more from him. Starting with some made lay-ups.
  • If you’re wondering why, based on his performances internationally, why Yi Jianlian hasn’t carved out a niche for himself in the NBA yet, his closeout on Pau Gasol on the three-point line in the first quarter — and the ensuing blow-by that quickly followed it — should provide enough answers for now.
  • That being said though, Yi was great offensively: Perfect from the field in the first half and pretty much unguardable in isolations throughout. We would have liked to see him get to the line more when it mattered (there were a couple of times when he got his man up in the air on a pump fake and chose to fade away instead of drawing contact), but other than that it was pretty tough to come up with anything he could have done better on that end. 
  • How about five assists and zero turnovers for Chen Jianghua, who was thrust into big minutes because of Liu Wei’s foul trouble? We said it in the CBA Finals and during the summer, but it bears repeating now: This guy is the best pure point guard playing in China at the moment. Which is crazy to think about, considering he was once a lightning quick combo guard who couldn’t have played in the half-court at a China KFC 3-on-3 tournament. I don’t think massive knee injuries are ever a good thing, but I do strongly feel that the effects of Chen’s injuries and the quickness that they’ve deprived him of have been a big reason in his evolution from a guy with limited ability in running in an offense to a guy that’s making some really nice reads and decisions (his diagonal pass to Yi in the first half was something he couldn’t do a couple years ago). If he can stay healthy, the bridge from Liu Wei to whoever is next at that position might be sturdier than we once thought.
  • HoopsHype on “Max” Zhang Zhaoxu: “The tallest player of the tournament won’t make any difference. Slow and totally unskilled.” Tell us how you really feel, guys! NiuBBall vets know how we feel about the ever-improving Max, but as Serge Ibaka demonstrated with an emphatic block last night, that turnaround fadeaway needs to stay in Shanghai. He was also posterized by Pau Gasol in the first half off of a baseline reverse dunk.

Christian Petersen/Getty Images

  • The Wang Zhizhi-Yi Jianlian front line is nice on offense; not only because of all of the high-low opportunities it can present, but also because it stretches the floor out and keeps the middle open for backcuts — a staple in the Donewald motion offense. Defensively, much different story. Still, I like it and I thought it was a key reason why China was able to play well in this game. But the other effect the lineup has is that it severely weakens China’s bench. When Wang starts, Zhang Zhaoxu is the first big off the bench (and we just saw how that ended up). It’s more necessity than anything when you’re playing against a team as big and as skilled as Spain. But with only three guys capable of playing center, I think Wang needs to stay on the bench against smaller teams.
  • Random thoughts… Always worth noting at the start of these tournaments that FIBA balls are abnormally bouncy… One of the worst non-calls you’ll ever see happened in the fourth quarter… Spain’s uniforms are made by Chinese company, Li-Ning… Yao Ming did a nice job alongside play-by-play guy, Yu Jia, on the CCTV broadcast… 
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Monday Night Chuanr

June 19, 2012

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Nighttime links served up proper with a hearty helping of lamb on a stick.  The beer is on you, though.
  • The 2012 Nike All-Asia Camp was held once again in DongGuan, Guangzhou province earlier this month and although we weren’t able to get down there this year, Mike Procipio from GeorgeRaveling.com was. And he did a great job breaking down a lot of the players, so make sure you go and get yourself familiar with some of the players who will be on the CBA senior team rosters of tomorrow.
  • The official schedule for the 2012 London Olympics has been out for a while, in case people are interested. We’ll be posting China’s entire summertime schedule at the top of the blog shortly, so keep an eye out for that. And when the Games start, you’re damn right we’ll be posting a TV guide for all of you non-Chinese speakers.
  • Interested in writing for NiuBBall? Go here.
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Li-Ning pays CNY 2 billion to become official outfitter of CBA

May 31, 2012

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Li-Ning will be the new official outfitter of the Chinese Basketball Association starting in 2012-13,

Li-Ning will become the official outfitter of the Chinese Basketball Association starting in the 2012-13 season after agreeing to pay the league CNY 2 billion (roughly US $314 million) over the next five years, according to a report by NetEase. NetEase also reports that Li-Ning outbid rivals Nike, adidas and Anta, the latter of whom had held exclusive apparel rights since 2004.

Anta’s contract with the CBA ended after this past season.

If the deal, which has not been officially announced by Li-Ning, is consistent with previous agreements, the sportswear company will make all in-game uniforms and apparel, shoes and fan merchandise. The CNY 2 billion price tag represents the largest sports apparel sponsorship fee ever paid in Chinese professional sports.

Once seen as an emerging global shoe power, Li-Ning has been on a steady downward plane over the last few years. Shortly after the 2008 Beijing Olympics, Li-Ning opened up a United States office in Portland, Oregon with the intention of becoming a global company. But, their ambitious plan, which included a failed partnership with Champs Sports and the construction of several retail stores in the United States, flopped as the company failed to get a hold on American consumers. Net profit dropped 65% in 2011, causing Li-Ning to ultimately close its Portland office in February among other big shakeups.

Yet, Li-Ning still remains committed to growth — both inside and outside of China. Though the price paid to become the CBA’s official outfitter seems high, it could be a solid investment if trends in years past continue. According to NetEase, the previous outfitter, Anta, experienced increases in turnover every year beginning in 2004. In Anta’s initial year sponsoring the league, the company experienced a turnover of CNY 310 million, a number that rose dramatically over eight years to the tune of CNY 8.9 billion in 2011. And with the league coming off record stadium attendance and television rating numbers, a heavy investment in Chinese basketball may reap rewards down the line.

In America, Li-Ning is moving to put Portland behind them. Their new division headquarters are now based in Chicago, where they’ve partnered up with digital marketing company Acquity Group to launch a strategy that will move away retail stores in favor of online e-commerce.

As somebody who’s worn some CBA stuff over the last couple of years — including the much famed super comfortable generic grey sweatpants — I have to say that Anta did a surprisingly good job with their clothing. Their shoes, a totally other story. But, their apparel was good quality and nice to wear.

The problem though: There wasn’t anywhere for fans to actually buy the stuff. Maybe this will change in Beijing post-championship, but in my almost four years living in the city, I’ve never seen an Anta store where you can walk in and have a lot of choices in CBA gear. You might see some generic CBA-branded gear, but you don’t see anything for specific teams or players. That may just be a regional thing, however because when I was in DongGuan both for the 2011 CBA Finals and the 2011 Nike All-Asia Camp, I walked into an Anta store and saw a lot of Guangdong and DongGuan gear.

So right off the bat, I think Li-Ning — if they want — can do a better job on that front than their predecessors. Their desire to do that will depend on demand however, which still remains relatively low nationwide. Whereas there is an established culture in the West of representing your favorite team, the same cannot be said in China. It’s changing in Beijing, where you’re bound to see a few people in green Beijing Guo’an garb on almost any walk inside fourth ring road, but generally China has a way to go in that regard.

On the business end, time will tell if this is indeed a sound investment for Li-Ning. In the short-term, lets just hope their sweatpants are up to par.

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Chinese shoe companies: A case of too much, too soon?

July 26, 2011

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“Over-expanding” in an effort to compete inside of a crowded Chinese shoe market has resulted in a sharp overall downturn for China’s athletic apparel industry.

The expansion of Chinese athletic apparel brands has been an easy trend to spot for basketball fans both in the United States and in China. Over the last few summers, there have been a number of high-profile NBA players who have signed lucrative endorsement deals with China-based companies in order to directly tap into the world’s second biggest basketball market. Li Ning has Evan Turner and Baron Davis; Anta has Kevin Garnett and Luis Scola; Peak features Jason Kidd, Shane Battier and JaVale McGee, all of whom have signature shoe lines and television spots.

Adding players, which in turn add credibility, is key for these ambitious brands: With 2.6 billion Chinese feet that can potentially be fitted for sneakers, and an economy that sees consumer spending power rise steadily each year, there’s a lot of money to potentially be made. Competition between Chinese shoe companies is thus quite fierce and to gain an edge, brands have expanded aggressively. In China, companies have been opening hosts of new retail locations and filling them to the brim with merchandise. In the United States, Li Ning opened its first store outside Asia in Portland, Oregon in 2010, and quickly tripled in size after an encouraging start. Peak has a U.S.-based headquarters in Los Angeles, and has an online shop for American customers to buy their products.

But, instead of one company separating itself from the rest, it appears as if the entire industry is headed for a bust due to over-spending and over-stretching its means. According to a report published yesterday by MarketWatch, experts are seeing a rocky future for Li Ning, Anta and Peak, as well as a host of other smaller companies, whose rapid expansion “is beginning to cause cannibalization of sales and [a] price war,” according to UOB KayHian analyst Ken Lee.

Lee goes on to explain what went wrong:

The problem, Lee said, can be traced back to the initial-public-offering boom in Hong Kong during recent years, when mainland Chinese consumer-related themes were able to raise funds easily to fuel ambitious growth plans.

For example, Peak Sport Products Co. HK:1968 +1.54%PSPRF +5.46% — which signed U.S. basketball star Jason Kidd and other top athletes to represent its line of apparel — was able to raise $224 million in a September 2009 listing, pledging to use the funds for product development and to expand its retail sales network in China.

Likewise, apparel group 361 Degrees International HK:1361 -1.84%TSIOF -1.85% was able to raise $231 million as part of its offer, which debuted in June 2009. Promoters said the company would benefit from sportswear spending, expected to rise at a 30% annualized rate for years.

But what followed, says Lee, was a retailing arms race that outpaced consumer spending power.

The news comes on the heels of Li Ning’s disappointing sales in the U.S. after two quarters. Adding to the grey weather, plans to hook up with Champs Sports, which would have given the company a long reach into the American market, have been squashed.

In our humble (and rather basic, we don’t pretend to be market experts) opinion though, there is still some optimism for Chinese sneakers. According to the report, Chinese spending power has increased 30% for the last several years. That’s an important aspect to keep in mind here: spending power will keep going up, which means the potential market is only going to get bigger and bigger. As a high up American shoe company executive once told me, the race for Chinese feet is being set-up to be won five years from now. This could be a permanent thing, but it could also just be capitalistic Darwinism – a survival of the fittest that is to be eventually won later this decade.

Though the news short-term may not be so rosy for companies, there is good news for consumers — huge, huge sales.

A recent visit to some of these stores revealed product markdowns of 50% to 90%, or even two-for-one promotions on summer wear.

“We have never seen such deep and prevalent discounting,” said Lee, whose retail survey in June took him to six cities around the Chinese mainland.

If it weren’t for our size 13 feet, we’d be all over it. Maybe in five years, one of these brands will get some bigger shoes in their Beijing stores.

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Rudy Gay Nike All-Asia Camp Interview

June 14, 2011

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Rudy Gay instructs a player at the 2011 Nike All-Asia Camp in DongGuan, Guangdong province, China. (Photo: Jon Pastuszek, NiuBBall.com)

 

What if.

It’s a question that, no matter how successful the Memphis Grizzlies’ Playoff run ultimately was, Grizzlies and NBA fans will be asking this summer and possibly beyond, if a lockout prevents the regular season from tipping off at its familiar late October start date.  Because even though the Grizz turned the Western Conference upside down by becoming the fourth eighth seed in League history to upset a one seed in the first round, they could have kicked the typically all-to-predictable NBA completely off its axis if arguably their best player hadn’t been injured for the team’s entire Playoff run.

Which makes any suggestion that the Grizzlies’ terrifying six game destruction of the San Antonio Spurs was the product of addition by subtraction sound positively ludicrous.  Even all the way in Beijing, we were never buying into any of that after watching the Grizzlies’ bench fail to come up with a consistent scoring punch throughout the against the Oklahoma City Thunder after O.J. Mayo was forced into the starting lineup as a replacement for Gay.  Nor was anyone else who watched the team struggle time and time again to create good shots without their most talented wing scorer in the many crunch times of Game Four’s three overtimes.

So for us, there’s no doubt: Had Gay, who before his injury was averaging 19.8 points per game alongside career highs in minutes, field goal percentage, three-point percentage, free-throw percentage, rebounds, assists, steals and blocks in the first year of a five-year $82 million contract extension, been healthy, there’s no doubt those fatal issues would have been at least somewhat resolved.  Then, maybe it would have been the upstart Grizz taking the Thunder’s spot as the League’s most promising young team going forward.

Thus, the what if.

Down in DongGuan, Guangdong province, however, where Gay and DeMar DeRozan were getting to work inside the newly constructed DongGuan New Century Basketball Academy as player-coaches at the 2011 Nike All-Asia Camp, there weren’t any hypotheticals when it came to instructing some of the continent’s best high-school aged talent.  Out of his sling, but unable to lift his left arm above his shoulder, Gay never used the injury to duck out of his responsibility to the camp’s 60 players as he willingly and actively helped to instruct stations in the morning and afternoon stations.

He also didn’t duck out of an interview request, which he kindly accepted after NiuBBall approached him about hooking up with the number one English-language blog about China and basketball.  Sitting within the comforts of air conditioning one floor below the main courts, we caught up with the 24 year-old on Day Three of the Nike All-Asia Camp for a chat.

NiuBBall: How was the flight?

Rudy Gay: From what I remember of it, it was alright [laughing].

NiuBBall: Is it a longer flight from the U.S. to Beijing or from the U.S. to Istanbul, where you were for the World Championships last summer.

RG: Actually, we flew [to China] from Chicago.  When we went to Istanbul, we stopped for a couple of weeks in Greece and in Spain, so it was a little different.

NiuBBall: Before your injury, you were having a career year.  It’s a topic that’s been talked about a lot, but I wanted to get your comments on it.  What do you think is so special about the Team U.S.A. experience and why do players improve so much as a result?

RG: It was a great experience as far as just learning.  We had great coaches.  And just playing with great players, you can just take your level up to an all-time high.

NiuBBall: Aside from a few small moves in the off-season, the Grizzlies essentially brought back the same core from last year.  Why do you think the team was able to make such a big leap this year with essentially the same personnel?

RG: We had more of a seriousness about us.  We went out there and we played hard together.  We knew that when we were out there, we were out there for a reason and that was to win games.

NiuBBall: Was that a product of a collective mentality before the season?  Did you guys talk about that during the summer?  Was it spurred by coaching?

RG: When we came into camp it was just different.  It was a different atmosphere than before, we weren’t trying to play around.  We were basically just trying to become a better team.

NiuBBall: What was it like to watch your team’s playoff run from the sidelines?

RG: It was tough, it was tough.  It was one of the toughest times in my career, or really ever.

NiuBBall: How is the recovery coming along?

RG: It’s getting there.  I started a little rehab, but you know it’s just slow.  I’d like to go out there and do more, but it’s just slow.  It’s been a slow process.

NiuBBall: Is there a timetable for when you’re going to be back?

RG: No, I just take it a little bit by a little bit.  Every time I go back [to the doctor] to check it up, they tell me what more I can do.

NiuBBall: Is there less of a rush to come back with a lockout looming?  Would you be on a stricter timetable if there wasn’t the possibility of a shortened season?

RG: No, you know I don’t think it’s that kind of an injury.  You have to let it heal, or else it could affect the rest of your career.  I definitely want to be at my maximum potential, so I’m gonna wait it out and see what I have to do.

NiuBBall: As a result of the team’s success mixed with your injury, your name has popped up in a lot of trade rumors the last few weeks.  Your owner came out in the press a couple of weeks ago and basically squashed all those.  How have you reacted to your name being thrown around in trade scenarios?

RG: This is my fifth year in the league.  I’ve pretty much seen everything.  If it happens, then I’m prepared to to take whatever team that is to the next level.  But, you know our if owner said [a trade] was gonna happen soon, then I have to really think about my future with the Memphis Grizzlies.

NiuBall: Do you want to be with the Grizzlies going forward?

RG: Yeah.  Contractually I’m still a Memphis Grizzly.  If I’m there, I wanna win.  As long as I’m there, I’m going to try and do my best to make the team win.

NiuBBall: Where do you think this team is going in the future?

RG: We’re definitely moving in the right direction.  Every year we’ve made strides to get better as a team.  Last year I think we won 40 games, this year we won a little bit more than we won before.  But, we’re definitely getting on a level to where its somewhere we can be a contender.

NiuBBall: Zach Randolph turned into an absolute beast for you guys, particularly in the second half of the year and in the playoffs.  Did you notice any changes from him this season?

RG: To be honest, it’s nothing that we knew he couldn’t do.  He’s been doing it his whole career.  But, the only difference was we were winning [this year].  You know, it’s easy to be a 20 and 10 player when you’re losing.  This year, we were winning and he was obviously one of the reasons why we were where we were.  It shows his commitment to the game.

NiuBBall: I want to switch gears a little bit and talk about this trip to China.  This is your first time being here, what are your initial impressions of the country and what are your feelings towards the trip so far?

RG: Well, it’s different.  It’s not a bad different, it’s just different.  I’m a little out of my element, I don’t really know what to expect.  But, it’s been great just to soak up their culture and really getting a chance to understand different things. Those are the things I really like to do in my life.

NiuBBall: How busy has your schedule been since arriving here?

RG: Really busy.  Of course there’s jet lag and all that stuff.  But, I’m getting onto China time so I’ll have more time to enjoy the city and the country.

NiuBBall: What have you thought about the camp so far?

RG: There’s a lot of good players.

NiuBBall: What are some of the differences you’ve noticed already in the way the game is played here in China than in the States?

RG: Of course we have more people who can coach and more people who know the game in America.  There’s a lot more skilled players over there, but there’s a lot of raw talent over here.  The more people that go and play over in the League, you know the Yi’s and the Yao’s, then there’ll be more people to come back over here to teach [the Chinese] a little bit of what we [Americans] know.

NiuBBall: I think everybody in the NBA knows the potential of the Chinese market.  How much is that talked about amongst players either in the locker room or off the court?

RG: Yeah, we have certain guys who wear Chinese shoes, you know the Li Ning’s and the PEAK’s, so it’s talked about a little bit.  But, maybe not as much as some people think.  They’re just shoe companies, we talk about them as much as we do about Nike or adidas.

NiuBBall: You have a teammate, Shane Battier, who wears one of the Chinese shoes you just mentioned, PEAK.  He’s so famous in China that he can’t even walk out of his hotel because he gets mobbed the second somebody sees him.  Have you ever heard him talk about his profile in China?  Did he have any advice to you before you flew out here?

RG: Not really.  He just told me what China has to offer and that it’s a great country.  The people are really dedicated to the sport of basketball, more than what you may think.

NiuBBall: How do you see yourself in China in the future?  Do you have any ideas for trying to enter this market a little bit?

RG: No… you know, it’s just about basketball.  The better you play, the more people will notice, so it just motivates me to do even more out on the court.

NiuBBall: Is there anything specifically, either by Nike or by your agent, to help Rudy Gay do something here?

RG: Well, I mean, it’s my first time over here, so it’s something that could be done in the future.  My agency has an office out in Beijing, so I don’t think it would be as tough to do as people may think.

NiuBBall: Have you eaten any Chinese food yet?

RG:  [Asking his friend] Have we?  No?  Nothing authentic, I guess.

NiuBBall: Are you looking to eat anything local?

RG: [Laughing] I’ll try some things… as long as it doesn’t talk to me [laughing].

NiuBBall: Anything else on your mind that you want to say?

RG: To all the people in China, thank you for welcoming me to the country and hopefully I’ll be back here doing different things in the future.

NiuBBall: Rudy, thanks again for your time.

RG: No problem, man.

Follow Jon Pastuszek on Twitter @NiuBBall or on Weibo @NiuBBall

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Li Ning’s newest Evan Turner promotion: Win a RoboDoll, learn Chinese player tendencies

April 1, 2011

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Over the 24 and a half years of my life, I’ve played a crapload of basketball.  And as somebody who has lived in China for almost three years, I’ve also played a crapload of basketball against against every imaginable type of Chinese competition.  Farmers, professional streetball teams, college teams, students, teachers, professional youth players, company men… I’ve literally seen it all out here.

Mostly, I’ve seen it all through the lens of outdoor four-on-four half-court, the standard format for pick-up basketball in the People’s Republic.  As I’ve found my happy place with consistently acceptable indoor run in Beijing, I don’t play that anymore.  It’s another post for another day, but I feel like I’ve successfully accomplished everything there is out on the half-court and luckily, I’ve come out relatively unscathed and uninjured.

But fortunately for you, that doesn’t mean I’ve forgotten my Chinese basketball roots, or the tricks that I’ve picked up over the years.

To celebrate their new Evan Turner RoboDolls, Li Ning is holding a “Defend and Conquer” promotion asking people to write in their their favored ways of scoring the rock and defending their opponents when playing basketball.  The best answers will receive an “Evan Turner limited edition doll.”

I figure that since Li Ning is posting up people’s answers for all to see on Sina Weibo, this would be a good time to pass along what wisdom I’ve attained to people who haven’t yet retired from four-on-four — those who are still reaching for mastery of the sport.

So if you’re just itching to get back out there onto the outdoor courts this spring, study up and take these little tips into your next game.

When you catch the ball, what is your favorite move to break loose and score?

爱静静2011: Offensive methods: Drive in for a lay-up, step-back jumper

我爱我车微博: Offense I’m best at midrange, hook shots

Godsboy: My most skilled methods on offense are: Pick and roll, back-to-basket isolation, turnaround jumpshots

sendymylove: Offense my best thing is shooting from midrange and playing under the basket

Since the vast majority of Chinese you’ll run into on an outdoor court can’t pitch a five mao coin into HouHai lake if they were riding in a boat, you’ll likely be playing most of your defense a good two feet away from your opponent. There’s a great deal of academic pressure placed on Chinese kids from an early age.  Instead of getting involved with youth sports, parents place their kids in extra math, Chinese or English classes after school and on the weekends, so there’s no opportunity for Chinese youth to receive any form of coaching.

The on-court result of that reality, of course, is an absolute lack of fundamentals, especially when it comes to shooting. Also, as any foreigner who has casually shot around on a court in China with other people quickly realizes, the Western concept of “courtesy” (if you make a shot, you get another one) doesn’t exist in this country.  So improving your shooting, which is a rhythmical and repetition based action, can be a tough task here because you’re never going to get the chance to sink more than one shot at a time.

Thus, the Chinese learn from watching.  And since you can watch up to three NBA games on a weekend morning, there’s lots of opportunities to pick up moves from your favorite superstar.  Since nobody can shoot, that means players generally focus on shifty guards who can break off their opponent and get into the paint off the dribble.

That makes defending guys out here pretty easy.  If they’re at the top of the key or on either wing, its a crossover into the lane.  If they’re cut off, they’ll almost always counter with a spin-move combined with finger roll/hook shot finish. Also be wary of the short to mid-range pull-up jumper with funky releases — a lot of guys out here can jump pretty well off two feet and if you’re not careful to tighten up your space once they put the ball on the floor, you’re going to have a lot of points scored in your eye.

Another thing to be aware of: If a player is driving baseline, he is always, always, always going to a reverse lay-up finish.  Stay conscience of that and jump to the other side of the backboard, and you’ll always, always, always get at least one pin-block per outing.

Bigger, taller players prefer to play with their back to the basket.  And since they have no fundamentals either, they’re not going to try and beat you with footwork.  They’ll just try to run you over Mengke Batter style.  Pulling out the chair works for defending the impatient post-players, but mostly making them work for their position, denying over the top and generally being annoying will frustrate them into making mistakes.

When you’re on defense, what is your favorite method to stop your opponent?

bbigg: I don’t have any strategy, I just death-guard them.

刘星伶2010: My best thing in defense is killing my opponent  haha

MrChild勋: Best thing in defense and offense is killing people!

探炫: Playing real close to my man, double teaming under the hoop

Noticing a pattern here?  Defense in China is all upper-body; hands, forearms, elbows and shoulders, and its all done in order to… well kill you.

But when a 6-4 waiguoren steps onto the court, defenses that were already aimed at ripping off the heads of their opponents become even more physical.  And once that 6-4 waiguoren starts dropping buckets from all over the court, that’s when they actually attempt to try and kill you.  And that’s when we run into sometimes irreconcilable problems that sometimes end in near fisticuffs.  Now might be a good time to mention I grew up idolizing Alonzo Mourning.

But, have no fear.  Hundreds of hours on outdoor basketball courts have taught me valuable moves and counter-moves to protect myself against murderous opponents.  Since the Chinese — who again, have not been taught the fundaments of the game — are completely averse to the idea of flexing the knees and moving the feet on the defensive end (anyone who watches the national team knows that to be true on every level of Chinese basketball), playground defensive tactics typically involve extending one’s arm and impeding offensive progress via various WWF wrestling moves, like the clothesline, the flying elbow and the sleeper hold.

The latter in particular is used almost exclusively when guarding against the player with his back to the basket.  Instead of fronting, playing three-quarters or chesting up to the offensive player and sliding the feet, Chinese defenders typically resort to just bear hugging you either to prevent a clean target from being presented to the passer or from getting a clean shot off once you’ve caught the ball.

So what to do?  Getting good looks down low starts with getting good position off the ball.  Violently throw your arms up — not down — to break free from captivity to open up your defender’s midsection.  Once you’re out of his grip, nail him with an elbow to his wide-open ribs/stomach, catch the ball and go to work.  Rinse and repeat until defenders get the idea.

Good luck.

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Monday Afternoon Tanghulu

March 21, 2011

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Sweetening up your afternoon with a stick of Beijing’s timeless sugar coated snack and some links…

  • A really nice consolation for John Lucas III, who is headed back to Chicago to play for the Bulls after missing out on the playoffs this year playing for Shanghai.
  • Is Orien Greene’s move to one of the biggest markets on the planet a smart long-term move?  It can’t hurt I suppose, but about “if he wins” thing… there’s simply no way that Beijing is beating Xinjiang in the first round because simply, there is no parity in CBA basketball.  Xinjiang went virtually unchallenged the whole year, going 31-1 in the regular season, and is 99.999% guaranteed to sweep Beijing.  If he puts up some big numbers and contains Quincy Douby, then he’ll possibly get some interest from CBA teams for next season, but being that he’s going to be back in the United States by April 1st, expecting any added off-court opportunities would be far-fetched.
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Monday Morning Jianbing

February 28, 2011

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Starting your day right with China’s favorite street breakfast and a bunch of links…

  • Shanghai’s post-season chances might have just gone from slim to none after the Sharks’ loss on the scoreline and their roster last night in Fujian.  During Shanghai’s win on Friday against Qingdao came with the news that star import John Lucas will probably be out up to two weeks with a pulled thigh muscle.  Without Lucas on Sunday, Shanghai went down to a 124-108  overtime defeat against Fujian SBS.   With only four games left, Lucas could be out for the rest of the season, and Shanghai could be essentially dunzo for the year.  And in case you’re thinking I made a typo about that score, Fujian dropped 22 points(!) in the extra period.
  • More All-Star China stuff: Li Ning set up a Chinese-American media pickup run in Santa Monica on Sunday before the big game.  That was bad news for the guy who had to write, and thus play, in the game after going hard in LA the night before.
  • Even more post All-Star China stuff: The Wall Street Journal on the PEAK endorsing JaVale McGee’s second place finish in the Dunk Contest.
  • Stephon Marbury’s birthday in China.  His three wishes: 希望一直能保持健康延续篮球寿命,希望世界能永远和平不要再有战火和饥荒,希望扩大我在中国的影响力 — a long, healthy career on the court, a peaceful world that’s forever without war and starvation, and a bigger profile in China.
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Li Ning trying to “Make the Change” one step at a time

February 9, 2011

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Man man lai.  It’s a common saying among China’s practical and long-term thinking population says when talking about various processes, from practical stuff, like learning how to cook, to academics, like learning a language.  It’s used for more serious stuff too, like finding a husband/wife, and is even said when discussing the things that may matter the most to everyone: China becoming the world’s next potential superpower.

Apparently it’s used in athletic apparel company strategy, as well.

True to their slogan, “Make the Change,” the already domestically successful Chinese athletic apparel brand, Li Ning, is making slow, but steady moves in an effort to get more people educated about their brand, change general negative perceptions, and eventually challenge Nike and adidas for the crown of most popular shoes.  Not just in China.  In the world.

Though the last part of the previous sentence seems ridiculous — maybe rightly so — at the moment, dreams of Li Ning becoming a force in the American sneaker market is being treated as a realistic long-term goal for the company by executives: Besides taking small steps such as placing their products in Champs Sports stores and Eastbay.com, the company is investing a modest $10 million U.S. this year in order to expand their American based operations.  And when you read a quote by man who the company is named after, Li Ning, a Chinese gold medal winning gymnast in the 80s, comparing his company to Mitsubishi and Samsung, two Asian companies that eventually etched out large market shares in the States after they conquered their industries domestically, you begin to realize that these people aren’t joking around at all.  Nike and adidas are among those who have already realized Li Ning’s ambitions.

When it comes to basketball and shoes, Sonny Vaccaro doesn’t joke around either.  Which makes his apparent interest in turning Li Ning into a force in the lucrative and controversial amateur summertime basketball circuit as a seriously newsworthy item.   The so called “Godfather of Grassroots Basketball,” who has been employed by Nike, adidas and Reebok at various points over the last 20 years to run their summer-circuits in hope of signing the next Kobe Bryant to lucrative endorsement deals, has influenced the business of basketball arguably more than anyone ever has.  The guy who saw the potential of Michael Jordan as an individual brand before anyone else did was also the guy who put Brandon Jennings and Jeremy Tyler with professional teams Europe as a way to skip college and earn money while waiting to meet the age requirement for the NBA Draft.

It’s been his role in the summer amateur basketball circuit, however, that’s cemented his legacy as one of the most important and controversial figures to ever roam the boardroom.  Starting first when he signed individual coaches and then entire collegiate athletic programs to shoe deals before going down the roundball food chain to provide free travel, clothes, shoes and uniforms to high-school and AAU teams, summer basketball has developed into a unabashed meat market that is intent on getting as many promising youth ballplayers into highly organized and visible tournaments to increase the probability that a shoe company will uncover and get next to future NBA superstars.  The result has been twofold: More exposure for high-school players who dream of playing in the NBA, and more opportunities for shady enterprising youth coaches and team organizers to take advantage of the large amounts of money that pour in from the sneaker companies above.  Vaccaro has been called everything from a father-figure who cares solely about players’ interests to a crooked company man who has permanently torn down youth basketball into a no holds barred free-for-all for those looking to get quick, often illegal cash.

Vacarro has been out of summer basketball for the last three years, instead choosing to focus his efforts on bringing down the NCAA, who is one of those entities who view him as the latter.  But if Vacarro is to hook up with Li Ning, it would put the shoe company squarely on the summer circuit map, which means all of the things the company wants: more exposure, better consumer awareness and ultimately more potential for an exciting young player to sign a professional shoe contract with them.

The effect of all of these small steps, increased investment, more advertising and an entrance into the summer basketball scene, would likely result in Li Ning being relevant in the U.S., giving the brand another source of customers and revenues.  But a respectable presence abroad would also work to legitimize the company to its domestic Chinese consumers, who would view Li Ning’s ascension in America quite favorably.

The Chinese are notoriously self-deprecating when it comes to comparing Chinese brands, products, sports teams, athletes, companies or anything else to the so-called “best of the best.”  If something in China isn’t number one, then it’s not good enough.  It’s why Kobe Bryant and his five rings are more popular than LeBron James and his zero rings, why Nike is still the top selling athletic brand and why Michael Jordan at one point was known to more school children than anyone else in the world, other than Mao Zedong of course.

If Li Ning can develop and grow in the States, and Americans start to wear their shoes and more younger, more exciting, more marketable NBA players start endorsing their shoe, then they can expect a big boost in sales in China as a result.  Getting into America, no matter how subtle, is a similar strategy that Peak and other Chinese athletic apparel companies who buy courtside advertising at NBA games have used to reach people back in the PRC watching Chinese telecasts of games.  Simply, if you’re good enough to have an ad up at an NBA game, you’re more than good enough in the eyes of potential Chinese customers, who view America and the NBA in extremely high regards.

It should be noted, however, that not everyone shares Li Ning’s optimism for the future.  Scared off by a variety of factors, large numbers of investors pulled out in December and Li Ning’s share price dropped 15% amid decreased sales order and growth.  With increased competition from other companies like Peak and Anta and growing customer confusion about who Li Ning’s target audience is, going toe-to-toe with Nike and adidas is hardly going to be a two-handed slam dunk.

For now though, Li Ning seems content with settling for in control pull up 15-foot jumpers.  And that’s just fine for a company who knows it doesn’t have the requisite bulk to challenge the globe’s footwear giants — yet.

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What is Lu You and why will Steve Nash be wearing their shoes?

January 15, 2011

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In my two and a half years living in Beijing and Nanjing , I’ve never heard of Lu You(露友, pronounced loo-yo)brand shoes.  But, then again I’m not really on the lookout for kicks in China — with size 13 feet, I’m resigned to either ordering online through American sites or bringing back boxes of new sneaks when I take trips back to the States, as even the biggest Adidas store in the nation doesn’t carry sizes past 11.5.

So, I suppose it is possible that I’m missing out on Lu You simply because I’m not looking.

With that said, however, there are some indisputable facts that contribute to my total unfamiliarity with Lu You.  They don’t advertise during NBA games on CCTV-5 or BTV, nor do they run ads during CBA, FIBA, CUBA (China’s college basketball league) or any other basketball leagues or tournaments.  To my knowledge, not one basketball player, domestic or international, sports their shoes and I’ve never heard or read about the company as the official outfitter of any type of team.

So was as in the dark as every other fan who was scratching their head this week when CounterKicks reported that two-time NBA MVP, Steve Nash, had signed an exclusive endorsement deal with the Chinese company.

To the casual observer, Nash’s move to Lu You could seem strange.  The company’s “About Us” page does not mention the word “basketball” once and their online catalog of products offers merely two pairs of basketball shoes and exactly zero pieces of basketball clothing.

So just what is Lu You, then and why is Steve Nash going to where their shoes?  According to their official website, the Jinjiang, Fujian based company was launched in 1992 and currently employs 2000 people with about 40,000 square meters of factory space.  In recent years, they’ve sponsored the Women’s Chinese Volleyball League, the U-17 Women’s Ping-Pong National Team, and the China-Japan Women’s Volleyball Club Championship. In 2008, they sponsored the Tajikistan Olympic Team in Beijing and in 2009 they added the Bayi Women’s Volleyball team to their roster as well.

No wonder I’ve never heard of these guys.

Yet, despite not having widespread brand recognition in China or much experience with basketball, Nash has chosen to lace up a pair Lu Yous for the presumptive remainder of his career.  Given his history with back problems, signing up to become the brand’s first ever basketball player strikes a lot of people as a particularly odd and potentially risky decision. (As Seth Pollack over at Bright Side of the Sun alerted me to, Nash will continue to wear Nikes while playing in the NBA, though we’re not sure if that’s a temporary or permanent thing seeing that Nash doesn’t really have a choice as Lu You doesn’t have a signature shoe for him yet with it being midseason and all.)

NBAers sporting Chinese shoes isn’t a new trend, though.  Nash joins a growing list of NBA players who have already ditched their old Western shoe deals in favor of the Middle Kingdom.  Leading the way is Peak, who according to HoopsHype has eight players under contract, including Jason Kidd, Ron Artest, Shane Battier, Andrew Bynum and Jason Richardson.  Coming in second is Li Ning, who sports Baron Davis, Shaquille O’Neal, Evan Turner, Jose Calderon and Hasheem Thabeet.  This past summer, Kevin Garnett signed up with Anta, as did Luis Scola.

And like all those guys listed above, it’s pretty evident what Nash trying to accomplish here.  Said Brian Berger, host of Sports Business Radio (via BizJournals.com), “Most of the guys who are signing these deals are kind of in the twilight in their careers and they’re opting for a bigger paycheck and maybe they’re saying, ‘Hey, I want to do some business in China post-career,’” Berger said. “It doesn’t take a mathematician to realize if you can get into a small fraction of the market in China, you’ll do much better than you would with a bigger market share here in the United States.”

Nash should be in a good position to do just that, as he will instantly become the face of a brand that has lots of room for growth in the massive Chinese hoops market.

In addition to Nash’s ambition as a Sino-centric business man, the move to the lesser known Lu You says a lot about the changing climate for Chinese sportswear companies.  For years, the dominant domestic force in China has been Li Ning, which was founded in 1990 by the Chinese gymnast of which the brand is named after.  After losing their grip on China in 2003 when Nike and Adidas took over the top two spots, Li Ning re-imaged and expanded their brand to appeal to Chinese youth and regain their previous position.  Since then, Li Ning has since overtaken Adidas, but still lags behind Nike.

But, as more and more people in China have money to spend on athletic apparel, more and more companies have upped their efforts to get a piece of the pie, which in turn is affecting the entire industry, Li Ning very much included.  Scared off by worries of overexpansion (that store in Portland, Oregon anyone?) and increased competition from companies like Peak and Anta, investors are way down on the company, its share price in Hong Kong having decreased by 15%.  (You can read The Economic Observer’s interview with Li Ning CEO, Zhang Zhiyong, about their recent struggles here.)

The word on Peak and Anta, is more encouraging than Li Ning, but investors appear to be unclear as to how they’ll be affected with the one-time booming athletic industry now experiencing a slowdown.

All that brings us to Lu You, the new guys on the China basketball block.  As this is their first foray into the sport, the company and Nash obviously feel that there is only room for development and growth.  And with so many potential customers in China, even a little bit of growth is worth quite a lot of money — more than remaining with Nike in the States.

Nash was also intrigued by an opportunity to become relevant in the Chinese community, as Lu You’s dedication to humanitarian work also apparently struck a cord with the charitable point guard.  As the China Daily explains:

Apart from the commercial cooperation, public welfare programs also played a key part in luring Nash, who is well known for his charitable work, according to his business manager, Brandon Kou.

“Steve has a very deep affection for China and the kids are something really important him. One of the things that we looked for in a partner was to benefit the community and the kids here. That’s what we stand for,” Kou told China Daily after the announcement.

Nash has been to China a couple of times before and has even balled at the famous (and super crowded) Dong Dan basketball courts in Beijing.  Now the front man for a Chinese shoe brand, you can bet that he’ll be back there again — though we can’t promise a repeat of those epic Horace Grant goggles.

Follow Jon Pastuszek on Twitter @NiuBBall

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