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The Branding of the ...

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David Stern, who ruled the NBA as commissioner for 30 years before stepping down in 2014, deserves credit for making the long-term commitment to building the NBA’s brand in China.

The arrival of Yao Ming certainly spiked interest as did Linsanity — yes I know while Jeremy Lin’s heritage is Taiwanese, he still impacted perception in China — but the NBA’s steady drumbeat in China year-after-year has cultivated a popularity typically associated with movie stars.

The years of toil directed into the NBA brand in China set the stage for individual players to cut their own deals with Chinese companies.

LeBron James doesn’t travel to China each year because he can’t find a good xiao long bao restaurant in Cleveland. He’s building the LeBron Inc. brand and securing cover stories like this one in the lifestyle magazine, BQ, with the headline (loosely translated), “Like Me or Hate Me, You Have to Admire Me.”

 

LeBron James.

It would be interesting to know in aggregate how much money Chinese companies paid to NBA players last year. It’s more than a few yuan found under the sofa cushion.

Which brings us to the Golden State Warriors and their trek to China to play two preseason games against the Minnesota T-Wolves last week. Each player essentially had two schedules, one for the team and a second related to his endorsements and potential endorsements.

When Chinese shoe company Anta decided to extend its deal with Klay Thompson in June for another 10 years at $80 mil, I’m sure the Warriors’ upcoming trip to China had something to do with the timing. BTW, I had to laugh when Thompson’s agent bragged about how Klay is getting out and about to experience the Chinese culture — like hanging out at the hotel bar. I believe I’m on safe ground in saying that a hotel bar at a Four Seasons doesn’t quite capture the essence of the Chinese culture.

As you can imagine, the Chinese media devoted considerable real estate to the Warriors. The deputy general manager of our Shanghai office, Frank Zhang, was good enough to snag a couple examples from a Shanghai newsstand.

This first one shows that Steph Curry looks the same in any language down to the mouth guard serving as a prop for swagger.

 

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The look and feel of this second example reflects the consummate Chinese style. Again, the dominant image focuses on Curry doing the mouth guard thing, this time with a red lantern as an accent.

 

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The heavy lifting in transforming the NBA into a must-have product in China has been done. Still, the NBA understands that it must continue to show the China consumer some love to keep the cash flowing in the right direction. Furthermore, sending the Orlando Magic to play T-Wolves wouldn’t have the same effect. Stars sell the NBA product, and no team has more star power than the Warriors.

I always get a kick out of the landing card for China.

As one reads through the choices for “purpose of visit” — business, sightseeing, visiting friends or relatives — it all makes sense until you get to the phrase, “settle down.”

 

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I wonder if Stephon Marbury ticked that box when he touched down in China for the first time to play for the Shanxi Zhongyu Brave Dragons?

I’m guessing no Warriors did.


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