In 2012, the former Finals MVP and Chicago native was fresh off of his second NBA championship, but he was leaving the familiarity of Jordan Brand for a company nearly 8,000 miles away from Miami. He had seen the brand’s founder and namesake, Li Ning, light the Olympic torch in the same city just four years earlier during the 2008 Summer Games, and here he was, alongside China’s celebrated former Olympic gymnast to announce his new 10-year endorsement deal. “You think you know what you’re signing up for, and you think you know the vision that you have, but looking around, it was like, ‘This can be something special,'” Wade said recently.
Word of mouth matters throughout the NBA, and it didn’t take long for the concept of doing a Chinese shoe deal to gain traction. A year after Wade signed, Rajon Rondo agreed to a six-year deal with Anta, following in the footsteps of teammate Kevin Garnett, who landed with the company in 2010 after his Adidas deal was up. When Golden State Warriors sharpshooter Klay Thompson received an offer from Anta the following summer, his agent at the time, Bill Duffy, suggested he reach out to Rondo, a fellow BDA Sports client, for feedback. “Wait till you go out there,” Rondo told Thompson. “They’ll show you so much love.” “At first, you know, you’re skeptical,” Thompson said. “Then, you come over [to China] and you see it firsthand, how much these people love hoops.”
In his first four seasons with Nike, Thompson simply wore the latest edition of the brand’s Hyperdunk model in Warriors colors. Early on, Anta looked to incorporate him into the process more than ever before. “We actually asked Klay to build a shoe by himself so that he can understand how Anta builds his shoe and the attention and the quality that goes into it to help his performance and fit his needs,” said Ben Tsai, Anta’s basketball footwear director.
The contracts for Wade and Thompson caught the eye of the rest of the NBA, paving a new route for endorsements in China. Stateside brands such as Nike, Under Armour and Adidas usually reserve contracts of that size to perennial MVP candidates such as LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Stephen Curry and James Harden. “Those deals showed other NBA players that Chinese sports brands are serious about them,” said Shawn Liu, Anta’s director of basketball sports marketing. “The players that go with Chinese brands are getting what Nike, Adidas and Under Armour wouldn’t give them here — massive exposure in China, TV commercials, social content and images in thousands of stores that make them more famous.”
Beasley bet on himself, choosing a one-year, $2.1 million offer with the Knicks over a multiyear offer from a Chinese team that was worth more than $12 million. Beasley is quick to respond when asked why he’d turn down more than $10 million guaranteed to play in New York. “Money doesn’t always define basketball,” Beasley said. “Yeah, I want a lot of [money]. But I want to prove that I’m the best. The ball will tell you who the best players are, not the contracts, not the media.”
Are you going back to China this summer? Klay Thompson: Duh! I go back every summer my man! Same for 2018. That’s a good trip. I love going to China. That’s one thing too—I never thought I would have fans overseas. Whether it’s getting to go to Spain, or especially in China. These fans are 5,000 miles away, wearing your stuff, so happy to see you on site, in awe of your shooting, your skill. I never thought that would happen. To have fans on different continents, it’s cool, man. I’m very thankful.