Lebron James, Carmelo Anthony
The NBA is touching down in China this weekend, with the Indiana Pacers and Denver Nuggets playing a preseason game in Beijing. Ahead of the game, the league issued a press release that it decided to call “Bryant’s jersey remains top seller in China.”
I wish I had 10 RMB for every time I heard an American say “They love Kobe in China!” It’s true, but focus on Bryant and you get a very narrow view of the Chinese market for NBA products. It’s no surprise that he–as a reigning NBA champion and finals MVP, not to mention a shooting guard and a guy who does a little bit of work to promote himself in China–sells more jerseys in China than anyone else. But in the new NBA top-selling jersey list, there are definitely more interesting trends to note. Here are a few ideas–I’d love to hear yours.
Lebron’s gaining fast
Lebron made a big gain from 7th in 2007-08 to 2nd in 2008-09. The whole MVP thing couldn’t have hurt, but James is also heavily promoted in China by Nike. With Shaq on his team, and possibly a Chinese part owner, he should knock off Kobe like a Gucci bag in China this season.
Do little guys really rule?
It’s often said that Chinese fans are more interested in more diminutive players, supposedly because they can more easily identify with smaller guys. This list doesn’t give much support to that idea. Compare the China list to the most recent US list on NBA.com. Chris Paul, Allen Iverson and Derrick Rose all rank higher on the U.S. list. Carmelo Anthony comes in in China’s top 10, while he only ranks 15th in the U.S. market. And while Shaq might blame the big-man issue on his absence from the China list, it didn’t seem to hurt Dwight Howard. Could the supposed Chinese fascination with short players just be yet another misguided oversimplification of the Chinese market?
Yao’s not done growing
You’d think that pretty much everyone in China who wanted a Yao Ming jersey had managed to secure one before his seventh season in the league. Also, you’d think that Chinese fans who wanted a Yao jersey in the Olympic year would have opted for his Chinese national team gear–widely available at Nike stores all over the country–and passed on the Rockets jersey. Apparently, you’d be wrong. Yao moved from number 10 to number 6 on the list.
Ironically, China seems a little West-focused, whereas the United States is more East-focused. Ten of the 15 top-selling jerseys in the United States belong to Eastern Conference players. In China, only seven come from the East. Tony Parker, Steve Nash and Carmelo Anthony–all higher on the China jersey sales list than the U.S. one–get more TV time in China since Houston Rockets games, understandably, feature heavily in the schedule here, which means that Western Conference teams tend to get more exposure in China.
There were a lot of complaints last year when Yi Jianlian threatened to get a starting spot on the Eastern All-Star team–one that he hadn’t earned with his play, but almost got because Chinese fans voted for him anyway. Apparently, that nationalist loyalty stops at actually sporting the jersey of a guy who had a pretty weak season. Again, watch out for broad generalizations about Chinese fans. It’s one thing to go online and click on a guy’s name; another thing entirely to hand over all that cash and then head to the courts in the jersey of a guy who averages single digits.
Lebron James/Carmelo Anthony image: Hi.baidu.com
For more Chinese sports news, check out China Sports Today.