May 19, 2011, 7:20 PM EST
Right now, Kobe Bryant has made bigger inroads into the Chinese market than LeBron James. Part of that is relationships — Kobe was making an annual pilgrimage to China long before most NBA stars. He has his own separate charity there, part of giving back to that massive market.
But it’s also about the rings. In Chinese popular culture that matters. A lot. Kobe’s rings make him they guy on the top of the mountain.
But with Kobe’s NBA career on the downslope, if LeBron gets a chip this year — or next, or soon — it could open the floodgates.
Like $4 billion floodgates, according to Bloomberg.
“LeBron is white-hot with the Chinese basketball-loving youth, but his popularity and influence outside of that circle is limited,” said Terry Rhoads, who left as Nike’s China sports marketing director in 2002 after eight years to form Shanghai- based Zou Marketing. “One reason is the lack of titles.”
Nike posted $1.96 billion in sales from China, the world’s most populous nation, in the 12 months through January. Rhoads said a “solid part” of that stems from basketball, without being more specific. A championship for James would allow him to take over for the 32-year-old Bryant as the company’s face in China, where Rhoads said it’s “easy to see” Nike’s revenue reaching $6 billion by 2020….
“If Kobe isn’t the king with Chinese consumers, LeBron could take over and continue to power Nike’s stronghold on China basketball,” Rhoads said in an email.
What about James’ reputation here among some as a guy who essentially betrayed his hometown? That does not necessarily resonate overseas, and even here in America that sentiment seems to have faded outside Ohio.
Plus, winning cures all ills in America. Just ask Kobe.
But before he can take over the mountaintop in China, LeBron needs the title.
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