Steve Nash is the thinking man’s hoopster — or at least the knee-jerk lefty’s.He opposed the war in Iraq before it became socially acceptable, and without him, the Suns probably would not have taken a public stance against SB 1070.
He’s also one of an increasing number of NBA players to take his shoe talents to China, at a time when when American companies are no longer as invulnerable, or effective, as they once were.
Kevin Garnett, Jason Kidd, Baron Davis, and Ron Artest are among those who, like so many corporate entities, have looked to Chinese companies like Peak and Li Ning. It’s telling that most of these defectors are well-known, but graying, stars. As Nike, adidas, and Reebok focus resources on a handful of superstars, China offers older, or lesser-known, players the chance to find their way back to shoe endorsement relevance.
In raw, capitalist terms, it’s the same old song: There’s money, growth, imagination, flexibility and opportunity for brand-growth in China; their companies aren’t struggling against a bum economy; and the nation has many, many more basketball fans to cater to than America. It’s a market at once more wide-open and less crowded. Plus, who’s to say that rocking Chinese kicks somehow seals a player off from North American consumers? These signings also provide Chinese companies with a staging area from which they can make a push into Stateside markets.
Granted, China is still China, and there are all sorts of political, ethical, and economical reasons why players should want to keep their endorsements in this country. LeBron James was hesitant to speak out against the genocide in Darfur because Nike needs China, and China has a special relationship with Khartoum. What happens when a player goes straight to the source? Good thing athletes are allowed to plead eternal ignorance on such matters—unless they make a point of letting us know they care, or are so big that their opinion just might make a difference.
Nash somehow reconciled his Nike ties with the company’s less savory practices (sweatshops, anyone?) was against Darfur despite his long-time ties to Nike; in 2008, he paired with the company to produce a shoe made entirely of recycled materials.
Earlier this month, Nash made waves when he jumped to Chinese brand Luyou. While going against the shadow will of Nike is one thing, actually allying himself with a Chinese company requires an entirely different kind of gymnastics.
Luckily, Nash had an answer. From his Twitter yesterday, when, in memory of Dr. King, players wear special edition shoes that get all sorts of free airtime:
“A lot of you have been asking about my shoe situation. I will wear Nike’s as I have my whole career but am not under contract because I signed a China only apparel and lifestyle deal with an exciting young company, Luyou. Partnership is an opportunity to design and brand. My own shoes and apparel and do great work for kinds [sic] in underserved communities in China. Thanks for all your interest and stay tuned.”
I’m not here to call the beloved point guard an evil genius, or somehow disingenuous. But it’s telling his partnership with Luyou, rather than bring him closer to the enemy, in fact puts him in a better position to save the world.
Nike has to deal with all sorts of middle-men and maybe the larger face of the government. Nash put himself on the ground, business-wise, and can now make sure his China money is part of a pact for responsibility. He can’t force Nike to do anything; nor can Nike force China to do anything.
Working with Luyuou, though, is much like Chinese companies looking to break out in the American markets: more direct contact, and one that’s tailored to both parties needs. And Nash still gets to wear Nikes, which keeps him from being too closely identified with China (in case of nuclear war) and maintains some vague sense of domestic protectionism.
Then again, Nash is Canadian. So who knows what any of this means?
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