This story also appears in the Golden State of Mind blog.
In the midst of a hectic NBA off-season, with star players seemingly on the move every week, the strangest basketball news this summer had nothing to do with free agency. When a video of Klay Thompson botching a half-hearted attempt at a 360° dunk in China surfaced on Twitter, we were introduced to the phenomenon known as #ChinaKlay.
Throughout the next week, #ChinaKlay kept popping up in photos and videos circulated throughout Twitter, encompassing a wide range of scheduled activities:
- Here’s #ChinaKlay airballing a swaggy three.
- Here he is losing at arm-wrestling due to unexpected tickling.
- Here’s #ChinaKlay getting lit in the club and popping bottles.
- Here he is in a kind of choreographed dance routine or something.
And perhaps best of all, here is #ChinaKlay trying to eat a Chinese roll that is either way too hot or way too cold.
Back here in the U.S., Thompson often seems detached, and his interactions with media are usually unremarkable. He is always good-natured, but tends to keep his feelings to himself. #ChinaKlay, on the other hand, is our favorite, lovable dork, wearing his emotions on his sleeve. Man does that guy look happy with life.
Fresh off signing a ten-year, $80-million endorsement extension with Chinese sportswear brand Anta, Thompson was in China on a promotional tour. Thompson admittedly didn’t know much about Anta when he first signed on in 2014, but relished the opportunity to explore the new Chinese market.
“Knowing that I could be really big in China, that was really cool to me,” said Thompson in an interview with Nice Kicks. “The shoe market sometimes is over-flooded in the States, and I thought, ‘Well, why not branch out and be global.’”
Thompson particularly sought to have major creative input into the design of his signature shoes and individual player tours as part of his deal. Because larger American brands promote far more players, Anta would be able to devote more attention to Thompson’s wishes and concerns.
If anyone was puzzled by Thompson’s decision to sign with Anta, it was a decision that has literally paid off with his NBA success, which includes two NBA championships and three All-Star team nods in the past three years. Thompson is now Anta’s biggest marketable commodity, with only Rajon Rondo filling out their roster of NBA player endorsements. Under Anta’s new deal, Thompson now owns one of the top ten richest basketball shoe deals in 2017.
Being big in China, however, still doesn’t mean much stateside. Chinese sportswear brands have not been able to crossover into the U.S. market, with quality and originality still appearing to be the missing element. If this is a reputation that bigger Chinese sportswear brands are working to steer away from, newer brands like Uncle Martian haven’t helped change that perception.
And yet, #ChinaKlay has somehow transcended these and other cultural differences to perhaps start the wheels turning on a potential U.S. market. On a social media platform banned in China, we have gotten to see not only the best Klay, but a completely different world of fandom, a place where Klay can truly be happy. These are moments that can connect sports fans across different continents. #ChinaKlay is universal.
After Thompson missed the dunk attempt in the beginning of his trip, he immediately hoped it wouldn’t go viral, but we must be glad for it. For once not so long ago, there was Ping-Pong Diplomacy, then Muhammad Ali visited China, then Yao Ming went to the NBA, and now Klay Thompson. With a strained relationship to China under the current administration, few things can be said to be better for sports-based U.S.-China diplomacy than #ChinaKlay, and the world is better for having him.
Cover photo from NBA China.