BEIJING -- One of Shane Battier’s more memorable tours of China involved machine guns, hand grenades, machetes and even a few throwing stars.
The Heat’s forward has been traveling to China each summer for the past seven years to help promote his shoes. Battier is sponsored by Peak Sporting Goods, a Chinese company, and his signature shoes are a big seller. Each year, Battier’s shoes are given a theme, and he usually learns about his shoe designers’ vision as soon as he steps off the plane in Beijing.
“So, I’m bleary-eyed because I just got off a 14-hour flight and they wheel me right to the press conference for the Battier IVs,” he said. “Cameras are going off, and I can’t see anything and they bring out this case.”
The case was full of weapons, a cache of guns, blades and explosives. Among all the military hardware were Battier’s new sneakers.
“Through a translator, they’re explaining that the shoes are the only weapon that the basketball player has, so the theme this year is these are Shane’s weapons,” Battier said. “I was thinking, ‘Oh, Lord. This is not going to go over well if it gets back to America.’ ”
So, Battier did all he could. He just rolled with it. Hey, when in China.
“I’ve got a lot of Chinese stories,” Battier said. “They’re great.”
There were no weapon stockpiles awaiting the Heat on Tuesday when it landed in Beijing, but there were plenty of fans and reporters. The Heat’s preseason trip to China runs for a week, allowing the team to promote itself, its league, its game and also its city to the most populated country in the world.
The Heat will play the Los Angeles Clippers twice, once in Beijing on Thursday and then again in Shanghai on Sunday. Excursions are planned for the team throughout the week, including a visit to the Great Wall on Tuesday. Elsewhere around the world, other NBA teams are playing in Italy, Germany, Turkey and Mexico.
“These trips are part of the reason why the NBA has grown so much internationally,” said Nick Arison, the Heat’s CEO. “The league has been very forward-thinking.”
Football is king in the United States, but basketball has outgrown all U.S. sports overseas. There is a professional basketball league in nearly every major country throughout the world, including China.
China was basketball-crazy when center Yao Ming played for the Houston Rockets. Even though he has retired, Ming is still the biggest name in basketball in China. Among active players, Kobe Bryant of the Lakers is the most popular, but the Heat’s LeBron James isn’t far behind.
“Chinese fans are crazy about their stars and those teams come first, especially those stars who win championships,” said Li Shuangfu, a basketball writer for Sina.com who covered the Heat in 2010 and 2011. “That’s why Kobe has been the No.1 in the past decade. LeBron’s popularity is increasing largely because of the ring this summer. Based on that, if Heat [wins] a couple more champions, it’s highly possible they are going to surpass Lakers and become the No.1 team in China. Stars and rings counts.”
James, who promotes a variety of goods in China, has been to Asia twice in the past month. This most recent visit to China marks his ninth time in the country. James’ first priority on this trip is to help promote the game and the NBA, but he’s also going to be promoting himself.