NBA Free Agency: Why Nike and China want LeBron James To “Be Like Mike”

Pat MixonSenior Analyst IJune 30, 2010

Footwear giant Nike has entered the discussions surrounding LeBron James’ pending free agency and it seems LeBron’s shoe sponsor also has serious motivation for the player to land in a new city. The reason is money driven, but also championship fueled.

Nike wants LeBron to win a championship. Until he does, he will never outsell Kobe Bryant. The reason may seem unlikely: China.

The Chinese buy Nike products like a kid in a candy store. But, get this. China values winners. They want excellence. They want champions.  

This is why Kobe Bryant’s jersey continues to pummel LeBron’s and everyone else’s in worldwide sales, even while LeBron continues to rocket in US sales. That’s because any margin LeBron or other players have on Kobe in US sales are negated by the Chinese.

Nike knows this. They want to sell more LeBron shoes. And, they are firmly entrenched in China.  

According to CNBC’s Darren Rovell, Nike has a $400 million basketball operation in China and is experiencing stellar annual growth of about 12 percent to 15 percent, while right now, Nike’s basketball-related profit in the United States is growing annually only at just one percent.

What a huge difference in growth.  

China is the key. There are 300 million basketball loving Chinese. But, the only way Nike gets them to buy more LeBron products isn’t through fancy ads. It’s LeBron winning a ring.

So, this leads us back to why Nike wants LeBron to “Be Like Mike.”  

Nike wants LeBron on a winner, and the only real place this happens for LeBron is Chicago

Unless Miami can trade Michael Beasley for more cap room, I don’t see Miami having enough money to get both LeBron and Chris Bosh. The only other option for those two to join Dwayne Wade would be for Bosh to take far less money, which could also happen.  

But the entire Miami scenario involves a lot of “ifs.” LeBron going to Chicago doesn’t.

This is how I see it. The Bulls have the best talent of any of the LeBron suitors and two open free agent spots. Let’s look at the facts. Chicago has serious talent in Derrick Rose, Joakim Noah, and Luol Deng already in place, plus the room for two large free agent signings.  

In my opinion, unless LeBron gets sentimental and stays loyal to his roots in Cleveland, the Bulls will be the winner of the LeBron sweepstakes.

And Nike loves Chicago. Not only did they work shoes sales magic to the max with Michael Jordan when he played there and peddled their shoes, but the Windy City is a major market.

Let’s get real. LeBron won’t end up in New York or New Jersey. Neither team, unless they make a trade or something, has the players in place that Chicago possesses.  

And, the Knicks would probably lose David Lee to get LeBron and Bosh, so that goes nowhere.  Plus, the Nets have nothing.  

The only other team with quality players in place is the Los Angeles Clippers. But no way does LeBron play in the same building, the same city, and for the worst franchise in all of professional sports.  I don’t see it happening unless the Clips are sold to a new owner, which also doesn’t look likely.

So, LeBron and his running mate Chris Bosh will end up in Chicago, and Nike will be happier than anyone. And, 300 million basketball loving Chinese will be wearing the King's shoes.