Chinese retailers and many of the country’s top e-commerce websites have pulled NBA merchandise – particularly that of the Houston Rockets, after the general manager Daryl Morey ignited controversy by supporting, and then apologizing for supporting, pro-democracy protesters in Hong Kong.
According to research by Quartz, “searches for Rockets merchandise on Alibaba-owned e-commerce sites Tmall and Taobao returned no results.”
Their official NBA landing pages are still functioning, just with Rockets merchandise removed—a notable absence since the Rockets, the longtime team of former Chinese star Yao Ming, are popular in China. On rivals JD.com and Suning, searches for “NBA” and for Rockets products turned up no results. The South China Morning Post reports that the popular shopping app Pinduoduo has also taken down Rockets merchandise.
Similar occurrences are happening offline. In Chongqing, a reporter for ifeng.com (link in Chinese) visited a number of stores yesterday and found them removing Rockets-affiliated jerseys from sale. –Quartz
Meanwhile, Reuters reports that several Shanghai and Beijing Nike stores had removed Rockets merchandise such as jerseys and sneakers. According to that report, store managers reported receiving memos instructing them to pull the products – going as far as to obscure the letters “NBA” on displays.
The bans put Chinese retailers in a tough spot, who now have to sit on their inventory of NBA-related products.
Even if sites continue to stock products, removing them from search effectively blocks shoppers from finding them. On the Nice app and Du app, two popular resale platforms for sneakers and sportswear, products related to both the Rockets and NBA could still be found with some digging. But searches for “NBA” or “火箭队” (Rockets team) yielded no results. Meanwhile, the retailers selling the items may not want to remove products from sale, as that income can be important, but they’re also not able to push back.
For a brand such as Nike, the situation is also sensitive. The US label is the official apparel provider to the NBA, meaning in addition to the products removed from its own stores, some of the items being pulled from sale elsewhere are likely Nike products too. While the official Nike page on Suning.com still lists all kinds of products, as Quartz checked today, no NBA team names or NBA stars are mentioned in the product listings. These items are just part of Nike’s giant business in China, of course, much of which isn’t specific to basketball, such as casual sneakers and running shoes. –Quartz
An estimated 300 million Chinese people play basketball, at least recreationally, according to the report. To that end, NPD Group sports industry analyst Matt Powell notes that brand sponsorships of NBA players are a key driver of sales in China, unlike in the United States. This is due, at least in part, to companies such as Nike and Under Armour sending their sponsored athletes on tours of Chinese cities.
So far, sneakers appear to be the only apparel items mostly untouched by China’s NBA-linked attire ban – although the word “NBA” was obscured.
On JD.com, for example, searches for Nike and Air Jordan appeared unaffected. The report from Chongqing noted that signature lines for NBA players such as LeBron James (who plays for the Los Angeles Lakers) and Kevin Durant (now on the Brooklyn Nets) were still for sale, as were James Harden’s signature Adidas shoes. Though Harden plays for the Rockets, his shoes aren’t specifically branded for the team. (He was also quick to apologize to China and its fans after Morey’s comments.)
So despite standing up for pro-Democracy protesters and immediately discarding their morals once they threatened millions of dollars of income, China is still punishing the NBA.