Cleveland is a great American city, and its best-known ambassador is in Asia. Cleveland Cavaliers superstar forward LeBron James is in China on a tour promoting Nike shoes. He met with students of migrant workers who have a special school outside of Beijing which Nike apparently supplies.
In 2006, boarding a plane in Cleveland-Hopkins Airport bound for Beijing, I met LeBron’s then-teammate Damon Jones, who was the first American basketball player to promote shoes in China (for the Chinese brand Li-Ning, no less). It is quite interesting that everything we discussed that day as being pie-in-the-sky (NBA games in China, tours by LeBron to China) has now come to pass.
LeBron also spent time in Shenyang, where he was presented with a locally-designed variant on his shoe, which the artist called “Loyalty.”
According to the press release:
At a presentation that took place during Nike’s grassroots activities in Shenyang, Ray Lei gave James a uniquely designed pair of Air Max LeBron VII shoes. Lei used Chinese warrior images on the shoe to symbolize loyalty and bravery. He also represented LeBron’s loyalty by using symbols personal to him: “Irish” and the green color represent loyalty to his high school team, St Vincent St. Mary; “23″ stands for his loyalty to his team; and “330″ (his hometown area code) signifies loyalty to Akron, Ohio, where he grew up. In order to connect the shoe back to Shenyang, cloud and water elements were used in the design, as they frequently were on the uniforms of the Qing dynasty. The rose is Shenyang’s city flower. Additionally fog patterns were infused into the design, a reference to Chinese fairy tales in which troops would appear from fog before battle – similar to LeBron’s signature chalk dust before each game. Ray Lei is a 22-year-old graduate of the Academy of Arts & Design, Tsinghua University, and is currently taking masters classes with Professor Wu Guanying, the father of animation in China. His talents encompass a range of mediums, including cartoon, graphic design, illustration, short comic, graffiti and Hip-Hop music.
And Shenyang, like Cleveland in the 1990s, is coming up. More direct flights, more foreign investment, more destruction of Manchukuo-era architecture, more North Koreans with money, more South Koreans with even more money, etc. LeBron’s presence there is further proof. More in subsequent posts on China-Ohio connections.