You can’t really talk about the NBA without understanding the culture and the branding around sneakers. Each year players make millions of dollars in endorsement deals, as the biggest athletic companies in the world jockey for the right stars. Nike, Jordan, and Adidas dominate the NBA landscape, while Under Armour and Puma have made a splash in recent years.
And then there’s Anta, the massive apparel brand you’ve probably never heard of.
What is Anta
In 1994, a man named Ding Shizhong founded an apparel company called Anta. Headquartered in Jinjiang, Fujian, China, the company has a much, much bigger reach than you might realize.
Anta saw a big boost from the 2008 Beijing Olympics and hasn’t looked back since. It owns the parent company for Wilson and Louisville Slugger, has a trademark for Fila in China, and has some extremely high-profile athletes on the payroll. In 2018, Anta reported about $2.5 billion in revenue, which is within shouting distance of companies like Under Armour, New Balance, and Puma.
There are over 9,000 Anta stores in Asia, which is where our story really begins.
Anta and the NBA
Anta certainly doesn’t have the pull or the esteem enjoyed by more familiar companies in the NBA, but the list of players who have signed with the brand may be surprising.
Kevin Garnett famously left Adidas for Anta, and actually had a signature shoe. Rajon Rondo and Luis Scola also joined the Anta family around the same time. Chandler Parsons was once with the company, and Gordon Hayward has his own signature sneaker with Anta. Even Manny Pacqiou is signed to the brand.
And then there’s Klay Thompson.
Back in 2014, Thompson signed a ten-year, $80 million deal with Anta. By 2015, he had his own signature sneaker. Thompson’s shoes are available for sale in the US - they even made a special Bass Pro Shops version - but the vast majority of Anta’s business is overseas. Klay saw this as an opportunity.
“I didn’t know much about Anta,” Thompson said following his initial signing. “One of my agent’s clients, Rajon [Rondo] was with them, and he said this brand had incredible potential and that the Chinese market, as well, was something that I could really dive into...I knew with the other brands in the States, whether it was Nike or Adidas, it was going to be tough for me to get a signature shoe. I knew with Anta, I would have so much input creatively. I was going to hopefully be the Michael Jordan one day of Anta. That really resonated with me, and knowing that I could be really big in China, that was really cool to me. The shoe market sometimes is overflooded in the States, and I thought, ‘Well, why not branch out and be global.'”
Plenty of players and teams travel abroad during the offseason to market their brands and reach out to the increasingly global NBA fanbase. However Klay Thompson and China seem to have a special relationship.
“China Klay” has in and of itself become an institution among serious NBA fans. His promotional tours have helped grow his celebrity status in China and back in the U.S. Importantly, they’ve produced important historic moments. Gordon Hayward too has worked to build his Anta brand.
Expect Anta to keep making a push for NBA endorsement deals. The Association has worked tirelessly to build its visibility and market in China specifically. According to league estimates, 640 million people tune into some sort of NBA programming over the course of a season. For context, there are about 330 million people in the entire United States.
As Chinese NBA fandom continues to grow, Anta will as well. Its Chinese Rival Peak has signed players like Tony Parker, Dwight Howard, and George Hill; Anta undoubtedly wants to expand its NBA fingerprint at home and abroad.
Anta reportedly offered Pelicans’ rookie Zion Williamson an endorsement deal worth $100 million this summer. In a league where Nike, Adidas, and Jordan own the vast majority of the market-share, ambitious moves like these, coupled with smaller signings, will keep Anta relevant in the NBA. And honestly? Some of these shoes are kind of nice.