McCollum Signs Lucrative Shoe Deal with Chinese Athletics Company
By John Vaccaro
C.J. McCollum, the promising young shooting guard of the Portland Trail Blazers, signed a $106 million contract extension with Portland and has continued to help his team make an impact in the postseason. Behind the scenes, though, McCollum is expanding his brand and making impactful endorsement decisions. After riding out a four-year deal with Nike, McCollum has now signed a five-year shoe deal, not with Adidas or Under Armour, but with Li-Ning, a Chinese athletic goods company.
Li-Ning was founded by Chinese Olympic gymnast Li Ning. The company has extended its brand across China and has worked hard to break into basketball ever since the mid-2000s, signing big contracts with the likes of Damon Jones and Shaquille O’Neal. The brand gained worldwide market visibility after Li Ning himself lit the Olympic flame, much to the dismay of the official Olympic sponsor, Adidas, during the 2008 Beijing Summer Games. Now, the company adds another respected name to its list of endorsements.
"I was looking for a unique opportunity to go where I was wanted," McCollum said. "Similar to college with different universities, there needs to be a mutual admiration. You want to go somewhere where you're wanted and where you can be utilized and have input in the brand. I felt like I was going to have those things and influence into my shoes. With the market four or five times the United States, it could be crucial in my development as a player, person and brand."
McCollum wants to explore the entire shoe market and learn about its intricacies. When he was first drafted, his knowledge of the sneaker industry was limited.” I didn't know much about it at all, honestly," McCollum said. "Watching from afar, and being a fan from afar, I didn't necessarily understand the negotiating side of it and the contract structure of how players go from rookie deals to the next deal. As you go through the NBA, you get a decent understanding of it."
McCollum will not be taking this financial risk alone. Li-Ning will have just as much money invested in the deal as McCollum. C.J.’s brother, Errick McCollum, will also be able to guide him through the ins and outs of the Chinese sneaker industry. Errick has been one of the top players in the Chinese Basketball Association for two years. He lead the league in scoring two separate seasons and holds the all-time single game scoring record in China with 82 points. Li-Ning just also happens to be the official brand of the Chinese Basketball Association.
"I was able to learn about it through him and his experience of seeing the previous years of the brand," McCollum said regarding his brother’s involvement with Li-Ning." From 2013 to 2017 now, I've seen how the brand has evolved and how the technology has continued to get better.” Li-Ning is excited with their new prospect. Even though Chinese fans are infatuated with the sport of basketball, they follow and admire NBA players (namely Stephen Curry, Dwyane Wade, and Kobe Bryant) more than they do Chinese players.
McCollum is an excellent young talent with the scoring tenacity that could cultivate a newfound passion for the game in China. "On the performance side, Li-Ning wants to find more young talent from the league," said Fei Guo, Li-Ning's Basketball Sports Marketing Director. "CJ is a guard, and we recognized that CJ has great leadership and the ability to dominate the game in the clutch."
McCollum is not the first to sign a deal with Li-Ning. Dwyane Wade has been an excellent advocate for the brand. Wade left Nike in 2012 to sign with the Chinese company. He highlighted the offer, which provided him with a large equity stake in the company and a healthy amount of control over his brand.
Wade and McCollum have talked multiple times previously, “I was just getting an understanding of his overall experience with it," McCollum said about his conversation with Wade. "He left at 29 when he went to Li-Ning. With me as a 26-year-old, our mindset and our approach to the situation is very similar."
McCollum also talked with his teammate Evan Turner, another Li-Ning signee. It seems McCollum has looked to Turner for advice on the business as well.” I just kept it real with him, what I liked about the brand and how I thought we could get better," Turner said." As his star was rising, I told him I thought it'd be advantageous for him to partner with an up-and-coming brand."
The luring period is over, and now the Li-Ning-McCollum tandem is ready to make some profit. "We're going through all of that now, trying to figure out the logos and how I want to incorporate it – whether it be initials or actual symbols," McCollum said. "It's a tough process, and it's one that we don't want to rush."