Metta World Peace, the former NBA player that just joined China’s pro basketball league, has begun his courtship of Chinese fans in earnest with a pair of panda basketball shoes.
Metta said the shoes, also available in black, would be available on his website. One report said he would detach the panda from his shoes and toss it into the crowd before each game, but Metta has since said the stuffed animal is not detachable. Metta, who will be playing for the Sichuan Blue Whales , has also teased that he will be changing his name, yet again, to The Panda’s Friend.
The shoes are a way for Metta to engage with fans in China, where basketball has emerged as one the most country’s most lucrative and popular spectator sports, thanks in part to homegrown star Yao Ming. Basketball stars like LeBron James, Kobe Bryant, and Dwayne Wade (who left Nike for Chinese sports brand Li Ning), are all courting Chinese fans.
Metta, though known in China, is not as famous as some of his peers. While Kobe has over 3 million fans on his Weibo page, a Sina verified Weibo page for Metta has only a little over 900,000. So far he’s posted photos of his first few days in China and updates, in English, like, “Found a great grocery story in China!!” Interactions with Chinese bloggers appear limited. One wrote in response to a post about the panda trainers, “These shoes are drunk.”