- The Washington Times - Monday, December 6, 2004

BEIJING (AP) — China is fighting mad about a Nike ad that shows U.S. basketball star LeBron James beating up on a kung fu master, two Chinese women and a couple of dragons.

The government has banned the television spot, saying it insults Chinese national dignity.

The commercial, titled “Chamber of Fear,” was broadcast on local Chinese stations and on state television’s national sports channel before being pulled last month. It shows James, the Cleveland Cavaliers’ reigning NBA rookie of the year, in a video-game-style setting defeating the kung fu master, two women in traditional Chinese attire and a pair of dragons, considered a sacred symbol in traditional Chinese culture.

The ad “violates regulations that mandate that all advertisements in China should uphold national dignity and interest and respect the motherland’s culture,” the State Administration for Radio, Film and Television said.

“It also goes against rules that require ads not to contain content that blasphemes national practices and cultures.”

The government said: “The ad has received an indignant response from Chinese viewers.”

It did not say why the ad was considered offensive. But communist officials are sensitive about the use of Chinese cultural symbols by Westerners, and might have been especially angered that the Nike ad showed the foreigner winning the fight.

Maurice Zhou, a spokesman in Shanghai for Beaverton, Ore.-based Nike Inc., said the company had no response except to say that it “respected the government’s decision.”

“We respect and follow the Chinese government’s laws and regulations,” Mr. Zhou said. He said he could not elaborate.

The Chinese television regulator tightened controls over programming in May by prohibiting the use of English words and imported programs that promote “Western ideology and politics.”

The Nike advertisement is part of fast-growing foreign efforts to cash in on the huge popularity of basketball in China and the celebrity of James and other NBA players.

Nike based the ads for the 19-year-old James’ Air Zoom LeBron II sneakers on films featuring martial arts icon Bruce Lee. James, who is a fan of Mr. Lee’s work, said he was sorry that some found the ads offensive.

“It was never intended to hurt anybody or any culture or anything like that,” James said after practice in Cleveland yesterday. “We put the ads together basically for kids.”

James signed a seven-year, $90 million endorsement deal with Nike shortly before turning professional.

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