NBA star James Harden expressed disbelief after Chinese fans snapped up 10,000 bottles of his own-branded wine in seconds, demonstrating the massive reach of livestreaming in the country, where basketball is loved by millions.
The veteran Philadelphia 76ers guard on Tuesday joined the livestream of online celebrity Crazy Brother Yang to promote his J-Harden brand wine as 15 million viewers tuned in, state-run tabloid Global Times reported.
“How many bottles do you usually sell in a day … from one store?” Yang asked Harden, who replied: “A few cases.”
Yang then told the star to watch how quickly they could sell them. “Show me,” Harden replied, sitting back with his arms crossed.
“Ready? Go!” Yang told viewers. Just 14 seconds later, he shouted: “Stop!”
With 5,000 orders placed at $60 for two bottles, according to Global Times, the quick-as-a-flash sales raked in $300,000.
“No way!” Harden said, as he checked a computer monitor before bursting into laughter and applause.
Livestream shopping has exploded in popularity in China in recent years, becoming a multibillion-dollar industry. It combines entertainment and e-commerce, with the host offering viewers flash deals or discount coupons in real time. Viewers can instantly buy goods from streamers and click to send their favorite stars virtual “gifts.”
The streamers sell everything from makeup and skincare to laundry detergent, and top hosts can earn millions of dollars a year – prompting many to quit their full-time jobs in the hopes of becoming an online star.
Harden’s livestream quickly trended on Chinese social media, with some fans joking that he should play in China rather than the NBA and reap the benefits of his fan base there.
Basketball is enormously popular in China, in no small part thanks to Chinese legend Yao Ming’s Hall of Fame NBA career. The league also has a long history in the country, having spent several decades and millions of dollars to build courts, bring stars over for preseason games and initially give broadcast rights away for free.
That popularity among hundreds of millions of Chinese fans translates to lucrative sponsorship deals for the league and its star players. Before the pandemic, China made up at least 10% of the league’s current revenue, according to one analyst.
But there’s also risk to doing business in China, which the NBA was forced to face in 2019 after becoming embroiled in political controversy when then-Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey tweeted his support for Hong Kong’s pro-democracy protests.
In response, the NBA’s Chinese partners suspended ties with the league, state broadcaster CCTV halted all broadcasts of matches, and the Chinese government said the NBA needed to show “mutual respect.”
Morey apologized and deleted the tweet, and the NBA said his comments were “regrettable” – but that sparked a backlash from fans in the United States and Hong Kong, who accused the league of censorship and bowing to Beijing.
Harden, who was with the Rockets at the time, also said sorry for the controversy. “We apologize, we love China, we love playing here,” he told reporters a few days after Morey’s tweet. “We love everything they are about. We appreciate the support they give us individually and as an organization.”
This week, Harden lashed out at Morey – now president of the 76ers – amid ongoing trade speculation surrounding the 2018 NBA Most Valuable Player.
“Daryl Morey is a liar and I will never be a part of an organization that he’s a part of,” Harden said during an event in China.
Footage of Harden’s comments has been widely circulated on social media. The comments were in response to a question from the crowd about ending trade talks, according to NBA.com.