China is captivated with LeBron James the basketball player, but apparently the nation can live without James as a Bruce Lee-like kung fu fighter. Chinese authorities have banned a Nike television commercial that features James battling cartoon martial arts masters, calling the ad blasphemous and insulting to national dignity.
The advertisement "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 yesterday on its Web site, according to the Associated Press.
The NBA star said the ad was primarily for children.
Maurice Zhou, a spokesman for Nike in Shanghai, told Bloomberg that "Nike intended the advertisement to send a . . . positive message to youths to not fear anything. However, we respect the regulator's decision."
The commercial, titled "Chamber of Fear" and also known as "Fear Room," was broadcast on Chinese stations and the state television's national sports channel before being pulled last month. The ad shows James in a video game-style setting defeating the cartoon characters dressed in traditional Chinese attire, and a pair of dragons, considered a sacred symbol in traditional Chinese culture.
"We respect and follow the Chinese government's laws and regulations," Zhou said.
James signed a seven-year, $90 million endorsement deal with Nike shortly before turning pro.
Nike based the ads for the 19-year-old James's Air Zoom LeBron II sneakers on films featuring martial arts icon Bruce Lee. James, who is a fan of Lee's work, said he was sorry that some found the ads offensive, according to the Associated Press.
"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."