It’s no secret if you’re willing to do a quick Google search. There are Nazi-style concentration camps, mostly targeting civilians of the Muslim faith, currently operating in the Xinjiang Province of China. The camps hold MILLIONS of people and the conditions are beyond your wildest nightmares.
Outside China, Xinjiang has become synonymous with repression. Reports suggest as many as one million Uyghurs and other largely Muslim ethnic minorities have been held in detention camps. In March, Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken accused China of continuing to “commit genocide and crimes against humanity” in the far northwestern region.NY Times
It’s genocide and the rest of the world has known about it for years. In 2021 that seems impossible. But in China, the most reprehensible of actions become normal thanks to an inhumane totalitarian government with too much world power.
Out of those Muslim concentration camps, among many other goods produced for the Chinese people, comes slave-produced cotton.
Nike and the NBA, which both make billions of dollars through their relationship with the totalitarian country and often refuse to speak on any of its wrongdoings, announced recently that they would not accept slave-labor cotton for their products. That stance upset the Chinese government and two local competing shoe/clothing companies, Li-Ning and Anta, saw a business opportunity arise.
Instead of denouncing the use of slaves to provide their cotton, the two companies praised the practice. That, of course, was echoed and held up by the leaders of Beijing and state-controlled media. Before long, stock prices for both Li-Ning and Anta were booming on the Chinese stock market.
NBA Players profiting directly from slave labor
Gross, right? Well, maybe not for many NBA basketball players who profit through MASSIVE endorsement deals with Li-Ning and Anta. Those players include, according to the New York Times, big names like Dwayne Wade, Jimmy Butler, Klay Thompson and the Minnesota Timberwolves’ own D’Angelo Russell.
In China, local brands are prospering from a consumer backlash against Nike, H&M and other foreign brands over their refusal to use Chinese cotton made by forced labor. Chinese brands have publicly embraced the cotton from the Xinjiang region, leading to big sales to patriotic shoppers and praise from the Beijing-controlled media.
After Li-Ning and Anta published positive statements on Xinjiang cotton last week, investors in China sent the share price of both companies soaring. Chinese state media was quick to fuel the show of patriotism. At one point, a pair of Li-Ning shoes under Mr. Wade’s Way of Wade line traded for nearly $7,500.
More recent deals between the companies and N.B.A. players could face questions in coming weeks as tensions between the United States and China escalate. Jimmy Butler, a five-time All-Star who plays for the Heat, and the Toronto Raptors guard Fred VanVleet signed on with Li-Ning in November. Mr. Wade, the retired Heat player, helped CJ McCollum and D’Angelo Russell, two star guards, secure deals with Li-Ning through his sportswear line.
Requests for comment from Mr. Thompson and other N.B.A. players also went unanswered.NY Times
D’Angelo Russell in DEEP with Li-Ning
How invested is DLo? Well, Dwayne Wade’s new shoe (which was trading at $7,500 in China last week thanks to the national celebration of slave labor) could probably be seen on the feet of D’Angelo Russell Sunday night if you watched the Minnesota Timberwolves get stomped at the Staples Center by the LA Clippers.
But Russell does more for Li-Ning and “Mr. Wade” than just wear “Way of Wade” shoes on game nights. He’s been on the front page of their social media and website since signing with the company back in 2019: “As Wade’s ‘One Last Dance’ concluded last season, he hand-selected D’Angelo Russell to become the new on-court face of the brand.”
Endorsing a product made by slave labor seems to conflict with what D’Angelo Russell stands for. At least, that’s what he’s led us to believe. Russell, along with much of the NBA, has stood with pride for social justice causes in the USA. He and others across the league have sworn allegiance to and supported organizations like “Black Lives Matter” both on and off the basketball court. Players seem much less worried about the treatment of humans in China.
Russell’s decision to sign with a Chinese shoe company was quietly questioned, however, even back then. China had just completed a country-wide blackout of the NBA after Rockets GM, Daryl Morey, tweeted support for worldwide freedom (how dare he). That made the timing a bit awkward but DLo pressed on.
Now here we are just a couple of years later, watching those same athletes monetize off the literal enslavement and genocide of an entire population just across the ocean. Is that hypocrisy? You can be the judge.
Eric Strack | Minnesota Sports Fan