Klay Thompson is finally back with the Warriors, but his Anta signature shoes are still impossible to find. Here’s why.

The magnitude of Klay Thompson’s years-in-the-making return wasn’t lost on anyone at Chase Center Sunday evening. 

Warriors forward Juan Toscano-Anderson referred to Jan. 9 as an “East Oakland holiday.” All of Thompson’s teammates wore his No. 11 jersey before the game began. Despite nursing a calf injury, Draymond Green ceremonially joined the Dubs lineup for only the tip-off – a highly unusual arrangement – so he could share the court with his finally reunited teammate. When Thompson was subbed off after his first four-minute stint, he received an ovation that was nearly as loud as his pregame introduction.

But conspicuously absent from one of the most anticipated comebacks in modern NBA history was a shoe drop, or really just a meaningful celebration of the moment, from Anta Sports, the Chinese sports apparel company that sponsors Golden State’s resurrected Splash Brother.

In 2015, Thompson first signed with Anta. Two years later, he re-upped with a lucrative 10-year, $80 million contract. He spoke about the agreement with some uncharacteristic hyperbole, indicating he had big plans for how the shoe would enhance his brand. “I knew with Anta, I would have so much input creatively,” Thompson said. “I was going to hopefully be the Michael Jordan… of Anta.”

That was always going to be a stretch. Still, the gap in the relationship between player and shoe brand is especially marked in light of Thompson’s return. Even when His Airness retired for the first time back in 1993, designer Tinker Hatfield continued to work on the Jordan X in preparation for Jordan’s Chicago Bulls reunion. When MJ came back, Nike and Hatfield were prepared with the Jordan XI sneaker, or at least prototypes of them, which soon went on sale. Plenty of other NBA stars, including LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving, have also dropped new signature sneakers at every plausible opportunity. 

Not so with Thompson. Which doesn’t mean his shoe deal with Anta has been a failure, even if its marketing campaign leaves much to be desired. It’s more complicated than that.

Anta calls itself the “pioneer of China’s sporting goods,” which by all accounts is accurate. Its ascent began during the 2008 Beijing Olympics, and now the sports apparel company is the fourth-largest in the world. Anta grossed $3.2 billion in 2020 and has absorbed American household brands like FILA, Wilson Sporting Goods and Louisville Slugger in recent years.

In China, Anta is rapidly gaining ground against Nike and Adidas. The most recent bump came courtesy of a March 2021 boycott against Western brands that used cotton allegedly picked through the forced labor of minorities, according to the Wall Street Journal. The boycott caused third quarter sales for Adidas and Puma to drop 15% in China (Nike’s sales dropped 20%, though the company attributed that to supply chain issues). Anta, meanwhile, saw a revenue increase of 56% in the first half of the year, which the company said was the result of a “national tide” toward domestic products – a situation that may have been aided by the fact that Anta wasn’t boycotted despite using the same cotton. 

Anta’s overtures to the States are few and far between. The company built a design lab in Santa Barbara with the purpose of “bringing more brand contacts and industry veterans closer to Thompson… to further his product needs,” as Nice Kicks reported in 2017, but that hasn’t resulted in much of anything. Google “Anta Santa Barbara” today and you’ll get a Buzzfile profile of an LLC that specializes in CBD products.

The company’s intended audience isn’t America – it’s China – and it’s perfectly logical for Anta to tie itself to the Chinese market, says Sean Williams, founder of the Obsessive Sneaker Disorder talk show. “The Chinese brand’s focus is on getting Chinese people inspired to buy those shoes,” he told SFGATE. “They don’t care about what’s happening in the U.S. because there are more people in China than there are in the U.S.”

Part of the calculus for Anta is that Chinese consumers have different sneaker shopping priorities than American consumers do, Williams says. In America, the signature shoe market is both oversaturated on social media and significantly more skewed toward celebrity and influencer status. The American sneakerhead isn’t just trying to ball out like their on-court heroes – they’re also assessing the off-the-court fashion and aesthetics of their favorite players and celebrities.

“When you look at the current state of who influences sneaker sales, it’s not basketball players,” Williams says. “It just isn’t. It’s lifestyle, it’s rappers, it’s actors, it’s entertainers, it’s influencers. Signature basketball players are not moving the needle when it comes to inspiring purchases.”

There is, of course, an enormous entertainment and influencer culture in China, too. But for sports figures, Chinese consumers of basketball sneakers first and foremost want to buy the shoes linked to proven gamers like Thompson. “That’s why Kobe [Bryant] is so loved out here, he’s a big-time winner,” Thompson once told Nice Kicks during a visit to China. “They love his fierceness and they love his attitude. I’m trying to emulate the same thing — just win — and that’s all that matters.”

The embrace of elite athletes occasionally applies to players who haven’t won a whole lot of hardware. The most prominent example is Derrick Rose; despite a serious decline in his career, Rose has remained one of the most popular NBA players in China for some time thanks to his MVP award as a superstar on the Chicago Bulls, the same franchise where Michael Jordan won six rings.

Some of Anta’s other NBA clientele, including Rajon Rondo and the now-retired Kevin Garnett, can be lumped into the less-marketable-off-the-court, nevertheless-NBA-champions category. The rest of Anta’s endorsements are more on the eclectic side: Gordon Hayward, Alex Caruso, James Wiseman and Precious Achiuwa.

But even after accepting the premise that Anta doesn’t need much from – or care much about – foreign consumers, the fact remains that the simple act of buying a pair of Thompson’s shoes outside of China is remarkably difficult. Their official English website, en.anta.com, is more or less broken. Anta.com is navigable for non-Mandarin speakers with the help of Google Translate, but it doesn’t seem possible to sign up for an account, a prerequisite for any purchases. 

Anta’s official Instagram and Facebook accounts advertise Thompson’s newest sneaker – the KT7, which is a celebration of the Chinese New Year – but offer no links for purchase. Anta’s two most recent Facebook and Instagram videos seem to be an attempt at honoring Thompson’s career, though one of the videos is more of a slideshow of graphics that moves too quickly to read in real-time. Both videos allude to Thompson’s return, but only barely. The comments sections are littered with questions about how much the KT7s cost and where they can be bought.

There is a third-party Anta site, Ankt Shop, which swears it will ship you a real pair of Klay Thompson shoes if you order them. The website is also far from seamless, assuming it actually will send you a product. Clicking the “Basketball” tab brings up a list of athletes the company sponsors. It’s hard to miss the large photo of Thompson, holding his signature “KT” sneaker in front of the Golden Gate Bridge. There’s a short blurb about Thompson’s star power, which randomly includes a 30-point game of his from early in the 2016-17 NBA season as one of his main accolades. The sneakers for sale are just underneath the blurb about Thompson, but only three of the first four shoes on display are from the “KT” line. The fourth pair of shoes is a Kevin Garnett signature sneaker, the “KG1,” which is “retroed” (re-released).

Selecting one of Thompson’s shoes brings up a new screen. The KT1’s display copy is a rather interesting read: “With the eleventh pick, the golden state warriors select kaly(sic) thompson from washington state, and this anta klay thompson basketball sneakers is also a remake of kt1 basketball shoes, so this pair of shoes is called the kt1 pro Golden State Warriors.” Click into the Anta Klay Thompson KT7 “Happy New Year” sneakers, and you’ll be greeted with a description of… Gordon Hayward’s shoes.

SFGATE attempted to reach someone at Anta proper to discuss Thompson’s domestic and international sneaker sales and strategy, but repeated emails to the company’s general inbox went unanswered. We tried to call the customer service line as a last resort, but it didn’t connect to anyone.

“They’re saying, ‘If you really want it bad enough, Americans, you can buy it online and we’ll ship it to you,”’ Williams tells SFGATE. “That’s their approach. There’s no marketing, there’s no storytelling, there’s no real push to inspire Americans to buy Klay’s shoes, or Rondo’s or Gordon Hayward’s or anybody else on Anta.”

Unsurprisingly, that means even in the Bay Area, Thompson’s shoes are like a rare Pokemon card. SFGATE reached a half-dozen consignment shops and Foot Lockers in San Francisco and Oakland, and not a single one had a pair of KT sneakers in stock.

Which brings this discussion back to where it started. The path to Thompson’s sneaker relevance in the U.S. is fairly obvious, but that’s not part of the deal when signing a lucrative contract with a Chinese shoe company that doesn’t cater to Americans. Anta doesn’t need American consumers, period. There’s no signature shoe tied to Thompson’s return, and his return isn’t what moves the needle overseas anyway. As Anta dubiously quoted Thompson on its official Facebook page in late November 2021: “Hopefully next time we meet, I’d win another ring wearing these KT7.”


About Dian Sastro

Check Also

4 Good reasons to Have on Martial Arts Shoes

Protective footwear or footwear are usually worn by all those skilled in diverse martial arts. …