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China: Ad insults national dignity

BEIJING -- China has banned a Nike television commercial
showing NBA star LeBron James battling a cartoon kung fu master,
saying the ad insults national dignity.

The commercial, titled "Chamber of Fear," was broadcast on
Chinese stations and on state television's national sports channel
before being pulled last month.

The ad shows James, the
Cleveland Cavaliers' reigning NBA rookie of the year 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 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 on its Web site Monday. "It also goes against rules that require ads not to contain content that blasphemes national practices and cultures. ... The ad has received an indignant response from Chinese viewers."

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

James and Nike based the ads for the 19-year-old'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.

"It was never intended to hurt anybody or any culture or
anything like that," James said after practice in Cleveland on
Monday.

"We put the ads together basically for kids."

James said Asian reporters have told him they liked the commercials. He was disappointed the ads were pulled and will prevent some of his fans from seeing him.

"That's big. I need as much fans as I can get," he said.

James, who signed a seven-year, $90 million endorsement deal
with Nike shortly before turning pro straight out of high school,
hopes to have things patched up with his Chinese fans in time for
the 2008 Beijing Olympics.

"I'll be there in 2008, so maybe they'll love me a little more
when I get there," said James, who played for the U.S. Olympic
team this summer in Athens.

Maurice Zhou, a spokesman in Shanghai for Beaverton, Ore.-based
Nike, 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," 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, such as China's Yao Ming.

Last month, a series of Nike ads in Singapore designed to
resemble graffiti drew attention in a nation known for civic order.

The small, page-sized posters featuring anime-style images of
James were pasted over the ad panels of 700 bus stops, surprising
commuters who were used to very tidy shelters. At least 50
commuters complained, shelter officials said.