Xtep International Holdings, China’s third-largest home-grown sports brand, is making its first foray into basketball shoes and apparel, extending its portfolio after a global shopping spree for running gear. The Fujian-based company has signed on basketball star Jeremy Lin as a brand ambassador for four models of basketball shoes, featuring “Linsanity” stitchings, due for release in October. Xtep did not provide financial details of the endorsement. The endorsement will help boost “Xtep’s development as a company” and spur “future investment into basketball”, said Xtep’s founder and chairman Ding Shui Po during a launch of the range in Guangzhou today, calling Lin “China’s biggest basketball player”. The endorsement came during an annual Asia tour by Lin in his nine-year basketball career. Before Xtep, Lin had endorsed Volvo cars (for Geely Automobile Holdings), Adidas and Nike. In 2014 Adidas endorsed him in a deal worth a reported US$3 million annually for five years, after Lin’s contract with Nike expired. Public appearances in Asia were part of the deal, in an effort to boost the brand in the region. Adidas was the leading sportswear brand in China in 2018, holding a 19.5 per cent market share, according to Euromonitor. Xtep, based in Quanzhou of Fujian province, was in sixth place last year with a 4.6 per cent share of the market. Lin will be the only basketball – and non-native Chinese – ambassador for Xtep, who have so far positioned themselves to become China’s top running brand. The firm currently sponsors Olympic long-distance female runner He Yinli, and male sprinter Xu Zhouzheng. “I very much look forward to working with Xtep, it really is a great brand,” Lin said during a launch ceremony in Guangzhou. Basketball has become one of the fastest growing sports in China, due in no small part to hometown champion Yao Ming’s 2016 election into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame alongside Shaquille O’Neal and Allen Iverson. China, which captured the nation’s first Olympic medal in basketball with the women team’s bronze at the 1984 Los Angeles Games, is the dominant force in Asian basketball. The sport represents a growth opportunity for Xtep, which has made a name for itself in running gear. It had gone on a shopping spree in the past year for marquee brands, paying US$260 million in May to buy the owner of K-Swiss, following a venture in March to sell Saucony running shoes . “Xtep have never done basketball before, so this is an opportunity to be a trailblazer,” he said. “I am a bit older now and it isn’t about choosing the endorsement with the most money.” Outside its products, Xtep plans to develop its basketball business by expanding into schools, charity and fashion in the future. “It is my hope too that, through the product co-creation initiative, we can encourage more people to take part in the basketball sport in all different ways and come to love the sport more,” said Lin, who the company also appointed as charity ambassador. Through the role, Lin will visit children in poor regions every year to encourage them to play basketball, as well as launch a series of charitable programmes, according to Xtep. Having won his first National Basketball Association (NBA) championship in June for the Toronto Raptors, the 30-year-old devout Christian is now a free agent for the third time, causing wide speculation as to his next move. In a recent interview on Taiwanese television, Lin opened up about how he has hit “rock bottom” after feeling the NBA has given up on him. Born and raised in California, he was the first American of Chinese or Taiwanese descent to have played in America’s NBA league, and has struggled throughout his career with what has been seen as discrimination against his ethnicity in the sport. In 2011 the Harvard graduate played for the Dongguan Leopards in the Chinese Basketball Association (CBA).