Nike Space // China Trip 12/29

Most people go to the beach or skiing during the winter holidays. Not me. Always up for an adventure, my wife and I traveled to China where we visited friends and family, saw the sites, ate, shopped and got lost. As always, my eyes were open for insights on culture, consumers, branding and marketing - you'll find them in this set of posts - most starting with a bit of business, followed by some fun (and strange) trip stories. (8th in a series) Man, Beijing is huge. I mean, I live in a city that seems to sprawl forever, especially at certain times of day. But LA’s 498 square miles is like a puddle in the middle of Beijing’s 6,487. For my math majors out there, that means it’s over 13 times bigger.

Not only does it go on and on, everything in the city just seems bigger. For example, I wanted to see the Nike art space, so we visited the art gallery district 798 Dashanzi — approximately 20 square blocks of old Soviet weapons factory buildings that have been converted into hundreds of art galleries, shops, and restaurants. This place could be a city of its own.

The galleries covered many different genres of painting, photography, and sculpture, from traditional to contemporary. Nothing I would really call street art, but I may have missed that. We definitely didn’t get to everything, even with two separate visits.

The Nike space is hidden among the galleries and outdoor sculptures, and we would have missed it if there weren’t billboards and banners hanging across every street in the area to make sure we didn’t.

What we found inside was a beautiful full basketball court with bleachers, scoreboard and video screens, all themed around LeBron. On either end was a display of LeBron’s Nikes and some pictures of him.

This wasn’t a gallery exactly, which was a bit disappointing at first. I thought it would have been a great opportunity for Nike to show its support of the art community by highlighting some great emerging artists. On the other hand, the whole place was filled with emerging artists, so Nike’s gallery would surely have been just one among the crowd.

While I was struggling with the relevance of building a basketball court inside an art colony, it hit me that the place was full. Well, not full exactly, but considering we were there at 2:00 on a Monday afternoon, there was a really good crowd of players and spectators. About 20 guys were participating in drills and a mini game, with about another 20 watching. Nothing for sale, nobody collecting sign-ups, this was pure experience.

So Nike brought something it does really well — sport — to a place where it may not be immediately relevant, but is ultimately welcome. I think the idea is that when you’re really good at what you do, you can take a few liberties you wouldn’t get away with otherwise.

Visit the 798 and Nike Space photo album for more pictures.