US sportswear giant Nike has issued a clarification saying it has no formal athlete relationship with Chinese League of Legends player Jian ‘Uzi’ Zihao.
A deal between Zihao and the US sportswear giant, which would have marked a first for an esports athlete, was widely reported last week. Zihao, who represents the Royal Never Give Up (RNG) team, was featured alongside National Basketball Association (NBA) icon LeBron James and Chinese actor Bai Jingting to promote the former’s ‘Dribble &’ marketing campaign to support the LA Lakers forward’s upcoming ‘Shut up and dribble’ Showtime series.
The launch of the partnership saw Zihao sporting a black t-shirt adorned with the text ‘Dribble & Carry’, with the word ‘carry’ being a term commonly used in League of Legends to refer to a single player pushing their team to victory.
Nike has now said that it has no formal athlete contract with Zihao.
In a statement issued to SportsPro a Nike representative said: 'As part of LeBron’s “DRIBBLE & ______” campaign, we wanted to showcase some minded individuals who just like LeBron is a dominant force in his field and who just LeBron has brought his passion and love for basketball into different fields such as esport gaming, entertainment, also the sneaker culture field. In this case, we invited different influencers to be part of this campaign and Uzi he’s also just part of the influencers in our social media post.'
Adding: '[Zihao] is part of the campaign with other influencers and Nike did not sign Uzi in any athlete contract or having special deal with him.'
Zihao, 21, is widely regarded as one of the best League of Legends players in the world, and recently won a gold medal in the title at the Asian Games in Jakarta, where competitive gaming was included for the first time as a demonstration event. Chinese state television broadcaster CCTV aired a documentary about Zihao’s esports career before his appearance at the Games.
Zihao’s team RNG have also signed a number of non-endemic commercial deals in recent times, partnering with both German car giant Mercedes and fast food chain KFC.