China sportswear manufacturer Li-Ning has reached a sponsorship deal with Miami Heat's All-star centre Shaquille O'Neal of the National Basketball Association (NBA), according to the country's leading website Sina.com.
The value of the contract is said to be at least 10 million yuan (US$1.25 million), making it the most expensive deal in the company's history.
A press officer at Li-Ning said yesterday there had been no official confirmation of the deal.
Company chairman Li Ning also refused to comment during a press conference on Wednesday in Beijing, but did not deny the move.
Sina reported that the deal was completed in mid-June, adding official details were due to be released within the next 10 days.
"We started the negotiations in February this year," a source told Sina.com. "It is his (O'Neal) sparkling performance that impresses the company and he is exactly in accordance with our spirit - 'Anything is Possible.'
"Basketball will be the major sponsor target of the company ahead of 2008 and there will be further deals after signing O'Neal."
Founded by the Chinese Olympic champion gymnast Li Ning, the company is arguably the most dynamic home brand in terms of high-end connections with overseas players and sports organizations.
If Sina's report is confirmed, it would make O'Neal Li-Ning's second current NBA player to have signed a deal this year following a two-year agreement with Cleveland Cavaliers' guard Damon Jones in January. The company became the NBA's marketing partner last year and has sponsored the Spanish national men's basketball team, which features Pau Gasol of the Memphis Grizzlies, since 2002.
It would be the biggest deal ever signed by a home sportswear company and an NBA player if confirmed.
The previous highest deal involved Portland Trailblazers legend Clyder Drexler, who signed with another home brand, Athletics, in 2005.
Away from the basketball court, the company joined men's professional tennis tour ATP as the official marketing partner earlier this year.
O'Neal, 34, is widely known as the most dominant centre in the NBA league, winning four NBA championships with Los Angeles Lakers (2000 to 2002) and Heat (2006).
Having transferred to Heat in 2004, he has averaged 22.9 points and 10.4 rebounds over the past two seasons.
Source: China Daily