James Harden of the Philadelphia 76ers playing in the Eastern Conference Semifinals at the 2023 NBA Playoffs at the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, on May 11, 2023. (Credit: Timothy Nwachukwu/Getty Images)
(CNN) -- NBA star James Harden expressed disbelief after Chinese fans bought 10,000 bottles of wine of his own brand in seconds, demonstrating the massive reach of live streaming in that country, where millions love basketball.
The veteran Philadelphia 76ers forward joined online celebrity Crazy Brother Yang's live stream Tuesday to promote his J-Harden-branded wine to 15 million tuned viewers, state tabloid Global Times reported.
"How many bottles do you normally sell in a day... from a store?" asked Yang to Harden, who replied, "Some boxes."
Yang then told the star to look at how fast they could sell them. "Show me," Harden replied, sitting up with his arms folded.
"Ready? Let's go!" said Yang to onlookers. Just 14 seconds later, he shouted, "Stop!"
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With 5,000 orders placed at $60 for two bottles, according to the Global Times, quick sales amounted to $300,000.
"It can't be!" said Harden, as he checked a computer monitor before erupting into laughter and applause.
Live shopping has skyrocketed in popularity in China in recent years, becoming a multibillion-dollar industry. It combines entertainment and e-commerce, and the host offers viewers lightning deals or discount coupons in real time. Viewers can instantly purchase merchandise from streamers and click to send virtual "gifts" to their favorite stars.
Streamers sell everything from makeup and skin care products to laundry detergent; And the best hosts can make millions of dollars a year, leading many to quit their full-time jobs in hopes of becoming an online star.
Harden's livestream quickly trended on Chinese social media, with some fans joking that he should play in China instead of being in the NBA and reap the benefits of his fan base there.
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Basketball in China
Basketball is hugely popular in China, largely thanks to Chinese legend Yao Ming's NBA Hall of Fame career. The league also has a long history in the country, having spent several decades and millions of dollars to build courts, bring stars to preseason games and initially grant broadcast rights for free.
That popularity among hundreds of millions of Chinese fans translates into lucrative sponsorship deals for the league and its star players. Before the pandemic, China accounted for at least 10% of the league's current revenue, according to one analyst.
But there's also the risk of doing business in China, which the NBA was forced to face in 2019 after becoming embroiled in a political controversy when then-Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey tweeted his support for pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong.
In response, the NBA's Chinese partners suspended ties with the league, state broadcaster CCTV halted all game broadcasts and the Chinese government said the NBA needed to show "mutual respect."
Morey apologized and deleted the tweet, and the NBA said his comments were "regrettable," but that sparked a backlash from fans in the United States and Hong Kong, who accused the league of censorship and caving in to Beijing.
Harden, who was with the Rockets at the time, also apologized for the controversy. "We apologize, we love China, we love playing here," he told reporters a few days after Morey's tweet. "We love everything they do. We appreciate the support they give us individually and as an organization."
This week, Harden lashed out at Morey, now president of the 76ers, amid ongoing trade speculation surrounding the 2018 NBA MVP.
"Daryl Morey is a liar and I will never be part of an organization that he is a part of," Harden said during an event in China.
Images of Harden's comments have circulated widely on social media. The comments were in response to a question from the crowd about ending the trade talks, according to NBA.com.
-- CNN's Ben Morse contributed reporting.