“It is a simpler proposition for a Chinese celebrity to say I’m going to end my ties with X European company and probably be rewarded domestically for it,” Ms. Hassam said. “Americans looking to profit off China’s market find themselves in a much more challenging place.”
After Li-Ning and Anta published positive statements on Xinjiang cotton last week, investors in China sent the share price of both companies soaring. Chinese state media was quick to fuel the show of patriotism. At one point, a pair of Li-Ning shoes under Mr. Wade’s Way of Wade line traded for nearly $7,500.
But the statements could invite regulatory scrutiny on future business operations in the United States, said Brian J. Fleming, a lawyer specializing in sanctions at Miller Chevalier Chartered.
“By speaking out, Anta and Li Ning are simultaneously supporting the Chinese government and thumbing their noses at U.S. restrictions, which is a combination unlikely to be greeted warmly by U.S. authorities,” Mr. Fleming said.
Anta and Li-Ning did not respond to requests for comment.
Mr. Thompson, one of the N.B.A.’s biggest stars, is known as “China Klay” to his Chinese fans and once said he wanted to be the Michael Jordan of Anta. His teammate James Wiseman, as well as Alex Caruso of the Los Angeles Lakers, signed with Anta earlier this year, according to the sportswear brand’s social media account. Precious Achiuwa of the Heat announced this week that he was joining Anta.
Requests for comment from Mr. Thompson and other N.B.A. players also went unanswered.
Outside China, Xinjiang has become synonymous with repression. Reports suggest as many as one million Uyghurs and other largely Muslim ethnic minorities have been held in detention camps. In March, Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken accused China of continuing to “commit genocide and crimes against humanity” in the far northwestern region.