BEIJING (AP) – China banned a Nike television commercial showing LeBron James battling a cartoon kung fu master, saying the ad insults national dignity.

The commercial, titled “Chamber of Fear,” was broadcast on local Chinese stations and on state television’s national sports channel before being pulled last month. It shows James, the Cleveland Cavaliers’ reigning NBA rookie of the year, defeating the kung fu master, two women in traditional Chinese attire and a pair of dragons, considered a sacred symbol in traditional Chinese culture.

The advertisement “violates regulations that mandate that all advertisements in China should uphold national dignity and interest and respect the motherland’s culture,” the State Administration for Radio, Film and Television said on its Web site Monday. “It also goes against rules that require ads not to contain content that blasphemes national practices and cultures.”

The statement added: “The ad has received an indignant response from Chinese viewers.”

It did not say why the advertisement was considered offensive. But communist officials are sensitive about the use of Chinese cultural symbols by Westerners and might have been especially angered that the Nike advertisement showed a foreigner winning the fight.

James and Nike based the ads for the 19-year-old’s Air Zoom LeBron II sneakers on films featuring martial arts icon Bruce Lee. James, who is a fan of Lee’s work, said he was sorry that some found the ads offensive.

“It was never intended to hurt anybody or any culture or anything like that,” James said after practice in Cleveland on Monday.

“We put the ads together basically for kids.”

James said Asian reporters told him they liked the commercials. He was disappointed the ads were pulled and will prevent some of his fans from seeing him.

“That’s big. I need as much fans as I can get,” he said.

James, who signed a seven-year, $90 million endorsement deal with Nike shortly before turning pro straight out of high school, hopes to have things patched up with his Chinese fans in time for the 2008 Beijing Olympics.

“I’ll be there in 2008, so maybe they’ll love me a little more when I get there,” said James, who played for the U.S. Olympic team this summer in Athens.

Maurice Zhou, a spokesman in Shanghai for Beaverton, Ore.-based Nike Inc. said the company had no response except to say that it “respected the government’s decision.”

“We respect and follow the Chinese government’s laws and regulations,” Zhou said.

The Chinese television regulator tightened controls over programming in May by prohibiting the use of English words and imported programs that promote “Western ideology and politics.”

The Nike advertisement is part of fast-growing foreign efforts to cash in on the huge popularity of basketball in China and the celebrity of James and other NBA players, such as China’s Yao Ming.

Last month, a series of Nike ads in Singapore designed to resemble graffiti drew attention in a nation known for civic order.

The small, page-size posters featuring anime-style images of James were pasted over the ad panels of 700 bus stops, surprising commuters who were used to very tidy shelters. At least 50 commuters complained, shelter officials said.

AP Sports Writer Tom Withers in Cleveland contributed to this report.

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