Houston Rockets guard Steve Francis has signed an endorsement deal with Chinese shoemaker Anta, becoming the company's first international spokesman. Francis had been with Reebok.

Andy Mao, the company's vice president, said Francis may be wearing the shoes as early as Thursday night, when the Rockets play Dallas in an exhibition game. The shoes could be available in China by the end of the year, but may not be available in the United States for three or four years, Mao said.

“This right here can be a stepping stone for myself and possibly open it up for other players to do the same thing,” said Francis, who signed with the Rockets as a free agent in July and also played with them from 1999 to 2004.

The Rockets have appeal in China because they drafted Yao Ming in 2002. Yao has a contract with Reebok. Mao said the Rockets are the most popular team in China, not only because of Yao, but also because the team has tried to reach out to fans there.

“They've put a lot of effort to building up that market,” Mao said. “With Francis, that will make it easier for us to promote him.”

Anta was established in 1994. It has grown into one of China's largest sellers of athletics apparel, with more than 4,000 outlets nationwide.