He hasn’t graduated from high school yet, but basketball phenom LeBron James will likely sign a nine-figure shoe endorsement deal before tonight’s NBA draft lottery. The 6-foot-8 James is expected to be the first pick in this year’s draft, regardless of who earns the right to pick first June 26.
The 18-year-old, a senior at St. Vincent-St. Mary’s of Akron, Ohio, has been fielding offers from Nike, Reebok and Adidas with his agent, Aaron Goodwin. Contract minimums are expected to be around $75 million over seven years, with estimates topping out at $140 million over 10 years. Front-runners Reebok and Nike will make their final offers to the James team today.
Michael Jordan originally signed with Nike for $500,000 per year. With what he will get from his new contract, James will make that much every two weeks. And, according to the National Basketball Players’ Association, the most he can be paid as the first pick is $10.8 million over three years. His shoe deal would be worth three times that.
Of the big-time companies courting James, Reebok is leading the pack – at the moment. Reebok already has three of the most exciting NBA players under contract, led by Philadelphia 76er Allen Iverson. Guards Baron Davis and Steve Francis add credibility to Reebok’s brand, but the company hasn’t seen its star power translate to a market share similar to what Nike or Adidas has, especially in the basketball shoe market. Popular styles of shoes can command $150 or more at the mall, and that high price is all profit. And a LeBron model would be worth the serious coin for hip-hop and basketball fashion hipsters. Reebok might be willing to pay whatever it takes to ink him for the next decade.
Of course, since it has the star power and the deepest pockets in the business, Nike might be the one, too. James idolizes Jordan. Jordan is synonymous with Nike. Some speculate that James could step in and take over the Jumpman 23 brand (LeBron wore #23 in high school). The bad side of that idea is that James might want to make his own brand and be his own man.
Adidas is looking like it can’t hang in the dealings anymore, but it has a sweet consolation prize. The shoe company, which sponsored James’ high school team and provided jerseys, sweatbands, socks and shoes to the Catholic school team, will probably sign superstar Tracy McGrady this summer and pair him with Kobe Bryant. With that star-powered lineup, Adidas will keep its market share.
The James legend will continue to grow. He was the first player to win USA Today Player of the Year honors in both his junior and senior seasons, and some said he deserved it as a sophomore. James was named Ohio’s Mr. Basketball his last three years in high school and was state tournament MVP as a freshman, sophomore and senior.
He followed a national media frenzy about his loaded Hummer H2 with a 50-point game, and after he was ruled ineligible for one game for accepting a pair of Gale Sayers and Wes Unseld throwback jerseys, he came back and laid 52 points on his next high school patsy. James scored all 52 points in 28 minutes. And he’s known for getting teammates involved. James threw two easy alley-oops to teammate Charlie Villanueva in the McDonald’s All-Star Game and threw a couple others that had they been caught by someone with NBA hops, would have been similarly slammed.
While it will be a slam-dunk, the assist he’ll get for whipping the shoe market into a frenzy will lead to more than a measly two-point bucket. Some company is going to come out of the bargaining circus with a lot less money and the basketball prize of the millennium to show for it.