Looking Back at NBA Rookie Shoe Deals Ahead of the 2022 NBA Draft originally appeared on NBC Sports Chicago
In eleven games of Michael Jordan’s illustrious career, he wore a pair of shoes that changed the game forever. Initially featuring Bulls of ChicagoCombining black and red, the Jordan 1 has become one of fashion’s most iconic pieces and a reflection of the massive popularity boom the NBA has experienced with Jordan at the helm.
The league fined Jordan $5,000 per game in an attempt to ban the shoe for violating uniform rules. Nike decided to call the bluff and paid all of his fines, a decision that paid off handsomely as he took the NBA by storm, winning Rookie of the Year and six NBA titles.
Nearly 40 Years Later, Michael Jordan’s Nike-Owned Air Jordan Deal Remains most valuable shoe contract in sports year after year. It has also fundamentally changed the expectations of players and brands collaborating with each other.
Here’s a brief history of NBA shoe contracts and what fans can expect from the 2022 NBA draft class when they enter the league:
What Makes NBA Shoe Contracts Unique?
The NBA is a league of big bodies and big personalities.
While the NFL remains more popular in the US, the NBA has become a center of pop culture, often representing latest fashion trendsattraction celebrities and establish itself as a recognizable brand worldwide.
“All brands see the NBA as a point of contact for culture, music and style. We’re seeing the entrance to the tunnel become almost as important as what they’re wearing in the game,” said Nick DePaula, NBA columnist with ESPN. “I think brands are looking at deals more comprehensively than ever before.”
This increased visibility of the players, partly due to the smaller squad and the close proximity of the fans to the court, which is especially unique in basketball, is the dream of every brand. So, it’s about shoes.
According to sports agent Mark Bartelstein, founder of Priority Sports, whose clients include Bradley Beal and Kyle Lowry, social media has also played a huge role in the league’s reach and reputation.
“I think social media has given the fans of the game, the fans of the brands, a much stronger and more transparent opportunity to learn about the players, to know their personalities, to find out what they care about,” said Bartelstein.
Paisley Benaza, a cultural communications strategist currently pursuing a PhD in media and sports marketing from Arizona State, spoke about the importance of effective agent negotiation.
Benaza said that conversations with sports agents taught her that “value, contributions, or boxing points” don’t matter much to a contract a player can get, and that the true power of negotiation and responsibility lies with the agent.
How have NBA endorsements and brand partnerships changed over time?
While most players are still trying out the old college, the emergence of alternatives like G League Ignite and Overtime Elite, as well as the addition of laws to allow college players to profit from their name, image and likeness (NIL) have changed the approval game. Long before they hear their name in the draft, players are already on their way to building their personal brand and awaiting their grades.
“They make a lot of decisions based on their own preferences,” Benaza said of how players decide which brands to sign with.
DePaula added that players continue to take a more active role in the creative process, going as far as designing their own player logos, merchandise and slogans. He said it signals to potential brands that the player is actively involved and not “someone who will wear our shoes but may not invest much in them.”
However, don’t be fooled. Loyalty is still deep.
Even before the NBA draft even begins, players have already identified their favorite brands from their high school and college days.
DePaula went on to say that he expects NIL deals to be added, and existing agent relationships will help speed up the process, with some deals likely to be done before the June 23 draft.
Changes concern not only the gameplay. Brands, including the NBA, continue to expand outside the US, and the footwear business is no exception. Chinese brands have particularly distinguished themselves by securing sponsorship from Clay Thompson, Rajon Rondo and Andrew Wiggins.
What shoe deals are available to NBA players?
There are three types of contracts available in the shoe world: signing, cash and merger deals.
signature deals, reserved for the 20 or so top-selling players in the league tend to reach the multi-million dollar threshold including fees. This is not only important for the player’s brand, but also gives him the opportunity to take an active part in the development of shoes, which will then be released worldwide.
Signing a deal is especially rare for newcomers. Typically, these are players who become certified stars long before they make their NBA debut, such as Zion Williamson, John Wall and LeBron James.
“Especially these days, brands are still holding on and wanting to see a player who can prove himself first before they give them branded shoes,” DePaula said.
The most popular option, the cash deal, typically includes $50,000 to $2 million packages, but doesn’t include a branded shoe deal, DePaula said. Rather, players settle for exclusivity with a brand that provides all of their shoes. This option also often includes bonus promotions, such as participation in an All-Star game.
Finally, the merger deal, usually reserved for players at the end of the bench and younger players, is basically just a free shoe deal in exchange for on-court visibility.
What are some of the notable shoe deals for the 2021-22 NBA season?
How do brands convince NBA players to partner with them?
It’s a two-way street where players and brands prove why they’re the right fit for a partnership.
While brands tend to refrain from giving away multi-million dollar contracts, cash deals are still quite risky and represent another bet on the number of players joining the league.
“I would say it’s a probing process on both sides, where players test products of sometimes five, and sometimes seven or eight brands at the same time,” DePaula said.
According to DePaula, brands typically budget between $6 million and $15 million per draft. They will try to get a few picks, knowing that “maybe three out of the five lottery picks they are trying to sign won’t work.”
Commercial filing is a different production.
Brands often invest weeks and months of strategizing and preparation into a presentation that lasts no more than a couple of hours.
Adidas known for renting out elaborate mansions with a personal chef, an entertainment room, and countless items personalized to the player and their support system.
Meanwhile, according to DePaula, Nike rolled out the red carpet for Williamson with 365 pairs of shoes — one for each day — including nods to members of his family.
Even the vast majority of players who don’t get signed in their rookie season often get offers from countless brands.
“Last year I did a pre-selection in Chicago and companies from all over the world are sending shoes to different guys who were in my rookie class,” Kispert said. “We wear shoes of different brands for several days, try them on and see if we like them, and just give them ratings.”
Kispert went on to say that determining which brand to sign with is often a collaborative process.
“We talk to each other, exchange ideas,” he said. “It was sort of a peer-reviewed process, if you will.”
Gonzaga’s product eventually signed with Nike, the brand he had played with since high school. The sports equipment giant has earned itself a particularly dominant name in the world of basketball, with over two-thirds shoes worn in the NBA.
How important is a shoe contract to an NBA player’s career?
A shoe deal can mean very different things for a player entering the league and a well-established veteran.
Every NBA draft is full of underdogs who either didn’t make it in the league or suffered injuries that reduced their earning potential and shortened their careers. Endorsements are a means for players to accumulate earnings early in their career in the event of a career cut or disappointment.
“Some of these shoe deals are anywhere from $1 million to $2 million a year, and if they don’t pay off, they may never see that money again in their careers,” DePaula said. “For many players, this will be the biggest deal they could sign in their off-field career.”
Whatever Jerry Maguire tells you to believe, it’s not always about the money. For younger players, Benaza said it could serve as confirmation that a player has “succeeded”. Meanwhile, a well-established partnership can draw attention on the court.
According to DePaula, there were rumors that Wiggins, who is sponsored by the Chinese shoe company PEAK, earned his first NBA All-Star Game award last season despite coming off the bench for Golden State Warriors – behind the influx of international voices.
While players strive to secure the largest contract available early in their careers, they can still find ways to ensure that the partnership reflects their values and personal brand.
“You can make a good living with a good personal brand,” Kispert said. “And you’re going to see, you know, you can see companies really start to partner with people who get a lot of followers and are active on social media.”
Who is the favorite to win shoe contracts in the 2022 NBA draft class?
The 2022 NBA Draft class promises to be strong enough, but it may not be immediately reflected in the sneaker world. At the top of the draft, four players remain in the mix to end up in Orlando with the No. 1 overall pick. Without a clear leader, companies are less likely to hedge their bets with a signed deal.
That doesn’t mean that all hope of future stars getting a solid deal is lost.
DePaula is particularly optimistic about Jayden Ivey chances of success in negotiations. Ivey had a strong freshman campaign at Purdue before deciding to return for another year. In his breakout season, he became an almost unmistakable top-five pick.
Meanwhile, Bartelstein is confident in Iowa’s success. Keegan Murrayalso returned to his sophomore year and rises in the draft boards as a high lottery choice.
Patrick Baldwin Jr. of Milwaukee, Arizona Benedict Mathurin and duo from Kentucky Schaedon Sharp and Thai Thai Washington All names were named as potential targets for major contracts after joining the league.
Bartelstein said that the most important thing is that the player enjoys playing in these shoes.
“It’s hard to play well if you don’t feel great about what you want on your feet,” he said.
Kispert said it best:
“Look good, feel good, play good.”