Looking back at NBA rookie shoe deals ahead of the 2022 NBA Draft

Eleven games into Michael Jordan’s illustrious career, he donned a pair of sneakers that changed the game forever. Originally featuring the Chicago Bulls’ black and red combo, the Jordan 1s have become one of fashion’s most iconic items, reflecting the massive popularity boom the NBA experienced with Jordan at the helm.

The league fined Jordan $5,000 per game to ban the shoes for violating uniform guidelines. Nike chose to call the bluff and pay all of his penalties, a decision that paid off drastically as he took the NBA by storm, winning Rookie of the Year and six NBA titles.

Nearly 40 years later, Michael Jordan’s deal with Air Jordan – owned by Nike – remains the most valuable footwear deal in sport year after year. It also revolutionized the expectations of players and brands collaborating with each other.

Here’s a brief history of NBA footwear contracts and what fans can expect for the 2022 NBA draft class as they enter the league:

What Makes NBA Shoe Contracts Unique?

The NBA is a league of big bodies and bigger personalities.

As the NFL grows in popularity in the United States, the NBA has become the center of pop culture, often representing the latest fashion trends, attracting celebrities and establishing itself as a recognizable brand around the world.

“All brands see the NBA as a point of contact with culture, music and style. We’re seeing tunnel entrance becoming almost as important as what they wear in-game,” said Nick DePaula, an NBA feature writer at ESPN. “I think brands are looking at deals more holistically than ever before.”

This increased player visibility, due in part to the smaller rosters and close proximity of fans to the court that is particularly unique to basketball, is every brand’s dream. So the shoe deal.

According to sports agent Mark Bartelstein, founder of Priority Sports, whose clients include Bradley Beal and Kyle Lowry, social media has also played a big part in accessibility and belonging to the league.

“I think social media has given the fans of the game, the fans of the brands, a much stronger, much more transparent opportunity to learn more about the players, to learn about their personalities, to learn things that make them tick,” Bartelstein said .

Paisley Benaza, a cultural communications strategist who is currently pursuing her PhD in Mass Media and Sports Marketing at the State of Arizona, spoke about the importance of effective agent negotiation.

Benaza said speaking to sports agents taught her that “value or contribution or box score” has little bearing on the contract a player can land and that the real bargaining power and responsibility rests with the agent.

How have NBA endorsements and brand partnerships changed over time?

While most players are still making the old collegiate attempt, the emergence of alternative options such as G League Ignite and Overtime Elite and the addition of laws allowing collegiate players to relinquish their name, image and likeness (NIL) to benefit, support modified game. Long before their names are drafted, players are already establishing their personal brands and have expectations of their ratings.

“They make their decisions very much based on their own preferences,” Benaza said of how players determine which brands they sign with.

DePaula added that players continue to take a more active role in the creative process, even going so far as to design their own player logos, merchandise and slogans. He said this signals potential brands that the player is actively engaged, as opposed to “someone who wears our shoes but maybe doesn’t put much into it”.

However, don’t be fooled. Loyalty still runs deep.

Before the NBA draft even gets underway, players have already identified favorite brands that stretch back to their high school and college days.

DePaula went on to say that he anticipates the addition of NIL deals and existing agent relationships that will help expedite the process, and some deals could land before the June 23 draft.

Changes are not strictly related to gameplay. Brands, including the NBA, continue to expand beyond the US, and the footwear business is no exception. Chinese brands in particular have made a name for themselves, signing sponsorship deals with Klay Thompson, Rajon Rondo and Andrew Wiggins.

What type of shoe contracts are available to NBA players?

There are three types of contracts in the shoe world – signature, cash and merge deals.

Signature deals, reserved for the league’s 20 or so most marketable players, typically reach the multimillion-dollar threshold, including royalties. It’s not only important to a player’s brand, but also an opportunity for them to take an active role in the design of the shoe, which is then released around the world.

Landing a signature deal is particularly rare for newbies. These are typically players who have been anointed into certified stars long before their NBA debut – think Zion Williamson, John Wall and LeBron James to name a few.

“Especially these days, brands are still holding back and wanting to see a player who can prove themselves before they give them a signature shoe,” said DePaula.

The most popular option — a cash deal — typically comes with packages ranging from $50,000 to $2 million, according to DePaula, but doesn’t include a signature shoe deal. Rather, players agree on exclusivity with a brand that offers all of their shoes. This option often includes bonus incentives as well, such as B. Creating an All-Star Game.

After all, the merger deal, which is usually reserved for players at the back of the bench and younger players, is primarily just an agreement for free boots in exchange for on-pitch visibility.

What are some of the notable footwear offerings of the 2021-22 NBA season?

How do brands convince NBA players to work with them?

It’s a two-way street with players and brands arguing why they’re the right partnership.

While brands are typically reticent about awarding multi-million dollar deals, the cash deals are still very risky and just another gamble with the harvest of players entering the league.

“I would say this is a two-way trial where players are testing stuff from sometimes five, sometimes even seven or eight brands at a time,” DePaula said.

According to DePaula, brands typically have budgets ranging from $6 million to $15 million per draft. They’ll try to land a bunch of picks, knowing that “maybe three of those five lottery picks they’re trying to sign aren’t going to pan out.”

The sales pitch is a different production.

Brands often put weeks and months of strategy and preparation into a pitch that lasts a few hours at most.

Adidas is known for renting out lavish mansions complete with a private chef, entertainment rooms and countless items tailored to the player and their support system.

Meanwhile, according to DePaula, Nike rolled out the red carpet for Williamson and provided 365 pairs of shoes — one for each day — that earned his family members nods.

Even the vast majority of players who fail to sign signing deals in their rookie season are often on the receiving end of pitches from countless brands.

Corey Kispert, a guard drafted by the Washington Wizards with the #15 pick in the 2021 NBA draft, witnessed this firsthand leading up to the draft.

“I did my kind of pre-design process in Chicago last year, and companies from all over the world are sending shoes to a variety of guys who were in my rookie class,” Kispert said. “We wear shoes from different brands for a few days, try them on and see if we like them, and just give them reviews.”

Kispert continued that deciding which brand to sign with is often a collaborative process.

“We talk to each other, we exchange ideas,” he said. “It was sort of a peer review process, if you will.”

The Gonzaga product ended up signing with Nike, the brand he’s played with since high school. The sporting goods giant has made a particularly dominant name for itself in the basketball world, accounting for over two-thirds of the shoes worn in the NBA.

How important is a shoe contract to an NBA player’s career?

A shoe store can mean very different things to a player entering the league and an established veteran.

Every NBA draft is littered with losers who either didn’t succeed in the league or struggled with injuries that reduced their earning potential and shortened their careers. Assists are a means for players to earn income early in their careers in the event of a shortened or disappointing career.

“Some of these shoe deals are signed for between $1 million and $2 million a year, and if they don’t fund themselves, they might never see that money again in their careers,” DePaula said. “For many players, it will be the biggest deal they could possibly have signed in their off-the-pitch career.”

Despite what Jerry Maguire would have you believe, it’s not always about the money. For younger players, Benaza said, this can serve as confirmation that a player “made it.” Meanwhile, a well-run partnership can draw attention on the pitch.

According to DePaula, Wiggins, who is sponsored by Chinese footwear company PEAK, was rumored to receive the first NBA All-Star honors last season – despite coming off the bench for the Golden State Warriors – behind an influx of international votes.

While players may choose the largest contract available early in their careers, they can still find ways to ensure a partnership reflects their values ​​and personal brand.

“You can make a really good living from having a good personal brand,” said Kispert. “And you’re going to see, you can see that companies are really starting to align with people who are following a lot and are dynamic on social media.”

Who Are the Favorites for Shoe Contracts in the 2022 NBA Draft Class?

The 2022 NBA draft class is developing very strongly, but that may not translate immediately to the sneaker world. At the top of the draft, four players remain in the mix to finish in Orlando with the #1 overall pick. Without a clear leader, companies are less likely to hedge their bets with a signature deal.

That doesn’t mean all hope of a solid deal for the future stars is lost.

DePaula is particularly optimistic about Jaden Ivey’s chances of leading the negotiations. Ivey launched a strong freshmen campaign at Purdue before deciding to return for another year. In his breakout season, he emerged as an almost certain top-five pick.

Meanwhile, Bartelstein relies on Iowa’s Keegan Murray, who has also returned for his sophomore year and is rising on the draft boards as a top lottery pick.

Milwaukee’s Patrick Baldwin Jr., Arizona’s Benedict Mathurin and the Kentucky and TyTy Washington duo of Shaedon Sharp and TyTy Washington were all names touted as potential targets for big-footed contracts upon entering the league.
Bartelstein said the most important thing is that the player likes playing in the shoes.

“It’s hard to play well when you don’t feel good about what you want on your feet,” he said.

Kispert put it best:

“Look good, feel good, play good.”

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