Where is LeBron James going to land next summer?
We’re not talking about him going to the Knicks. (That’s not going to happen anyway, with the shrinking salary cap the Knicks can’t afford LeBron and enough talent to make him happy.)
We’re talking about LeBron’s shoe deal — that contract is up after next season, too. He’s a free agent in that arena as well.
While he may be the face of Nike’s basketball marketing right now — commercials with a LeBron puppet and him throwing chalk into the air seemed to run on a loop during the NBA playoffs — he isn’t worth the $13 million a year he is getting now in terms of selling shoes. Nike may want him to take a pay cut.
Which could open the door for Adidas.
Nike signed LeBron right out of high school to an insanely rich deal, betting on the come that he would live up to the incredible hype and become an iconic basketball player. And on the court he’s done it — he’s arguably the best player walking the planet and is only getting better, he has carried a team of questionalbe talent to the way to the NBA Finals a couple years back (but has yet to win a ring).
However, off the court, Nike is paying LeBron Michael Jordan money — and he’s no Jordan. Despite the release of the new Air Zoom LeBron VII last month, Jordan still dominates LeBron —92.8 percent of the high-end basketball shoe sales are the Jordan line. Dwyane Wade may be moving to the Jordan line once his Converse deal expires, which likely would expand that market share.
Jordan is still the King, and Nike is paying LeBron big money for a small share of the market. Nike and LeBron are talking contract extension right now, and you can be sure they are not keeping the $13 million a year flat rate offer on the table. LeBron is going to make less unless his shoes start selling.
But for Adidas, stealing LeBron might be worth that kind of money. The buzz it would create would reverberate well outside basketball — and unlike Adidas’s current biggest name (Kevin Garnett) LeBron isn’t likely to flub the company advertising slogan on national television. LeBron knows how to market almost as well as he knows how to drive the lane.
It still seems a long shot — few athletes and brands are as intertwined as Nike and LeBron. A deal based on LeBron getting a percentage of sales might make more sense.
Still, anytime the biggest name in the sport is a free agent, you have to think someone else is at least going to take their best shot to steal the prize. For an underdog, the gamble might well be worth it.
Bottom line, impossible is nothing.