The list of active NBA players with a signature shoe from a top brand is short and elite: LeBron James, Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant, James Harden, Paul George, Kyrie Irving, Damian Lillard, Derrick Rose (his old deal with Adidas).Also, Carmelo Anthony and Chris Paul have shoes in their name under the Jordan brand.
(There are other deals with Chinese and overseas companies, too: Rajon Rondo and Klay Thompson through ANTA; Dwyane Wade through Li-Ning; Tony Parker, Dwight Howard, and Matthew Dellavedova through PEAK.)
Notice any rookies or young players on that list? Nope. The days of top picks — even can’t miss top picks — getting massive shoe deals are gone. Rookies sign smaller deals — three-or-four years, around $1 million a year, for the top picks — then need to establish themselves not just as players but as crossover brands that break out of basketball before signature shoe deals start coming down.
Don’t tell LaVar Ball that.
The father of likely top three pick Lonzo Ball is trying to use that hype to promote his Big Baller Brand — and at the heart of the plan is a shoe deal. Except he went to the major shoe manufacturers — Nike, Adidas, and Under Armour — offering a co-branding strategy with Big Baller, and all three took a pass. Nick DePaula of The Vertical at Yahoo Sports wrote about the Ball shoe plan.
So far, Big Baller Brand has primarily sold screen-printed T-shirts, sweatshirts and embroidered hats on its web store, with prices ranging from $50-$100 per piece. The brand is targeting the $200 tier for its debut Big Baller Brand basketball sneaker, an industry source told The Vertical, which would presumably be Lonzo’s signature shoe for his rookie season. LaVar and associate Alan Foster reportedly have been developing the shoe over the past year.
Should Lonzo not reach an endorsement deal with any footwear brand and instead wear the family’s inaugural Big Baller Brand sneaker, it would be a first for a potential top-five selection. There’s no denying that LaVar’s push for a co-branded partnership with potential major brands has stifled what would otherwise be a highly competitive market for Lonzo, an industry source told The Vertical.
Forget that he hasn’t earned a shoe deal, but a $200 price point? That’s the very top of the market, more than the LeBron XIV (at full price on the Nike site), and LeBron has an established track record of being able to sell shoes. LeBron’s most expensive shoe is $220, and the latest KD’s go for $195. But again, those are established international stars who can sell shoes both domestically and overseas (especially China).
It’s not that shoe companies don’t want Lonzo Ball on their team, just not on his father’s terms. How good a point guard Ball will be as a pro is up for debate, some scouts and teams are high on him as a future All-Star level player, but another told me recently he sees a future average starting NBA point guard. Not bad, but not signature shoe deal good.
Don’t tell LaVar all this.
DePaula’s story notes that the two younger Ball brothers — LiAngelo and LaMelo — play for teams sponsored by Adidas (LiAngelo will attend UCLA next year, another Adidas school, but he is said not to be as good as his older brother). Maybe that cracks the door open with that company.
What frustrated people about LaVar is he seems to put making money and marketing ahead of success on the court. That’s not necessarily true, and to his credit Lonzo seems able to tune out his father’s “marketing” maneuvers, but there’s a sense of unearned entitlement that LaVar is unfairly placing on Lonzo. One plenty of NBA players will be ready to wipe out of Lonzo the first chance they get on the court.