When the NBA announced a program for elite prospects where they could bypass college and jump straight into the G-League with a salary of $125,000, it was mostly met by indifference by agents. The deal is only available to a select group — players teams considered consensus candidates for the draft if there were no one-and-done rule — and players such as Kevin Durant and Emanuel Mudiay said they would not have taken it.
Mark Cuban stuck up for the plan and cited marketing, speaking to Ben Standig of NBC Sports Washington.
“If you’re a strong enough brand and a good enough basketball player, you’re crazy I think if you don’t take the [$125,000 salary] in the NBA G-League (because) they can also do their own marketing deals. They’re not constrained by the NBA players association….
“Pick a very popular player that has a couple of million Instagram followers,” Cuban said. “You can go right to the G-League and probably sign a multi-million shoe deal. Why wouldn’t you do that instead of going to college? Because you’re going to play against better players. You don’t have the ridiculous NCAA rules that say you can only practice X number of hours against your teammates. You can only spend so much time with your coaches. You can’t earn any extra money.”
I don’t see it that way, and let’s use Zion Williamson as the example. The shoe deal Williamson will sign this coming summer will dwarf what he could have signed a year ago out of high school, and a season at Duke — where he was a force of nature — is the main reason why.
Williamson was well known within basketball circles before he got to Duke, his dunks got YouTube hits and Instagram followers, but he was not the consensus No. 1 pick nor a cultural phenomenon yet. He was a highly rated, interesting prospect. He was not on SportsCenter, he was not growing his brand with casual sports fans, he was famous within a niche. No longer. He is incredibly marketable now to a much broader swath of fans.
Would Williamson’s popularity have grown the same way if he played in Fort Wayne or Austin, or Maine? Or even Long Island or the South Bay of Los Angeles? No. Duke is on national television all the time, the G-League is not. That still matters. Plus Williamson might not have looked as good against physically superior players in the G-League — men competing for paychecks, not boys — as he has at Duke. Might that have made Williamson a better player? Likely so. But not more marketable.
I have yet to hear anyone leaning toward the NBA’s G-League offer. By 2022 it will all be moot anyway as guys like Williamson will just head straight to the NBA.