The future is bright for Duke’s mega-star Zion Williamson. The projected No. 1 pick will choose a sneaker deal between six sneaker companies (Puma, Adidas, Nike, Under Armour, Anta, and New Balance). Zion’s future endorsement deal will make him one of the highest paid rookies in NBA history, joining LeBron James and Kevin Durant. In 2003, 18-year-old LeBron James met with Reebok and rejected a $10 million offer on spot to sign with Nike for $90 million. In 2009, Maryland native Kevin Durant was also in a bidding war between 2 emerging sneaker companies (Nike and Adidas) before choosing Nike for $60 million. Durant turned down a $70 million dollar offer from Adidas.
Since Williamson’s last game as a Duke Blue Devil, the anticipation began to sink in. Zion is set to announce his decision in May right before the NBA Draft Lottery. Former Adidas marketing executive Sonny Vaccaro has been drawn to the likes of Williamson. He’s convinced that Zion will be a marketing superstar in any market that he plays in. Zion Williamson can ink a deal between $100-150 million before he steps foot on an NBA court and as Vaccaro insists He will be the first 18-year-old billionaire athlete. I seen similarities in Zion and LeBron, however this generation that we’re in has praised the Phenomenon of Zion Williamson.
For those of you who don’t know about Sonny Vaccaro, He’s a godfather to the sports marketing world. His journey took off back in 1980 with Nike. Vaccaro was responsible for signing Michael Jordan to his first sneaker deal in back 1984. Vaccaro also launched the ABCD All-American Camp, for top-tier high school prospects from 1984-2007. The camp featured stars such as LeBron James, Kobe Bryant, Tracy McGrady, and Allen Iverson. In 1990 Vaccaro left Nike for Adidas, he then channelled his focus to scout the top prep and high school players in the country.
He caught the attention of Lower Merion star Kobe Bryant. Sonny signed Kobe and provided him with his signature “Crazy 8s” shoe. Adidas then lured in top prospect Tracy McGrady and signed him for $12 million, which included paying his high school coach $900,000 over 6 years. Sonny Vaccaro transcended the culture for the Adidas brand and began attracting emerging athletes at every level.
According the ESPN, only 9 NBA rookies were fortunate enough to have signature sneakers. The list includes: Hakeem Olajuwon, Michael Jordan, Grant Hill, LeBron James, Allen Iverson, Lonzo Ball, Shaquille O’Neal, Stephen Marbury, and Jerry Stackhouse. Currently, the NBA has 17 active players with their own signature shoes. For Zion Williamson the deal breaker will depend on the inclusion of a signature shoe. Unfortunately, many complications can exist under Nike due to over-saturation for signature sneakers. Nike holds 5 signature shoes for LeBron James, Kyrie Irving, Kevin Durant, Paul George, and Giannis Antetokounmpo whose sneaker is set to launch this summer.
Zion’s first introduction with Adidas came during his High School career. Adidas sponsored Spartanburg Day School as well as Zion’s South Carolina Supreme AAU team. Currently, Adidas has invested with on-going signature shoes for Damian Lillard, James Harden, Derrick Rose, Andrew Wiggins, Kristaps Porzingis, and Donavon Mitchell. However, Zion’s affiliation with the Adidas brand and long lasting relationship created with his family may influence his decision. Zion Williamson has the opportunity to be the new face of basketball for years to come but will he keep his brand loyalty to Adidas, or will he turn a new leaf to Nike? Or will he be an outcast by signing with the other 4 sneaker companies?
Thanks: ESPN, Bleacher Report, SLAM MAG, Complex
Athlete: Zion Williamson (Duke University)
Figure: Sonny Vaccaro