Only a week has passed since the beginning of the NBA season, but early narratives are already begging many questions: Are the Warriors going to repeat? Will LeBron finally bring a ring to Cleveland? Can Kevin Durant finally mesh with Russell Westbrook in Oklahoma City? While all these questions are painfully repeated on every show on ESPN, a question that sports anchors ignore but one that could be the most important for major corporations like Nike, Adidas, and Under Armour is whether the NBA viewer is enjoying the new LeBron 12s by Nike.
Those shoes may not determine whether Cleveland gets its first championship since 1964, unfortunately for all die-hard Cavs fans, but they may determine the rapidly increasing shoe race that is happening before our eyes. As star players age and lose popularity, more develop and demand lucrative endorsement deals from corporations desperate to put their logo on the most shoes worn (and seen) in high schools, basketball courts, and on your local sidewalk.
The interesting part about the shoe race is that it is as diverse as it ever has been. About five years ago, the NBA’s brightest stars, LeBron James, Kevin Durant, and Kobe Bryant, were all endorsing, and wearing, Nike. And with other stars such as Chris Paul and Carmelo Anthony endorsing Jordan, a brand owned by Nike, it was clear that Nike was the dominant shoe brand in the NBA, with Adidas a distant second. According to CounterKicks.com, the top 12 best selling shoes round the nation were all Nike and Jordan products, with the 13th being Reebok’s ZigSlash sneaker endorsed by then rookie of the year John Wall.
Nike’s dominance in the NBA sneaker world was most apparent when Michael Jordan’s signature shoe, the Air Jordan, went from being the best selling shoe to arguably the most influential shoe in the sneaker business. It’s funny to think that former commissioner David Stern actually wanted to ban the Air Jordan I’s because the red on MJ’s shoes could have been a distraction. But the Air Jordans transcended the sneaker world. They became the most popular and demanded shoe of the 1990s. The shoe line perhaps too became too much in demand, as crime rates would spike every time a new model was released.
Jordan made every kid growing up want one of those shoes. Was it because they looked good? Of course. Anything Michael Jordan did or wore looked good in the 1990s. People wanted these shoes simply to have a connection with MJ, even one as small as sporting the same footwear as the five-time league MVP. One of Nike’s main marketing strategies was to present the shoe as if it could make you play better. As absurd as this statement might sound, it worked. Indeed, it worked then and still does to this day, since generally the more popular the brand name on the shoe is, the better the shoe will do in sales.
And that brings us back to the shoe race that Nike and the other major companies in the sporting world find themselves in today. Something these corporations have thrived off of since the 80s is be able to market their brands through big name players, some for the present and some for the future. It is well known that LeBron James and Kevin Durant have been the two most popular names in the NBA over the last four years. But the NBA certainly has marketed new players to join the likes of LeBron and Durant in the realm of corporate heaven.
Stephen Curry, James Harden, and Anthony Davis are three players who have certainly seen a spike in attention over the last two years. Curry has catapulted into global superstardom, winning the 2014-15 MVP award and becoming an NBA champion this past June. He is currently ranked number 1 in jersey sales, overtaking longtime leader LeBron in that category. In 2012, Curry became the face of the rising brand Under Armour, and after winning the MVP award and becoming an NBA champion, Under Armour’s shoe sales skyrocketed. According to Business Insider, their sales grew 754 percent by June 30, 2015. That is a sales jump unheard of for a clothing company not named Nike. And Under Armour has Curry to thank for that.
Adidas has made its own transactions as it prepares itself for the shoe race. Last summer it signed the MVP runner-up, James Harden of the Houston Rockets. Harden’s jersey sales are popular as well, ranked sixth on that list. Harden’s marketability, like Curry’s, has skyrocketed over the last 2 years. His transition from being the sixth man on the star studded Oklahoma City Thunder to being the best player on a successful Houston Rockets team has made him a popular figure in the basketball world. Harden has deals with Foot Locker, State Farm, and is currently on the cover of NBA 2K16 (alongside Anthony Davis and, guess who, Stephen Curry). What’s more, Harden may have the most expensive beard in the NBA (yes, he trademarked his beard). The Rockets’ superstar signed a lucrative contract worth $200 million with Adidas this summer, becoming the new face of Adidas basketball and helping the company compete with its corporate counterparts.
So there you have it. The NBA shoe race will not in itself be covered on your TV by ESPN, but keep an eye out for what people are wearing. There’s more to it than you think. For those hopefuls still clinging on to the dream of making the NBA, (and yes, I am one of them) the closest taste we’ll have may well be the things we wear on our feet. Which shoe would you purchase on your path to stardom? Would you hop on the bandwagon and add to the continuously growing empire of Nike and Jordan? Or will you be a part of the underdog story and help take out the empire by joining Curry and Harden with Under Armour and Adidas? The choice is yours.