NBA History: 10 Biggest shoe deals signed by rookies
Zion Williamson recently took it to the courts of Harlem to unveil the latest Jordan Brand signature shoe, the Air Jordan XXXIV. Banking on his hype, this is the first of many that the rookie will be wearing after signing a record-breaking shoe deal in July. The Duke star, however, wasn't the first rookie to cash in on his hype way before playing his first-ever NBA game.
Since the global rise of the NBA, businesses have been snagging potential stars that could give the best possible boost to their brands. Players such as Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant have long been retired from the league but are still racking up sneaker sales to this date. It shouldn't come as a surprise then that NBA rookies have been signing these monster deals even before playing their first-ever game in the league.
That being said, here are the ten largest shoe deals in NBA history inked by rookies, inflation factored in.
#10 Tracy McGrady (1997) – Adidas, 6 years/$12 million
Value in 2019: $19,150,878.50 or $3.2 million/year
Tracy McGrady came into the league with so much hype to his name. His entry was also a time when Adidas was on a mission to upstage Nike in the basketball sneaker business. McGrady knew that with his good friend, Kobe Bryant, signing with Adidas the year before, that the brand was banking on the young guns to be the face of what they were trying to build. It came as no surprise then that the explosive player chose Adidas over the other brands who courted him.
What's really remarkable about this shoe deal is that T-Mac wasn't the only one being paid by Adidas. Part of the deal was that the brand also had to pay his high school coach $150,000 annually for six years.
In ESPN's 30 for 30 episode, Sole Man, T-Mac thought this provision should be a no-brainer. The two-time scoring champion said, "I think it was right for those guys to get a percentage of my deal...If it wasn't for them, there would be no Tracy McGrady or T-Mac."
#9 Carmelo Anthony (2003) – Jordan Brand, 6 years/$21 million
Value in 2019: $29,233,711.96 or $4.9 million/year
Coming out of Syracuse as a sure top 3 pick, Carmelo Anthony signed with Jordan Brand even before the NBA Draft took place. He then became the fresh young face of the brand after Michael Jordan's retirement that year.
As a rookie, Melo made an immediate impact on the team, playing a major part in the impressive turnaround of the franchise. From a 17-65 record the year prior, Melo helped the Denver Nuggets finish the 2003-04 season with a 43-39 record, reaching the playoffs as the eight seed. Melo and the Nuggets eventually lost to the Minnesota Timberwolves 1-4 in the first round, but his role on the franchise solidified after an impressive rookie campaign.
The forward also proved that he was a great choice for Jordan Brand, gaining even more hype as his years in the league progressed. In 2012, his Jordan Melo M9 ranked third-best in U.S. retail sales, cashing in $40 million for the brand.
The Jordan Carmelo line has since produced 13 shoes, one of the longest running sneaker lines by any NBA player.
#8 John Wall (2010) – Reebok, 5 years/$25 million
Value in 2019: $29,366,653.52 or $5.9 million/year
John Wall went from an unknown sophomore in high school to the consensus top pick in the 2010 NBA Draft. He became the face of Reebok's ZigTech cushioning, the tech typically used for the brand's running shoes.
However, even the "John Wall Dance" couldn't save the brand's poor sales as the shoes were just not meant for basketball. Wall's feet reportedly hurt so much that he stopped wearing his own signature shoes.
On top of that, details on his rookie deal showed that the deal actually only guaranteed $2.5 million in his rookie year, with the rest tied up to performance incentives. The guard then left the brand in 2013 just after the release of his third signature shoe to move to Reebok's parent company, Adidas.
After Wall's Reebok and Adidas signature shoes reportedly “underperformed at retail”, Adidas still offered him an eight-year, $66 million contract extension, to which the Washington guard turned down. However, after two seasons of being a sneaker free agent, John Wall then went back to Adidas in 2018.
#7 Vince Carter (1998) – PUMA, 5 years/$25 million
Value in 2019: $39,285,736.20 or $7.96 million/year
Puma was in on the Vince Carter hype way before the athletic forward played his first ever game in the NBA. The brand signed Carter to a massive deal and hoped for the young Raptor star to be the new face of Puma.
However, things between Puma and Carter soon turned sour. "Air Canada", as he was nicknamed, terminated his contract with the brand just after a year. The company and the young star eventually reached a settlement where Carter had to pay around $13.5 million in damages for breach of contract and an additional $1 million in lawyer fees.
As a sneaker free agent, Carter donned the AND1 Tai Chi for his legendary 2000 Dunk Contest, a sneaker that eventually sold for a million pairs.
Vinsanity then signed with Nike and has since been rocking the same brand at 42 years old.
#6 Allen Iverson (1996) – Reebok, 10 years/$50 million
Value in 2019: $81,626,195.03 in 2019 or $8.2 million/year
AI was known as a one of NBA's most tenacious scorer and competitor, even surprising everyone by leading the Sixers to a Game 1 win over the heavily-favored Lakers in the 2001 NBA Finals.
'The Answer' earned over 200 million dollars throughout his NBA career, including millions of dollars from various endorsements outside of sports apparel. Despite this, however, he was famously reported in 2012 to have spent his money unwisely to the point of having owed almost a million dollars to a jewelry store and being banned from casinos in Detroit and Atlantic City.
Iverson's deal with Reebok, however, extended far beyond the guaranteed 10 years he initially signed as a rookie. In 2001, Reebok had a unique agreement with the dynamic guard, setting aside $32 million in a trust fund that he could only touch when he's 55 years old. Until then, AI would have to make do with the annual $800,000 lifetime payment by Reebok. Not bad for a retired superstar.
#5 Ben Simmons (2016) – Nike, 5 years/$20 million plus $20m in bonuses
Value in 2019: $42,689,254.90 or $8.5 million/year
Australian star Ben Simmons signed a 5-year, $20 million contract coming into the NBA as the undisputed number 1 pick in the 2017 NBA Draft. The contract was also reported to have an additional 20 million dollars in incentives, most provisions of which were reportedly very much achievable by the LSU product, such as winning All-Rookie Team honors and winning Rookie of the Year. The other provisions were much more difficult, like being selected All-NBA and winning MVP. But for the most part, the deal was so lucrative that it pushed incentives to over $20 million.
This should come as no surprise though, as the 6'10 point guard is a generational talent that has since won Rookie of the Year, been selected as an All-Star, and has helped his team get to the Eastern Conference Finals at just 23 years old. He attracted several other endorsements even before playing his first NBA game, including Foot Locker, Beats by Dre, and Upper Deck, and Nike was more than willing to attract the young star to be part of their brand.
#4 Grant Hill (1994) – Fila, 5 years/~$30 million
Value in 2019: $51,850,809.72 or $10.3 million per year
After a successful college career at Duke, including winning back-to-back titles in 1991 and 1992, Hill entered the 1994 NBA Draft and was selected 3rd overall by the Pistons. The forward then shocked everyone when he chose a then-unknown brand in the basketball world, Fila.
The co-Rookie of the Year immediately took the industry by storm as he sold 1.5 million pairs in just the 1994-95 season. The GH1's debut had the highest volume of sneakers sold since Air Jordan 1. The following year, Fila announced that its $8 billion market share had doubled in the footwear marketplace, crediting Hill for establishing the fashion brand then only known for high-end tennis shoes in the basketball and pop culture world.
Fila Holdings S.p.A. and Grant Hill (who had been an All-Star since his rookie year), then renegotiated in 1997, re-upping the deal to 7-year, $80 million. At the time, this was the second most lucrative shoe deal in the league, only behind Jordan's Nike deal of around $20 million a year.
To this day, Grant Hill is still sporting the Italian brand, even signing a lifetime deal with Fila in 2018.
#3 Kevin Durant – Nike, 7 years/$60 million plus $10 million signing bonus
Value in 2019: $86,620,028.74 or $12.374 million/year
After an impressive freshman year as a Texas Longhorn, Durant declared for the 2007 NBA Draft and was selected second-overall. Before signing with Nike, the 7-foot sharpshooter (yes, he did in fact admit that he was 7'0 with shoes) also received other lucrative offers, including a $70 million deal + $12 million signing bonus from Adidas. However, Durant ultimately signed with Nike, a brand that he had been wearing dating as far back as the eight grade.
After Durant's contract with the Swoosh expired in 2014, the 10x All-Star received an extremely lucrative offer from Under Armour which hoped to snatch him from Nike. However, Nike matched the offer and the forward ultimately chose to stay with the brand. He signed a 10-year deal through 2024 that has the potential to reach $300 million, plus a $50 million retirement package. With him now playing in Brooklyn, the potential for the KD line and other endorsements just got much higher.
#2 Zion Williamson (2019) – Jordan Brand, 5 years/$75 million
While there are varying reports regarding Williamson's sneaker deal, with some claiming it's a four-year deal, and others a seven-year one, the Duke star still inked one of the most lucrative rookie shoe deals in NBA history.
The high-flyer will be making almost double the amount of his annual salary as an NBA player even before playing his first game, and it's impressive to know that he'd even left a ton of money off the table with this signing.
First, Zion signed the sneaker deal after the NBA lottery, which made it known to brands that he would be going to a small-market team in New Orleans. If he had signed way before the lottery, where the odds were in favor of the New York Knicks, he could have gotten a value much bigger than $75 million. Second, Zion had other offers from other brands that were much higher than what he had signed.
But at the end of the day, the kid and his team know what's best for him and what the potential of someone like him could be in terms of endorsements. He would be the fresh young face of his idol's brand, and he said that choosing to sign with Jordan Brand was a no-brainer.
Nothing like wearing something that you and your idol's brand will be collaborating on and be building further up.
#1 LeBron James (2003) – Nike, 7 years/$87 million plus $10 million signing bonus
Value in 2019: $135,031,907.61 or $19.3 million/year
There's really no surprise here. The high school kid from Akron, Ohio still holds the record for the largest ever rookie shoe deal in NBA history, cashing in almost $100 million before he was even drafted by the NBA.
LeBron has since been MVP four times, selected an All-Star since 2005, gone to nine Finals and winning three rings and three Finals MVPs, and received many more accolades that only a generational talent like him had gotten. He is still one of the best players in the league at 34 years old, and is currently in a big market in L.A.
With The King continuing to age like fine wine, Nike has reportedly given him a lifetime endorsement deal worth a billion dollars.