When Nike took a chance in 1984-85 to give a rookie out of North Carolina by the name of Michael Jordan his own sneaker line, the marketing world in sports changed forever. Nike has become one of the most recognized brands in the world, while MJ has built an empire that is producing millions from retro releases.
Fast forward 30 years since MJ’s signature debut, and the NBA has some of the most marketable athletes of today with the trio of Kobe Bryant, LeBron James, and Kevin Durant, according to Forbes, netting $500 million in sales combined last year. We can all agree that that the game of basketball is not just a game, but a business and brand that allows players to expose themselves on the highest level.
It is time to look into the future and see which stars of the NBA have the best chance of following the footsteps of those before them in creating a signature line. Note that being marketable doesn’t exactly mean you know how to sell shoes. In a world where sneakers and clothing are a huge factor in the culture and lifestyle of today’s younger generation, the sneaker world is actually smaller than it seems, which makes things a little harder to make an imprint on the market.
When I am looking at players to lead a signature line, I am looking at players who have the appeal to sell to a generation of hypebeasts.
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Kyrie Irving – Nike
For Kyrie Irving, life is about to get sweeter. After Irving signed a lucrative contract extension with the Cavaliers last month, LeBron James announced his return to Cleveland and intentions to make Kyrie the best point guard in the NBA.
I kind of see it as what Shaquille O’Neal did for Dwyane Wade in Miami. While I am not saying LeBron is towards the end of his career, he is ready to take players like Kyrie under his wing and make them better. Wade showed a lot of promise early in his career like Kyrie, but it wasn’t until Shaq came and told him he’s going to be the best player in the NBA that he realized his potential. I believe Kyrie is a budding superstar in this league and with a solid core of shooters around him and two top-10 players in the league by his side, Kyrie is going to show off his full potential.
Off the court Kyrie is truly a jack of all trades. With a slew of endorsements with Pepsi (Uncle Drew), Jeep, and of course Nike, he understands the business world of basketball and truly knows how to market himself to his peers. After running a few promotions for Foot Locker over the years for the Nike Zoom HyperRev and this year’s Hyperdunk 2014, there have been rumors that he has a signature show coming soon. With Durant leaning towards signing a hefty deal with Under Armour, Nike has all the space to create a line for Irving. He has a strong sense of appeal and a fandom building in the social media world. All it takes is one shoe to get everything rolling.
Stephen Curry – Under Armour
Curry is another guy that has been rumored to be getting his own shoe soon. Curry left Nike last year and decided to join Under Armour to become one of the faces of the brand. An apparel company that only sold to the football market a couple years ago, Under Armour has aggressively turned up the notch in the basketball market. Brandon Jennings was the first basketball player to sign with UA and was followed by guys like Kemba Walker, Greivis Vazquez, and Raymond Felton. It was not until they snatched Curry that the company began to get more respect with what they wanted to do. Curry is one of the most beloved players in the NBA and is approaching his sixth year in the league. With his game at its highest level, this is the right time for him to have a signature line, and Under Armour is capitalizing by releasing Curry’s sneaker in early 2015.
Anthony Davis – Nike
Who says big men can’t sell shoes? Just ask Shaq and Charles Barkley. A lot is at stake for Davis this upcoming season. In his third year everyone is expecting AD to evolve into a monster and become the best big man in the league. Famous for his nickname “The Brow,” I believe Nike can do a solid job building a shoe and some pretty dope advertisements using his trademark. With KD leaving Team USA, Davis has the opportunity to expose himself more in Spain – showcasing why he can help lead a global brand.
Damian Lillard – adidas
Adidas made a strong investment in Lillard, signing him to a $100 million contract. Adidas did not shelve out that kind of money to have Lillard play a backup role in their cast of athletes. He is bound for a signature shoe soon. He is already featured in about every single Adidas basketball commercial we see on TV promoting products like Boost. When Derrick Rose went down, Adidas leaned on Lillard for to appear in a promo for the Crazy Quick 2.0 and he did not let them down. Lillard relates to people and is a really humble guy that knows how to interact with fans. He is also cold-blooded on the court, and it’s exciting to think what he has in store for us this upcoming season in Portland.
Paul George – Nike
Even after a gruesome injury, George is expected to make a full recovery and return to his old self. It hurts that he was on the brink of something special this season off the court, and it would have been great to see him strive in that area. George is only 23 years-old and has endorsements from two of the largest off-court brands in Gatorade and Nike, which is an advertising dream for any star fighting adversity. George still has major upside and being hurt has not stopped brands from forecasting a major comeback.
Jeremy Lin – adidas
When people first read this they are going to be like, ‘Why is Lin on this list?’ The game of basketball is global which means America is not the only place where brands can market their players. Not the typical superstar you would want to lead a global brand, Lin is key for Adidas to keep expanding their market overseas – especially in Asia. Lin has a huge following in Asia and is one of the most likable guys in the league. He recently left Nike for Adidas and went on a promotional tour to China where they flat-out loved him. I am not saying Lin will sell sneakers in America and have a shoe that can rival LeBron’s or KD’s, but he can surely make an impact internationally.
Andrew Wiggins – adidas
There is no telling what Wiggins is going to be in the NBA and that can be a good thing. Adidas had a really good summer picking up some of the rookies with the most upside in Wiggins, Joel Embiid, and Dante Exum. If Wiggins is a superstar in the making it is time to showcase him early on, especially in a not so strong market such as Minnesota. I am all in for Adidas starting early and marketing Wiggins into their core of Rose and Lillard.
What do you think?
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