LeBron James has been with Nike since before he played his first NBA game in 2003. Yet that didn’t mean other shoe companies didn’t try to aggressively court the superstar-in-waiting when he was an 18-year-old high school senior about to jump straight to the pros.
In a recent “Kneading Dough” interview with longtime friend and business partner Maverick Carter on his own media platform, Uninterrupted, James recounted how then-Reebok CEO Paul Fireman offered to write him a $10-million check on the spot if he agreed not to talk to Nike or Adidas.
“I flew in from Akron, Ohio, from Spring Hill, from the projects. Our rent was like $17 a month,” James said. “And now I’m looking at a $10-million check … that I can leave with and go back to high school the next day. I was going to homeroom the next morning. So I’m like ‘holy shit’.”
James thought twice.
“But if he’s willing to give me a $10-million check right now, what is to say that Nike or Adidas isn’t willing to give me 20 or 30 upfront,” he said. “Or to say that maybe the upfront money isn’t the biggest thing. You know, maybe let’s start thinking about the back end.”
Regardless, the money came, as James ended up signing a seven-year, $90-million deal with Nike. In December 2015, he re-upped with the swoosh on a lifetime contract that Carter has suggested is worth over $1 billion.
Reebok, meanwhile, has seen its NBA brand presence fade. Once the shoe of choice for the likes of Allen Iverson and Shaquille O’Neal, its biggest present-day names – John Wall and Isaiah Thomas – ended their endorsement deals with the company in 2014.