This week has been a big one in terms of shoe deals for NBA players, with Stephen Curry agreeing to the most lucrative shoe deal in Under Armour history and James Harden making waves by wearing a pair of Jordans mere weeks after agreeing to a $200 million deal to endorse adidas sneakers.
Neither of those players are the highest-paid shoe endorsers currently in the business, however, as there are others making more on shoe deals than either Curry or Harden. But before we get into the list of the largest shoe deals, it must be stated that a lot of these contracts are heavily based on incentives such as player accomplishments and sales. Rarely does a player actually receive the full reported amount in a shoe deal, as that money isn’t fully guaranteed.
Here’s a look at the biggest annual endorsement contracts currently in the league:
#10 – Blake Griffin, $6 million/year, Jordan Brand – Few NBA stars are more marketable than Griffin, so $6 million for a player that likeable and that talented in a market as big as Los Angeles is an absolute steal for Jordan Brand. Jordan Brand has put Griffin front and center, marketing him heavily in commercials (like the recent Marvin the Martian spot) and even a television show (BGCP3TV in HD) with teammate and fellow Jordan Brand endorser Chris Paul.
#9 – Damian Lillard, $10 million/year, adidas – Lillard only recently debuted his first signature shoe, and while it’s a good one, it is easy to look at a $100 million investment in a player like Lillard as a bit of a risk. With LaMarcus Aldridge gone, the Blazers won’t be quite as exciting a team, but that doesn’t mean Lillard won’t be thrilling as the head honcho in a market that absolutely adores its basketball team. Still, it’s the biggest paycheck on this list for a player with the fewest actual accomplishments so far. But again, keep in mind that a lot of these reported numbers are inflated due to the deals being largely incentive based.
#8 – Dwyane Wade: $12 million/year, Li Ning – It took a massive amount of money and some equity in the company, but Chinese shoe company Li Night was able to draw Wade away from the Jordan Brand back in 2012 in the hopes that he could help turn things around for what was then a struggling brand. Three years later, it’s still a struggling brand, with Li Ning having finished in the red every year that Wade has been at the end of their endorsement team. They gave it the old college try, but Wade is crying himself to sleep on his bed of money.
#7 – Derrick Rose: $14.2 million/year, adidas – Right before Derrick Rose originally tore his ACL in the 2012 NBA Playoffs, he signed a max deal with the Bulls and a 13-year, $185 deal with adidas, in what has to be considered one of the more fortuitous timings of a cash influx in the history of humankind. Had Rose not bloomed so early in his career, things may have gone very differently for him, but as it stands he’s got one of the largest shoe deals in the business (but again, it was largely incentive-based so he hasn’t cashed in as much as reported figures would have you believe). Rose and adidas just debuted the Rose 6, so they’re still all-in on a player beloved in his huge home market of Chicago, but then again they don’t really have much of a choice. He’s signed, regardless of his health.
#6 – Kobe Bryant: $15 million/year, Nike – While Bryant clearly is toward the end of his career in the NBA, he still is the most popular player in China, which is more than enough to make Bryant worth the price tag as a spokesman for the Swoosh. Every year, Bryant does a long offseason visit to China to keep that relationship strong, but he’s still a pretty popular player in the U.S. too, despite his recent injuries.
#5 – James Harden: $15.4 million/year, adidas – It’s fair enough for adidas to put the kibosh on Harden wearing Air Jordans out in public when they just invested $200 million in him over 13 years to wear their three stripes. It’s a hefty price tag for a player not necessarily known for his flash on the court, but the beard is marketable and adidas didn’t have a whole lot of options in adding a bona fide star to their roster. Lillard and Rose have proven their value to the brand, but they hope Harden will be their biggest draw moving forward.
#4 – LeBron James: $20 million/year, Nike – While he’s surprisingly low on this list, James actually has the best-selling individual shoe among current NBA players, with over $340 million in sneakers sold during the 2014 calendar year. Early in his career, James didn’t turn a profit as a spokesman for Nike right out of high school, but the biggest star of his generation was bound to dominate the market share eventually, which he has done for years. Rumor has it that in addition to the $20 million per year that James can earn from Nike if he hits all of his incentives, his deal also includes a guarantee that Nike will commit a large amount of money to marketing James’ brand – making this an even better deal for King James.
#3 – Kevin Durant: $30 million/year, Nike – Under Armour worked like crazy last summer to pry Durant away from Nike, offering him somewhere in the neighborhood of a $265-285 million over 10 years. The offer included equity in the company and a rec center named after Durant’s mother, so the deal was a sweet one with plenty of perks. However, Nike is the single most reputable shoe company in the business and Durant ultimately decided to take the extra bit of cash and the credibility associated with the brand. Either way, he’s making a ton of money to sell shoes.
#2 – Stephen Curry: Terms undisclosed, Under Armour – At the end of 2013, Under Armour had a 0.35 percent market share of basketball shoe sales, selling only $30 million worth of product, but following an MVP and championship year from Curry, sales jumped 754 percent last season, pushing Under Armour into second place in the shoe market behind only Nike. That’s almost exclusively thanks to the Curry One, and Under Armour recently showed their appreciation by extending Curry’s deal through 2024. The terms of that deal were undisclosed, but knowing what UA offered Durant a year ago, and knowing that Curry got equity in a company that clearly is on the rise, it’s a fair stretch to venture that when everything is all said and done Curry will be making more shoe money than Durant.
#1 – Michael Jordan: $90-100 million/year, Jordan Brand – On the one hand, it’s kind of ridiculous that a player who’s been out of the league for 15 years is far and away the highest-paid athlete in the world when it comes to sneaker endorsements, but the Air Jordan line of basketball shoes is the whole reason players like Durant and James are getting nine-figure shoe deals today, and his shoes are as popular as they ever have been. Jordan Brand hauls in an estimated $2.5 billion every year, and Jordan’s royalties from that haul are reportedly somewhere between $90-100 million annually. As a player, Jordan made just over $90 million in basketball salaries his entire career. Retirement is treating him well, mostly because his brand of shoes is funding it.
This obviously won’t be the end of the industry’s biggest shoe companies chasing after young stars in need of a shoe deal. Anthony Davis, for example, looks primed for an MVP trophy at some point in his career, and while he is under contract with Nike he doesn’t yet have his own signature shoe. It’s like coming, though.
Paul George is another Nike player in line for a signature shoe at some point (and the PG-13 rebranding certainly gives the graphics department there a lot more to work with), as is Blake Griffin. Denver rookie Emmanuel Mudiay is the most recent Under Armour addition, and he may get his own shoe sooner than later too, even though he’s done significantly less than some of his more established colleagues.
The only thing that can be said with absolute certainty is that basketball stars sell a ton of basketball shoes, and as long as that remains the case, these monster shoe deals will keep rolling in.
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