Branding is just as important to sports as the game itself. A player can go from star to superstar overnight based on how they market themselves. And in basketball that starts with sneaker deals.
Coming into the 2019-2020 season several high profile NBA players were on expiring sneaker contracts. Some notable players include Luka Doncic, Kyle Kuzma, D’Angelo Russell, PJ Tucker and, Phoenix Suns guard, Devin Booker. But now, since the start of this season this market has started to dry up.
Kuzma to Puma
First, Kuzma signed a five-year $20 million deal with Puma giving the brand the perfect opportunity to rejuvenate their hoop line. Kuzma’s marketability as a player in one of the league’s storied franchises- the Los Angeles Lakers, earned him attention from several top brands.
“The No. 1 thing I was trying to look for was a little bit more control, a little bit more freedom to do certain things. Not to be restricted from an idea standpoint,” Kuzma told ESPN. “Having a brand fully commit to me and see that I have visions too– that could work out well for the brand and me as well. Puma was that.”
His Puma deal comes after partnering with the footwear reselling app, GOAT, last season. He became the first player to partner with a footwear reselling app. Though, while partnered with app, he could only wear Nike sneakers because he was still in contract with the Nike brand at that time.
Russell to Wade
The next domino to fall was D’Angelo Russell. He became the first NBA player to sign under former NBA star Dwyane Wade’s Way of Wade brand. The line that he originated under Chinese brand Li-Ning.
Russell was seen wearing Wade’s Way of Wade sneakers in games prior to signing to the brand. He debuted the new WoW 8 Infinity this season on Christmas Day playing against the Rockets. Russell mentioned that his idolization of Wade was a factor in him signing to the brand.
“I grew up admiring Dwyane Wade’s game,” Russell posted on instagram announcing his new endorsement deal.
Tucker Returns to Nike
Less than a week after Russell signed with Way of Wade; PJ Tucker re-signed with Nike. Tucker’s original Nike deal expired on October 1st, 2019. During his short time as a free agent Nike, Puma, Adidas and Reebok pursued him.
“More than anything, it is just the fit,” Tucker told The Crossover. “Something that makes sense. I want to be able to be me but at the same time, I want to create some fun stuff that I want to wear and be with a company that is with me and pushes me to do that as well. There is a lot of different things that goes into that.”
Tucker was a coveted free agent not only due to his play, but because of his moniker of having one the best shoe games in the NBA.
Nike has a deep roster consisting of signature athletes like LeBron James, Kyrie Irving, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Kevin Durant and Paul George, to name a few. Though they missed out on re-signing Doncic who’s deal expired in October while he was playing for Real Madrid in Europe.
Doncic Joins Jordan
Doncic was voted an All-Star starter this season and his regular season play along with his popularity amongst fans earned him a starting spot in this year’s All-Star game. He ended up signing with the Jordan brand right after Christmas.
The signing of Doncic was important for Jordan brand because of Doncic’s global reach as a European player and a MVP candidate. Before, signing the Doncic the brand had been working on their international market with the signing of Rui Hachimura who’s from Japan. Helping the company expand its market demographic after spending the majority of its existence only having U.S born NBA players.
All of that player movement during the season has left Booker as the only one of the free agents yet to be signed. However, Nike could be the favorite when it comes to signing him. Booker played on the Nike circuit in high school with AAU team Alabama Challenge. He then went to a Nike branded college in Kentucky. The brand also released a Nike Air Force 1 last year with a special light teal color-way designed by Booker.
Booker could be in play to sign a deal before playoffs, but there’s no word regarding any immediate decision.