Zion Williamson recently became a very rich man. The No. 1 overall pick in this year’s NBA Draft, who’s hyped as the next big superstar in the league, inked one of the largest shoe deals for a rookie in league history, with a contract with Jordan Brand believed to be for seven years and $75 million. But, can you believe that he actually left money on the table?
According to an in-depth piece from ESPN, the shoe war between brands to sign Zion Williamson was at an all-time high, with the article even mentioning that saw some competitors “reportedly prepared to offer deals that could’ve paid the young superstar nearly $20 million per year.” So why did Zion take less money per year to work with Jordan Brand, other than the fact that Michael Jordan is his idol? Details from ESPN help explain.
The original plan was to get Williamson a shoe contract by the time the NBA Draft Lottery occurred. With that not happening, for a variety of reasons, with the delay, potentially, being a costly one. Here’s what Aaron Goodwin, LeBron James’ old agent who helped negotiate James’ seven-year, $87 million shoe deal with Nike before his rookie season had to say in the ESPN piece.
“In my opinion, if it was done a certain way and before the draft lottery, the deal could have dwarfed LeBron’s original deal,” Goodwin said.
Whether or not that’s true, in the ESPN article, a company like Puma, who’s trying to reestablish itself in the basketball industry after signing 2018 No. 1 overall pick, DeAndre Ayton, to a major deal, reportedly offered Williamson a hefty endorsement deal. It was the type of lucrative deal that Zion probably wouldn’t get from another apparel brand.
So when they met with the future No. 1 pick earlier this spring, they offered him an impressive financial commitment: a deal that soared as high as $15 million per year, plus the potential to add an additional $3 million a year in bonuses, according to industry sources.
The initial meeting went well, and in ongoing talks throughout the following months, Puma appeared to have presented Williamson with the kind of comprehensive package — both financial and intangible — that he wasn’t going to get with another brand.
Fast-forward to a couple of weeks ago when Zion Williamson formally announced on Instagram his endorsement deal with Jordan Brand, and, just like that, the competition to snag the hyped rookie had ended. But, in making the decision, Williamson hadn’t just turned down brands like Puma and others, but he added extra pain to a company like adidas in the photo he put on social media, photoshopping an original picture of him wearing an adidas jersey with the Jumpman logo.
Photoshopped into a “ZION” jersey, it was an extra twist of the knife for Adidas. The Jumpman logo was on the right chest of the modified jersey; in the original version of that photo, in that same spot, were the famed three stripes of Adidas.
That leads to Zion Williamson’s decision to actually sign with Jordan Brand, with ESPN detailing what appealed to him the most. It wasn’t just the chance to wear an iconic brand or work with the GOAT. Apparently, it was the chance to become an absolute icon, as Williamson saw Nike giving him the chance to be celebrated for years down the road as athletes like Jordan, Mia Hamm and others have been.
But just as important as what was happening in the NSRL was the setting itself: the Mia Hamm Building. Not only is it one of the largest on Nike’s campus — stand it up vertically, and it’d be the tallest building in the Portland region — but it’s named for one of Nike’s legendary athletes. And it’s not alone in that distinction.
Nearly 300 athletes are highlighted in bronzed portraits along each pillar of the open-air walkways between Nike’s buildings. Vinyl posters of icons across all sports, all genders and all races alternate on the uphill walk toward the Jerry Rice Building.
Athletes often leave the Nike headquarters impressed, but the one central theme of the brand thought to have resonated most for Williamson wasn’t any of the near-term sneaker designs presented or any snappy campaign taglines. He also simply left millions on the table with this decision.
It’s the way athletes are celebrated — almost mythologized — by the company over the course of history, both externally to fans across the world and internally with its personal relationships.
Just 130 steps to the left of the family’s “Pre Hall” welcome sign was The Michael Jordan Building.
That significance wasn’t lost on the 18-year-old. One day, well down the road, dreams of The Zion Williamson Building lie ahead, in the decades to come.
While Zion Williamson got a ton of cash to join Jordan Brand, and left higher annual money on the table, his decision came down to seeing a bigger image for himself. He valued that over more money up front from brands like Puma, adidas and others.
Head on over to ESPN.com to see the full details on Williamson’s shoe negotiations. It’s pretty interesting all of the things that have been going on behind-the-scenes with the Pelicans’ new star.