If tanking is a more popular subject of conversation early this season than in recent years, then it's likely because of the prospect of teams drafting Kansas Jayhawks freshman and Great Canadian Basketball Hope Andrew Wiggins. While Wiggins likely needs to improve significantly to become a complete player, he's also the most highly touted draft prospect since Greg Oden and Kevin Durant dominated discussion in the fall of 2006. He's a Sports Illustrated cover boy, a potential Player of the Year, and already the most newsworthy player in college basketball. Very few of us have ever seen him play a full game, but we know we should care about him.
The NBA world has certainly taken notice, including the league's various associated shoe and apparel companies. If Wiggins is the superstar many believe him to be, then he can serve as the sport's next great ad pitchman and personality. Enough so, in fact, that he could stand to make an absurd amount of money on his first shoe contract. From Jared Zwerling for Bleacher Report (via EOB):
Overall, next year will present a special class of sneaker free agents, as the Nike contracts of NBA stars Durant, Kyrie Irving and Paul George are expiring, according to Nick DePaula, the editor-in-chief of Sole Collector magazine. And then there's Wiggins, who could steal the thunder from everyone.
Three sources told Bleacher Report that Adidas has pegged Wiggins as their prime target—and they would be willing to open up the bank for him. Of course, no meetings or official offers can be made until Wiggins declares for the 2014 draft after his season at Kansas.
"(Adidas) is easily the front-runner, 100 percent," said Rich Lopez, the publisher of the popular sneaker website KixandtheCity.com.
"From what I'm hearing, (Adidas) is really high on him," an industry source said. "I've heard a range for sure, from like $140 to $180 million for like 10 years. That's a big deal for a kid coming out of school because most rookie deals are probably like four years."
"I'm hearing from people at Kansas that he's got a $180 million offer supposedly coming from Adidas," a source close to Wiggins' inner circle said. "But I also heard that Nike is going to match anything."
There's no question Nike, the world's leader in footwear and apparel, will place a bid for Wiggins, who's unanimously projected to be the top draft pick next June. Wiggins wore Nikes growing up, according to two sources, and his former Ontario-based AAU team, CIA Bounce, was sponsored by the company.
Zwerling's piece focuses on the entire scenario rather than these reports, which is probably a good thing considering they're somewhat vague and based largely on hearsay. Nevertheless, the estimates give a sense of just how big a deal Wiggins could be upon NBA arrival. In 2003, LeBron James, then considered the most high-profile high school player ever, earned $90 million in his seven-year Nike deal. Wiggins's suggested offers would outpace that figure by quite a bit, to the point where inflation and industry standards could not explain every aspect of the deal. (We can also be forgiven for being skeptical towards a potential connection between Kansas, which has a deal with Adidas, and the runner/payment culture that pervades prep basketball, although there's absolutely no evidence of such improper behavior in this case.)
The question, then, is why Wiggins would be worth this much money to a shoe company when he does not appear to be as sure a future superstar as LeBron was 10 years ago. It's entirely possible that Wiggins could struggle at times against high-level competition at Kansas, or that his skills could prove themselves to be more nascent than previously anticipated. The excitement surrounding Wiggins is related largely to seeing exactly how good he is (and can be), not some known quality of his game. The same was true of LeBron, but these companies also didn't have the luxury of testing his marketability and value for an entire year before his NBA debut. It doesn't appear logical to float out these astronomical figures at this point of time — even if they come from sources with an interesting in promoting Wiggins as much as possible — simply because he could prove that he's not yet worthy of that level of income.
Then again, the market never judges an asset entirely on the basis of its inherent worth. Wiggins can be valued this highly before proving much in large part because his potential justifies such extravagance. In a business climate where a single endorser can help lift up the entire basketball division of a shoe company (or at least is believed to be capable of such things), Wiggins carries potential reward well beyond his apparent risk. That's especially true for Adidas, which boasts Derrick Rose among its client base but desperately needs more superstars to battle Nike's list of luminaries. Wiggins could be worth $180 million only because the cost of not signing him is much greater.
The logic is really not so different from that which underlies tanking. Wiggins represents a serious opportunity to improve an organization's fortunes, and so the chance to opportunity to obtain him becomes a matter of outsized importance. Given the rules of the game, not doing everything possible to bring him into the fold would be a dereliction of duty.
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