Being selected in the NBA Draft is a huge moment for any young basketball player. But the real sign that an athlete has made it, beyond just shaking David Stern's hand, is when he inks his first shoe contract. At that point, the man hasn't just arrived on the scene — he's proven that he's worthy of many corporate dollars. And, as we all know, making as much money as possible is the true goal of playing a professional sport.
So we must congratulate No. 1 pick, Team USA member, and New Orleans Hornets big man Anthony Davis on his new deal with the Oregon-based sports apparel company Nike (via SLAM). Though terms have not yet been released, Davis figures to make a good amount of money. Nike has already commissioned a Davis art print with conjoined swooshes standing in for his literally trademarked unibrow. Additionally, Davis has been wearing the Hyperdunk 2012 during Team USA games. Chances are his contract also dictates that he burn all his clothing manufactured by competitors, but we have not received confirmation of these rumors.
Davis is the seventh top pick in the last decade to sign with Nike, which isn't surprising considering they are the biggest basketball-related company in the world by a significant margin. Yet that status doesn't mean that Davis is a guaranteed shoe superstar. In fact, as a defense-oriented player on a team with a long way to championship contention, Davis might not reach a superstar level of market penetration for some time. That doesn't mean Nike made a bad deal here — it just means that Davis probably didn't command a gargantuan signing bonus or get promised a certain number of national advertisements. Different players demand different shoe-company salaries, and there's no shame in being a mid-level endorser in the Nike stable as a rookie.
However, Davis presents unique potential to Nike and its advertising wizards at Wieden+Kennedy. With his lack of self-seriousness and general comfort in front of the camera, Davis is the kind of player who could eventually wed the laid-back charm of a Roy Hibbert to the ubiquity of a top-tier star. Great players like LeBron James have gotten goofy in the past, but there's an essential weight to their marketing endeavors that suggests we should think of them as affable conquerors rather than good pals. A superstar can have a sense of humor, but he can't be too wacky.
As Davis gets older and the Hornets become a better team, he will undoubtedly become a more serious athlete. But his existing persona is so likable that it will affect how we perceive him at a later stage in his career. If Nike lays a foundation for Davis as a friendly, funny guy, then the comedy in his ads won't always seem forced, as they often can. Instead, they'll be a natural extension of his personality.
This breakdown might seem like a little much considering that Davis has never played a professional game. Then again, athlete endorsement is a big enough industry now that these issues are considered well in advance of a player putting pen to paper on his shoe contract. Nike likely has some kind of plan in place for how they want to use Davis in their basketball empire. Whether or not that strategy proves effective could determine what we think of Davis in five years. Branding and marketing mean that much in the modern NBA.