Since LeBron James stopped being a nominal amateur in the late spring of 2003, Nike has acted as both witness and primary aide in the man's hopeful rise to global icon status. It's nurtured his brand, and the biggest part of that work has been his signature shoes.
As you can imagine, Nike had its top shoe designer, the wonderfully named Tinker Hatfield, work with LeBron. Except, after dealing with LeBron's entourage, the legendary Hatfield decided the work wasn't worth the trouble. At a rare public appearance in Miami, he explained his decision. From Brian Windhorst at the Heat Index:
"I don't like working with LeBron's entourage," Hatfield said. "It's too many people, too many ideas, too many opinions."
It is the second time in the last six months Hatfield has publicly taken a shot at James various friends and managers. During a similar event last October in Santa Monica, Calif., Hatfield told a group of listeners at a shoe store that "I used to work on LeBron's, until his entourage kind of pissed me off."
Hatfield was the main designer on the first generations of James' shoes, starting in 2003. But according to sources, in 2008 he stopped working with him to focus working on Kobe Bryant's shoes and the Jordan Brand. In the meantime, Hatfield said last week that James' products have "suffered a little bit" and "hasn't done as well as the Kobe stuff."
"[Working with Bryant] one guy comes into the room with him and he has ideas and is very forward thinking and is smart about what he needs to do, what he thinks he needs to do to be a better player," Hatfield said last week.
"LeBron is a great guy, I really like him, but when he comes into the room and he's got like eight other guys saying things. That is one reason why the LeBron stuff, even though it does OK, it isn't quite as exciting to me as the Kobe stuff or what we've done with the Jordan Brand."
Congratulations to Kobe fans, who now have one more piece of evidence to declare that Bryant is a better player, since we have now learned that Kobe knows shoes in addition to being excellent at counting his own rings.
Hatfield's remarks are obviously bad news for LeBron's business sense -- if he wants to be a massive international brand, he probably shouldn't do anything to alienate the top basketball shoe designer in the world. But the amount to which you think this is a problem probably depends on what you think of LeBron, as is usually the case with all manners related to King James.
For instance, if you like LeBron, then it's possible to look at the decision to quit working with him as a sign that Hatfield has reached such great heights at Nike that he can pick and choose his projects as he wishes, opting to take those that have few distractions apart from the work at hand. However, if you don't like LeBron, then it's possible to think that his entourage must have been terribly annoying to make Nike's top designer quit their biggest project.
We should take Hatfield at his word and assume that LeBron's entourage actually did make these discussions more difficult than they need to be. But the amount to which you think they acted out of turn is most likely dependent on how you look at everything LeBron does. He's divisive even when everyone can agree that he and his friends are annoying.