Reporters and fans watching the action at the NBA’s Las Vegas Summer League took note last week that Los Angeles Lakers point guard Lonzo Ball had decided to switch up his shoe game midway through his stint in the desert. To hear Lonzo’s pops tell it, the change-up is all part of a grand plan. (Naturally.)
The 2017 NBA draft’s No. 2 overall pick began Summer League wearing the ZO2s, his signature sneaker and the first shoe produced by Big Baller Brand, the family business led by his father, LaVar Ball. After struggling in his first outing in the $495 kicks before bouncing back with a triple-double in his second appearance, Lonzo traded in his ZO2s for a pair of Nike Kobe ADs … and promptly roasted the Philadelphia 76ers to the tune of 36 points, 11 assists, eight rebounds and five steals.
One night later, he took the court wearing James Harden’s signature Adidas shoes …
Two games in a row of no Big Baller Brand for Lonzo Ball. He's wearing the "Nightlife" adidas Harden Vol 1 tonight. pic.twitter.com/WW3bq2yRRs
— Nick DePaula (@NickDePaula) July 14, 2017
For Saturday’s matchup with the Brooklyn Nets in the quarterfinals of the Vegas tournament, Ball again eschewed the ZO2s, preferring instead to rock a pair of Stephen Curry’s Under Armour signatures made especially for the Golden State Warriors superstar to wear during the 2017 NBA Finals …
Lonzo Ball is wearing this Under Armour Curry 4 Finals PE made for Stephen. I shot the exact pair last month: pic.twitter.com/HtTkSATTfg
— Nick DePaula (@NickDePaula) July 16, 2017
… and turned in 14 points, nine rebounds and seven assists to help L.A. to another win that advanced the Lakers to the semifinals of the tournament against the Dallas Mavericks on Sunday.
On Wednesday, LaVar Ball said his son’s decision to wear different shoes was merely an expression of his freedom as an athlete not beholden to an endorsement deal with one company: “This is what being independent is all about.” That freedom comes at a pretty steep price, though:
He's turning down at least $1.5Mil per for 4 years to do this.
— Nick DePaula (@NickDePaula) July 15, 2017
On Saturday, the elder Ball said that while no such deals are being negotiated, the changes are aimed at showing the dominant companies in the sneaker game what they’re missing. From ESPN.com’s Darren Rovell:
LaVar Ball acknowledged his son Lonzo is wearing different shoe brands as both a temptation and invitation to the brands that passed on him.
“It’s making a statement to the brands of what they could have had with an open mind,” Ball said via text message. “The players are the brand ambassadors. The brand is nothing without the players.”
Asked whether there is still a chance for a big shoe brand to sign his son, LaVar responded: “If the price is right. Quite frankly we are officially in the shoe game, and are a billion-dollar brand either way.”
Back in April, with Lonzo widely projected as a top-three pick in 2017’s draft, LaVar Ball made it clear that Big Baller Brand sought a co-branding deal with major apparel companies — “a true partner[ship]” that would package sons Lonzo, LiAngelo (a high school senior set to play at UCLA next season) and LaMelo (a high school sophomore also committed to UCLA) together at a total price tag of $1 billion — rather than a standard endorsement contract for Lonzo. As a result, Nike, Adidas and Under Armour all chose not to pursue any arrangement with the former UCLA standout and his famously outspoken father.
Despite comparatively low sales figures on the ZO2s’ release day, LaVar persisted in keeping the asking price high. In fact, after the Lakers selected Lonzo with the No. 2 pick in the draft, ensuring the flashy point guard would be playing for a glamour franchise in the nation’s second-largest media market, LaVar increased his demand … to $3 billion.
None of the major apparel companies, or Chinese competitors like Li-Ning (Dwyane Wade), Anta (Klay Thompson) and Peak (Dwight Howard), are likely to get anywhere near that price point, of course, no matter how many Summer League triple-doubles Lonzo throws up. It’s possible, though, that by continuing to generate interest in what’s going to be on Lonzo’s feet on any given night, the Balls might drive the price of a Lonzo deal higher than it might have been before the release of the ZO2s.
That might be a tough ask. According to some pre-draft reports, LaVar had turned down offers that would’ve netted between $10 million and $20 million over five years. But while richer deals are rare for rookies, they’re not unprecedented. Last year, Nike signed 2016 No. 1 draft pick Ben Simmons to a five-year, $20 million contract that reportedly includes bonuses that could send the total value of the deal over $40 million.
Asked after Saturday’s game whether his ongoing tour of non-Big Baller brands is part of a “master plan,” Lonzo told ESPN, “You could say that.” And, sure enough, when Lonzo showed up for Sunday’s game against the Mavs, he decided to wear Jordan 31s …
Lakers' Lonzo Ball in Jordan 31s for semis vs. Mavericks pic.twitter.com/Hrj8dNN5K2
— Ben Golliver (@BenGolliver) July 17, 2017
… in keeping with the “plan.”
"You're wearing the Jordan 31s tonight … are you trying to start a bidding war here?" – @CassidyHubbarth
— White Wobber (@World_Wide_Wob) July 16, 2017
As the frankly surprising amount of eyes on Lonzo’s footwear continues to increase, we’ll find out if that plan’s going to come together.
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