In hindsight, it was really no surprise at all.
When former LSU forward and potential top pick Ben Simmons hired agent Rich Paul for his representation earlier this spring, the assumption was that Simmons would soon be delivered to Nike. As reported by The Vertical's Shams Charania, Simmons is close to signing a five-year footwear and apparel endorsement deal with Nike.
The dynamics at play are simply impossible to ignore. Paul, a longtime friend of LeBron James' dating back to the phenom’s days at St. Vincent-St. Mary High School, is now James' agent after forming Klutch Sports Group in 2012. Every shoe deal Paul has negotiated for his clients has been with Nike.
While Eric Bledsoe, Tristan Thompson and other Klutch Sports athletes only received marginal interest from other brands over the years, Simmons' shoe deal was different. Both Nike and adidas had great interest in signing him.
“I see you, Ben Simmons. I see you talkin' that mogul talk with adidas. That cloth talk!”
The voice of DJ Khaled, the DJ/Snapchat phenomenon, played in a pre-recorded video during adidas' pitch to Simmons last month at Universal Studios, sources told The Vertical, and the message was clear: Come to adidas and build your own personal brand. Deliver on court and possibly even get your own signature shoe. Make as much as three times more cash with adidas than with Nike. The message directed at the 19-year-old was mogul talk.
Simmons played for a Nike-sponsored high school, had worn LeBron's Nike sneakers in his lone season at LSU and even replicated an iconic James cover pose for SLAM Magazine just last month. He's been framed as the next LeBron, possessing a versatile playmaking game. With Paul's close relationship with Nike sports marketing executive Lynn Merritt, the bond proved to be too strong to steer Simmons elsewhere.
Adidas was hoping to persuade Simmons with his own marketing plan and his own distinct path. The pitch poked at the notion that he would be following in someone else's footsteps, should Simmons be marketed as a supporting member of LeBron's Team Soldier sneaker line at Nike. Adidas also offered a shoe deal potentially worth considerably more than Nike, multiple sources told The Vertical.
The adidas offer began at $10 million over five years, with a $2 million signing bonus and a $1 million bonus for winning the Rookie of the Year Award. The offer was upped to $17 million over five years, with the bonuses still on the table.
Nike's initial offer began much lower at $7.5 million over five years. After the NBA's draft lottery locked in the Philadelphia 76ers and the Los Angeles Lakers at the first and second picks, respectively, Nike increased its offer to $12 million over five years, with incentives valued much lower than adidas’.
A key difference in the offers: Simmons would have owned a “rollover clause” in the adidas deal, but not with Nike, sources said. If Simmons were to win the Rookie of the Year Award and the subsequent $1 million bonus, his second-year base number with adidas would've rolled over that additional million and landed at $4.4 million. Each year thereafter would've had a base number including all incentives earned to that point, which could have dramatically increased the overall value of the deal. There were also several additional bonuses for earning All-Star honors.
After Simmons' up-and-down year at LSU, the adidas deal was purposely structured to be incentive-laden, but would've rewarded Simmons handsomely if he delivered. “If the dude is good, he could have gotten to $5 million per year within two years,” a source said. In addition to Paul, Simmons was leaning on his father, Dave, and his half-sister, Emily Bush, a Klutch Sports marketing employee, for advice and direction throughout the negotiations. The family was torn throughout the process, multiple sources said, preferring the financial upside of the adidas offer but intrigued by Nike's marketing prowess.
Although it offered less total cash, Nike emphasized its dominance in the footwear industry from a market-share standpoint and its ability to promote stars and create signature icons. He toured the Nike Sports Research Lab, an unparalleled resource of advanced motion and biometric data that dwarfs competitor labs. Nike also touted its upcoming NBA partnership that begins in 2017 and will allow the brand to include players in uniform in its advertising. Lastly, the brand highlighted its Innovation Kitchen, where some of the industry's top technologies and designs are born.
As it stands, Simmons will agree to a deal with Nike that still lands him in a commendable zone for a top pick. The $12 million, five-year deal is right in line with the $11 million deal 2014 top pick Andrew Wiggins signed with adidas. Simmons' shoe deal is far below the two largest signed by a rookie: Kevin Durant's seven-year, $60 million deal and James’ seven-year, $90 million deal, both with Nike.
With his shoe endorsement finally out of the way and his predraft training still under way, Simmons now can look ahead to the NBA draft in June. He can expect to hear his name called at the top of the board, and then it will be up to him to deliver on the grand expectations surrounding him.