When Brandon Ingram’s rise through the college ranks took shape last spring, he found himself near the top of a strong class of one-and-done players headed to the NBA. While his predraft training and preparation were the top priorities, his marketing team was tasked with sorting through his endorsement offers. When the Los Angeles Lakers landed the No. 2 pick in the draft lottery – with Ben Simmons expected to go No. 1 – Ingram’s endorsement potential took a new trajectory.
After starring at Nike-sponsored Kinston (N.C.) High School and one of the brand’s top elite college programs at Duke, there was an expectation that Ingram would be a key Nike target heading into the NBA draft.
Adidas though had been routinely circling, looking to expand its roster of NBA athletes and add more wing scorers and forwards after years of mostly focusing on point guards. Ingram, with his wiry 6-foot-9 frame and explosive scoring potential, was right at the top of the brand’s list. The interest was mutual.
“I was looking for loyalty. That’s something that I’ve gotten throughout my high school career, through my AAU career and even through college, always talking to adidas people, even though I was at a Nike school,” Ingram, 19, told The Vertical.
Before attending Duke, Ingram played for the adidas-sponsored Stackhouse Elite AAU program, founded by former NBA player Jerry Stackhouse.
“At the end of the day, it was a no-brainer going to adidas. It just shows the confidence that they have in me,” Ingram said. “In high school, they took a chance on me to be on an adidas team and be the face of Jerry Stackhouse’s team on the AAU circuit. As soon as I [turned pro], they made an offer that really showed they were sticking with me.”
The deal, a five-year contract negotiated by agent Jeff Schwartz of Excel Sports, will pay Ingram at least $2 million annually. Should he be selected for the Rising Stars Challenge, make the playoffs or make the All-Star Game, a series of bonus triggers can increase the value of the deal.
The escalating numbers and bold offers made to incoming rookies represent a shift in strategy for adidas. Its 11-year, $400 million NBA uniform partnership ends after this season, and the brand is using those resources to sign more young players. Adidas offered more than a million dollars each to five rookies this past summer, missing out on Simmons, the top pick of the 76ers, and the Pelicans’ Buddy Hield. They ultimately signed six of the top 10 draft picks, including Kris Dunn, Jaylen Brown, Dragan Bender, Jamal Murray and Thon Maker.
As Ingram sees it, he’s able to represent a new wave of players who are looking at the brand as being more stylish and innovative than in the past. “A lot of people want to be different, and this is definitely the class of people being different,” he said.
In addition to adidas’ renewed focus on players, there’s no underestimating the influence of its celebrity partnerships with entertainers Kanye West and Pharrell Williams.
“When guys first hear about an adidas contract, that’s the first thing they bring you, is Yeezys,” Ingram said, laughing. “He has a big impact on adidas, and there’s a lot of fashion coming to adidas, not just from Kanye, but from a lot of different people, too.”
Ingram is among several young players helping to lead the brand’s new Crazy Light Boost 2016 sneaker. The shoe was designed by a young designer, 22-year-old Nick Daiber, and it is a shift as the company looks to refresh and revamp the design language of its shoes.
“When they first showed them to me, I really liked them. Then, when I put it on my feet, I really liked them,” Ingram said. “I’m a low-top kind of guy.”
The brand has given Ingram several custom versions of the new team shoe in Laker hues, with “BI” and “14” along the tongue. Michael Ladinig, adidas’ basketball sports marketing director, said Ingram and his rookie classmates will have a chance to get out of the elevated team shoes and potentially earn signature shoes.
“I think every one of these guys has an equal shot today at getting signature footwear. It’s going to be a total package consideration,” Ladinig said. “Obviously, the on-court performance element. Then, there’s the other intangibles and also the things that I like to evaluate, like their entire commitment to the process. Whether or not a player is putting in extra time at practice, putting in extra time in their community and also [committed to] what adidas is trying to do as a brand, beyond just what the category is doing. Their likelihood to get into signature product is going to be that much greater if they’re able to do that.”
The brand currently has three signature basketball shoes, creating flagship footwear for point guards James Harden, Damian Lillard and Derrick Rose.
“There’s a [signature] shoe foot to be filled, so to speak. We need to represent the entire position universe to the consumers,” Ladinig said. “You have guys like James, Derrick and Dame that are very crafty and creative and can get to the rim. But, we also have someone in Andrew Wiggins who is really an above-the-rim style of player, and that style isn’t necessarily represented enough in our current portfolio of players. That explosive, dominant and highly athletic player.”
Can Ingram become that player? He is committed to the work ahead, understanding that the process is part of a long journey. For now, the youthful Lakers’ atmosphere is allowing him to gradually grow and improve.
“With all of our guys being young and everyone being pretty good, I’ve seen a lot of guys come in the gym really early this offseason,” Ingram said. “It just shows that everyone is dedicated to getting better. Everyone knows that it’s going to be a process, but it looks like everything is headed in the right direction.”
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