Report: Adidas making $200 million bid to lure James Harden away from Nike

James Harden could be in line for a very lucrative off-court payday. (Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
James Harden could be in line for a very lucrative off-court payday. (Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)

After deciding earlier this year that it would not attempt to extend its contract as the NBA's official apparel provider, opening the door for Nike to swoop in and swoosh up NBA gear after the 2016-17 season for the hefty reported price of $1 billion, Adidas is reportedly gearing up to make a major push to lure one of the game's top superstars — Houston Rockets shooting guard James Harden — away from Nike and into its stable of endorsers.

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ESPN.com brand enthusiast Darren Rovell has the story:

The company has submitted a bid of $200 million over 13 years to sign Houston Rockets guard James Harden, sources told ESPN.com. Nike, whose deal with Harden recently expired, has until the end of next week to match the deal or lose him.

A $200 million offer is huge, considering it represents half of what the brand paid for 11 seasons as the NBA's official uniform supplier. [...] With incentives, if the deal is consummated, Harden could very well make more from Adidas in the coming years than the Rockets. Harden signed an $80 million contract extension with Houston in 2012 that goes through the 2017-18 season.

Adidas later confirmed its interest in landing the runner-up in 2014-15 NBA Most Valuable Player voting — and the top MVP vote-getter among his peers in the National Basketball Players Association — but, as you might expect, stopped short of talking nine-figure terms:

Before we get too far afield, it is perhaps worth noting that sometimes preliminary reporting on prospective sneaker deals can be a little bit overinflated.

Recall, if you will, reports that Adidas was prepared to offer prospective No. 1 pick Andrew Wiggins somewhere between $140 million and $180 million straight out of Kansas, a figure that engendered quite a bit of skepticism. Wiggins eventually inked a record Adidas rookie deal that still reportedly came in well over $100 million shy of the early report.

Established young veterans on the rise have landed monster deals in the past, though. Harden — now a footwear free agent after a two-year deal during which he became the NBA's pre-eminent two-guard, one of the league's premier scorers and distributors and a back-to-back All-NBA First-Team selection — could very well fit the bill ... especially considering the time at which he's reaching the market.

Some league observers, such as former Brooklyn Nets executive Bobby Marks, see Adidas' aggressive reported bid for Harden as a sign of a shifting marketplace for individual endorsers now that Nike's going to be spending boatloads of cash on the NBA apparel deal:

And with most of the other elite NBA players already locked into endorsement deals, Harden finds himself as the most attractive name on the market, in prime position to take advantage of this projected brave new world.

His on-court bona fides are there, and even if his famously divisive game — built primarily on forcing his way to the foul line by lulling defenders to sleep with his sinuous dribble, getting a split-second advantage off the bounce and making sure that his arms nearly always find contact as he ambles into the lane — isn't necessarily the stuff ad campaigns are made of, Harden has become one of the NBA's more marketable young stars, with his good humor and signature beard landing him deals with Foot Locker, Taco Bell, BodyArmor Sports Drink, KT Tape, BBVA Compass and more, as well as placement alongside Stephen Curry and Anthony Davis as one of the three cover athletes for the new edition of the popular "NBA 2K" series of video games.

"Sometimes you’re just born and gifted with something," Harden told Forbes. "The beard, the mohawk, the way I dress, it’s just instilled in me."

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With the Rockets now a perennial playoff team that seems poised to remain in contention after bringing back core pieces of last year's Western Conference runner-up like Patrick Beverley and Corey Brewer while taking the risk-reward gamble of adding troubled but talented point guard Ty Lawson, Houston and Harden profile as both a team and a player on the rise. That could conceivably make both more attractive as Adidas looks to loosen Nike's stranglehold on the U.S. hoops market ... as could other, off-court factors, according to Rovell:

There's also reality star-type placement, as there's apparently a budding relationship between the Rockets star and Khloe Kardashian. There's an even greater connection with Adidas as rap star Kanye West, who is married to Khloe's sister Kim, moved his Yeezy line from Nike to Adidas last year.

There's also international hope for Harden, as the Rockets already are very popular in China thanks to former player Yao Ming. Sources say part of what Adidas is willing to pay has to do with the potential for the masses to embrace Harden on an even greater scale if the Rockets can make more of a splash in the playoffs in the coming years.

Even if the significant outlay for the NBA apparel deal does limit Nike's capacity to retain all of its talent, though, it remains unclear how meaningful an impact Adidas' bidding on luminaries like Harden would make on its bottom line. Despite deals with All-Star guards like Derrick Rose of the Chicago Bulls (whose career has been marked by myriad knee injuries since inking a $185 million contract in the winter of 2012), Damian Lillard of the Portland Trail Blazers (who reportedly inked what was at the time the league's third-most lucrative shoe deal in 2014), John Wall of the Washington Wizards (who left Reebok for Adidas in 2013 and extended his deal Adidas deal just last month) and Harden's Houston teammate, Dwight Howard, Adidas last year dropped behind Under Armour into third place among sportswear brands in the U.S. market, the first time it had sunk lower than second.

Interestingly enough, though, it's Under Armour's rise — who lured 2014-15 MVP Curry of the world champion Golden State Warriors away from Nike in 2013 — that might point toward a reason why Nike would consider matching even an outsized offer for Harden like the one Rovell reports Adidas has made:

If Nike did decide to match Adidas' offer, it would mark the second straight summer in which it had elected to back up the Brinks truck to avoid watching a top-flight talent abandon ship. The Oregon-based behemoth ponied up a reported $300 million over 10 years last year to keep Harden's former teammate, Kevin Durant, after Under Armour made a reported $285 million bid for the Oklahoma City Thunder superstar.

Whether Harden elects to trade in his swoosh for three stripes or to re-up with the company he's endorsed since entering the league out of Arizona State, it seems likely that at some point very early in his next shoe deal, the hirsute bucket-getter will finally wind up with his own signature shoe. All that's left is to find out what logo's going on it.

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Dan Devine is an editor for Ball Don't Lie on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at devine@yahoo-inc.com or follow him on Twitter!

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