Bucks star Giannis Antetokounmpo is spending the week walking through brand pitches from companies looking to position him as the future of basketball — a sharp rise for a 22-year-old player who only entered the league in 2013 as an unknown prospect from Greece.
As he and his family walked through a modern rented loft in downtown Milwaukee for Adidas’ presentation, the 6-foot-11 forward became fixated on the figures along the walls of the entryway — Muhammad Ali, Arthur Ashe and Jesse Owens. Each has been aligned with the brand through the course of history, and as Adidas framed it, Antetokounmpo could be next in the lineage of global game-changers who impacted not only their sport, but also left a legacy of social impact.
Once the group took an elevator up to the main meeting room, an overview of sneaker design and innovation became the expected talking point. Ultimately, brands are looking for Antetokounmpo to lead his own signature line of sneakers, with design input and hands-on feedback along the way. In conversations this week with Adidas, Nike and Li-Ning, each is offering a signature shoe that would likely launch during the 2018-19 NBA season. For this upcoming year, he’d lead a series of player exclusive editions in Bucks hues of each brand’s current featured models, like the Adidas Crazy Explosive 2017, Nike Kobe A.D. or Li-Ning Yu Shuai 11.
Adidas made sure to mention several times that just this week it overtook Jordan brand as the No. 2 sneaker in the United States. The pitch projected how Adidas and Antetokounmpo could make even more progress both in the U.S. and globally, as the brand aims to continue its momentum in footwear by also rising in the basketball category.
To kick things off this week, Bucks teammate (and Adidas endorser) Thon Maker walked Antetokounmpo out to the parking lot of the team’s practice facility after a Tuesday morning workout. Awaiting him was a truck full of size 16 Adidas sneakers, including everything from pairs of the coveted Yeezy Boost series to Adidas Originals staples like the Stan Smith and running models like the UltraBoost.
With his current Nike endorsement deal set to expire on September 30, Antetokounmpo is assessing his options. Rather than take brand pitches at their headquarters, as some players do, he insisted on hosting the meetings in Milwaukee, in order to not disrupt his no-frills workout schedule leading up to his fifth season — a season in which he has MVP aspirations.
Adidas presented Tuesday. Nike, which ultimately holds a “right to match” clause on any endorsement deal offer that Antetokounmpo is presented, held its meeting in a more low-key conference room at a downtown hotel. Its pitch was centered around the fact that Antetokounmpo would become just the 22nd player to ever receive his own signature sneaker with the brand — rare air for the long-time leader in basketball market share, product design and marketing prowess.
While the incumbent Nike and potentially poaching Adidas are the two mainstays in the conversation, Chinese brand Li-Ning remains a dark horse to take seriously. The company’s last major signing was then-Heat superstar Dwyane Wade in the fall of 2012, but it’s looking to refresh and re-energize its roster of athletes. The offer the company is expected to make would certainly rank highest among the three pursuing brands at more than eight figures annually. The contract could also possibly feature an equity or stock component.
Neither Adidas nor Nike is expected to offer a similar package. Antetokounmpo, who has toured in Asia before and takes a global view on his potential marketing, isn’t scared of the challenge and is fully invested should he decide to go with Li-Ning, according to a source.
As the week winds down, each brand is expected to present an initial five-year contract offer and engage in negotiations with Antetokounmpo’s representatives at Octagon Sports. Should Antetokounmpo opt to sign an offer sheet with either Adidas or Li-Ning, Nike can fully use its match clause and take up to 20 business days to decide whether or not to let Antetokounmpo walk.
That timeline may carry the negotiations into the preseason, with Antetokounmpo’s rising profile and projected star power ultimately helping to lead a brand forward in the basketball space and beyond well into the prime of his career.
Nick DePaula is the creative director for Nice Kicks and former editor-in-chief of Sole Collector Magazine.