by Gerald Flores
Next to Michael Jordan, there's no other basketball player on Earth who's selling more sneakers than LeBron James. 11 years into LeBron's endorsement deal with Nike, the company's sales have ballooned to $27 billion, compared to $11 billion when the player first went pro in 2003.
According to former Nike and adidas consultant Sonny Vaccaro, there was a good chance LeBron could've taken his talents to adidas instead of Nike back in 2002. In ESPN 30 for 30's Sole Man, Vaccaro recalls the bidding war between both brands while LeBron was still in high school. At the time, Vaccaro, who was also instrumental in bringing Michael Jordan to Nike, Kobe Bryant to adidas, and Tracy McGrady to adidas, was pitching LeBron to join the Three Stripes and says it was the first time both companies were aggressively looking to recruit the same basketball player.
After meeting LeBron and watching him play in a private pickup game, Vaccaro immediately knew that he was worth a $100 million sneaker contract, which he got clearance to offer from adidas executives. The brand's initial pitch to LeBron included taking his family out to a presentation in Malibu, Calif. where LeBron was presented with a book that even contained mockups of his logo and products from his proposed signature line.
However, one thing was missing: the $100 million guarantee in the contract that Vacarro had supposedly gotten clearance for. Instead of a guaranteed $10 million a year, adidas's contract had an offer of $7 million a year, with incentives built in that would make it add up to $10 million a year.
"That was the single dumbest mistake anyone could've made in negotiating for a property," Vaccaro said. "In this case, a property being a basketball player."
As history goes, Nike swooped in and offered LeBron a seven-year $90 million contract with incentives built in, all before he even graduated high school. Twelve signature sneakers later, LeBron's Nike sales tallied up to $340 million alone in the last 12 months.
It's not the first time adidas missed big on a pro athlete. Michael Jordan was heavily leaning towards signing with adidas in 1984, but the brand passed on him because he was too short. Vacarro believes that adidas had a very legitimate shot at LeBron James, and that the player would've probably put adidas over Nike in the long run.
"If the money would've been identical, he would've signed with adidas," Vacarro said. "I believe that to this day."