The NBA has become a massive stage for sneaker culture. Oftentimes, people will hear about what shoes Houston Rockets player PJ Tucker was rocking during the game before they hear about his stats. Sneaker companies recognize this and develop partnerships with athletes to represent their brand on NBA courts. These relationships prove to be beneficial for both parties. Companies get some of the best marketing available and athletes get free shoes– along with some additional cash. In the case of Zion Williamson, the money made on his sneaker deal is even larger than his NBA salary.
Above, we can see the top 10 NBA sneaker deals according to Forbes. Among the top 10 sneaker deals, there are only 5 brands represented. Upon initial glance we can see that over half on the list are Nike or Jordan brand athletes. We can also observe Michael Jordan raking in $130M per year in sneaker income– almost as much as the entire rest of the list combined.
Additionally, we are going to be looking at how some of these sponsored athletes’ shoes are performing in the resale market. Below, we have selected a shoe per athlete and gathered StockX weekly average sale prices on each. The shoes selected for our resale market observations were chosen based on a variety of criteria. For example, the Air Jordan I ‘Chicago’ and Zoom Generation ‘First Game’ were chosen because they are true classics. Some, such as the Way of Wade 7 ‘Satori’ and Harden Vol 1 ‘Imma Be A Star’, were chosen due to the fact that the player had few pairs with sufficient resale market data available. Other pairs were picked because we simply liked the way they looked.
$130M– Michael Jordan: Air Jordan I ‘Chicago’ (2015)
Having originally signed a deal with Nike in 1984, MJ did such an effective job marketing his shoes that he now has his own Jordan brand. Many of the other athletes on this list are even signed with his brand. Together, Nike and MJ worked together to create a sneaker industry juggernaut that has since become a household name and shows no signs of slowing down anytime soon.
In the graph above we are looking at perhaps the most iconic sneaker of all time, and the one that started it all, the Air Jordan I ‘Chicago’. Here we see prices for the 2015 retro doubling in the last year, reaching nearly $2,000.
$32M– LeBron James: Nike Air Zoom Generation ‘First Game’ (2003)
The debate about which of the top two on our list is the greatest basketball player of all time is a very contentious topic. However, one undeniable fact is that both have had an enormous impact on sneaker culture with their respective signature lines. LeBron James first teamed up with Nike prior to his 2003 rookie season. Like many on this list, LeBron had a sneaker deal before playing in a single NBA game. Since their union, the brand has released 18 signature models along with various spin-offs. In the graph above we are looking at another true OG, the Nike Air Zoom Generation ‘First Game’. According to the data, we see prices hovering just under the $500 mark with a recent increase in the last year coinciding with James’ fourth NBA championship title.
$26M– Kevin Durant: Nike KD4 ‘Weatherman’ (2011)
Since signing a $60M deal with Nike in 2007, and passing on an additional $20M offered by Adidas, KD has made a name for himself in the realm of signature sneakers. With 13 signature models releasing under the swoosh, KD’s sneakers are some of the most creative and detailed with many telling an interesting story.
In the graph above we take a look at the KD4 ‘Weatherman’, a sneaker inspired by Kevin Durant’s interest in becoming a weatherman if his NBA career doesn’t work out. The shoe features a unique doppler pattern that is a scan of KD’s very own foot. Here we see prices jumping from as low as $200 in early 2020 to nearly $1,500 at the end of 2020.
$20M– Stephen Curry: Under Armour Curry 4 ‘More Dimes’
Golden State Warriors sharpshooter Steph Curry made waves when he signed with Under Armour for a reported $4M in 2013– passing up Nike’s $2.5M offer. Under Armour has since re-signed Steph in 2015 offering him equity stake in the company. This was a great marketing snag for the brand as Steph went on to lead the league in average points per game during the 2015-16 season.
Despite disagreements with Under Armour CEO Kevin Plank on public praise of former US president Donald Trump, Steph Curry is currently on his eighth signature shoe with the brand. His signature Curry 4 ‘More Dimes’, inspired by his ability to pass out assists, was available on StockX for under retail shortly after releasing.
$16M– Kobe Bryant: Nike Kobe 11 ‘Fade to Black’ (2016)
After making his NBA debut as an Adidas athlete in 1996, Kobe Bryant decided to take his talents to Nike in 2003 where he would go on to release 11 signature models in countless colorways. In the graph above we take a look at the last shoe Kobe Bryant ever wore in the NBA, the Kobe 11 from the monochromatic ‘Fade to Black’ pack.
The Kobe 11 ‘Fade to Black’ saw extremely high resale prices post release, falling gradually before doubling after Kobe’s passing in January 2020. Likewise, many of Kobe’s other shoes saw this dramatic price increase after the tragic news of his death.
$13M– Zion Williamson: Jordan XXXIV ‘Bayou Boys’ (2020)
After splitting a pair of Kyrie’s signature shoes playing in one of the biggest rival college basketball games of the year in 2019, Zion Williamson decided to sign a massive sneaker deal with Jordan Brand. This was before even stepping foot on the court for his first NBA game, similar to many on this list. Zion has been seen in a multitude of player exclusive XXXIVs and XXXVs since signing with Jordan brand, but has not yet received his own signature model. This makes him the only player on this list without one. Although, rumors of a Zion signature “Jordan Z Code” are circulating with a speculated April 2021 release date. Zion’s Jordan XXIV ‘Bayou Boys’ PE has hit StockX north of $300 since its initial release in March 2020– a steep mark up from their $195 retail price.
$13M– James Harden: Adidas Harden Vol. 1 ‘Imma Be A Star’ (2016)
The only athlete under Adidas on this list, James Harden has released 5 iterations of his signature sneakers beginning with the Harden Vol. 1 in 2016. His debut Vol 1 ‘Imma Be A Star’ is inspired by a handwritten note to his mother prophesying his success. We can see the StockX trends for the Vol. 1 hovering right around retail price of $140.
$12M– Russel Westbrook: Jordan Why Not Zer0.2 ‘Own The Chaos’ (2019)
Releasing his first signature shoe with Jordan brand in 2018, Russel Westbrook is now on his third signature shoe. Looking at StockX data for the Why Not Zer0.2 ‘Own The Chaos’– one of his many uniquely patterned colorways and limited to 500 pairs– we see that pairs consistently sell for nearly double retail price.
$12M– Dwayne Wade: Li Ning Way of Wade 7 ‘Satori’ (2019)
One of three players on the list with lifetime sneaker deals, alongside Michael Jordan and LeBron James, Dwayne Wade has worked to release 8 signature shoes so far with Chinese sneaker company Li Ning. Although Li Ning is not a brand often seen in the resale market, the Way of Wade line has a cult following. In the graph above we take a look at the Way of Wade 7 ‘Satori’, meaning sudden enlightenment, released in 2019.
$11M– Kyrie Irving: Nike Kyrie 3 ‘Mamba Mentality Bruce Lee’ (2017)
Number 1 overall 2011 draft pick Kyrie Irving has been working on signature models with the swoosh since the Kyrie 1 in 2014. To date, Nike and Irving have released 6 signature models.
Here we look at the Kyrie 3 ‘Mamba Mentality Bruce Lee’, which takes inspiration from the Kill Bill colorway made famous in the sneaker community by Kobe Bryant. In the chart, we can see that prices for the Kyrie 3 also increased shortly after Kobe’s passing In January 2020.
The Future of Sneaker Deals
With an industry as dynamic as sneakers, there is no telling which direction sponsorships will go. How long will Michael Jordan remain the uncontested king of sneaker deals? How long until we see another rookie with the amount of talent and hype as Zion Williamson? Could there be another sport with shoe sponsorships as serious as basketball? Only time will tell.