If you were able to check out Duke’s preseason tour of Canada last year at all, then you’re likely familiar with the fact the Zion Williamson is someone to watch.
Anyone in his life who’s seen him would’ve told you the same thing. Whether coaches, fans, analysts, or teammates, the 6’ 7” South Carolina upstart has always made short work of his competition, pummeling his way through three seriously powered up Canadian teams.
At the start of things, people were already calling him his generation’s best.
After all the hype, Williamson didn’t disappoint. After a freshman year in which he was showered with accolades, including the ACC and NCAA rookie and player of the year of the year awards. Shortly after, he was the number one NBA draft pick by the New Orleans Pelicans.
Since he’s gone pro, there’s been a massive amount of speculation over when and if a major shoe company would give the former Blue Devil a branding deal.
Finally, last month it was revealed to the masses that Nike’s Jordan brand was offering Williamson a multi-year deal that is unrivaled in terms of profitability, especially for rookies.
Nike signing a top prospect in the NBA isn’t necessarily a new thing – after all,over 70% of players in the NBA are dribbling off the court for Phil Knight. One thing Nike hasn’t been used to, however, is the sheer amount of competition there would be by companies vying to make their own zion williamson sneaker.
In a piece by Nick DePaula for ESPN, he reveals that Williamson was being approached by both Puma and Chinese company Li-Ning, in addition to his offers from Jordan. Considering both companies were rumored to be offering compensation somewhere in the 9 figure range, it’s obvious that Williamson had a tough choice to make.
With Puma offering around $15 million per year, and Li-Ning offering $19 mil (read here), it might be puzzling to some why Williamson chose to go with Nike, as he is currently poised to make roughly $10 mil a year for the next 7 years under his current contract. While this is certainly no small chunk of change, why did the young superstar choose the smaller amount?
It’s simple enough, really – vision. While Puma and Li-Ning are both established brands with power, Nike has had a special relationship with the NBA, and whatever they said in their presentation to Williamson and his family likely highlighted that. Plus, the company and Williamson already have a prior relationship.
Following an injury for which Nike’s shoes were to blame, the company scrambled to design Williamson a pair of shoes unique to him, designed to accommodate both his power and his speed. DePaula theorizes that this prior relationship might have been what edged Nike’s competitors out of the picture. While Nike couldn’t (or wouldn’t) match the money the other two brands were offering, what they did offer the Pelicans player was a legacy.
“It’s the way athletes are celebrated — almost mythologized — by the company over the course of history,” writes DePaula. “Both externally to fans across the world and internally with its personal relationships.”