LeBron James Could Become The Next Billion-Dollar Athlete
By Burt Carey
Cleveland Cavaliers forward LeBron James has done something that not even Michael Jordan has done: He signed a “lifetime deal” with Nike.
Forbes claims James is already the world’s third highest paid athlete, knocking down a cool $72.3 million in 2014, and he could soon rise to the top if sales of his LeBron James Shoes brand continues to grow. Sales for 2015 are expected to be about $400 million, up $100 million from a year earlier.
Neither Nike nor James’ business partner, Maverick Carter, would say how much the pact is worth, but it is believed to be the first time Nike has inked a lifetime deal with any athlete. The 44-year-old company is the world’s largest show and apparel brand.
“We can confirm that we have agreed to a lifetime relationship with LeBron that provides significant value to our business, brand and shareholders,” Nike reported in a statement. “We have already built a strong LeBron business over the past 12 years, and we see the potential for this to continue to grow throughout his playing career and beyond.”
By beyond, Nike has good measure to work with. In 1985, NBA star Michael Jordan pioneered the way for many of today’s professional basketball players to have multi-million dollar deals with shoe/apparel companies. All he did was build the Air Jordan brand with Nike, now worth an estimated $2.2 billion in annual sales. With an estimated $100 million income from Nike alone, the 52-year-old Jordan is, by far, the gold standard.
Adidas has signed so-called lifetime deals with the NBA’s Derrick Rose and now-retired soccer player David Beckham. Allen Iverson has such a deal with Reebok. UnderArmour has Golden State Warriors star Stephen Curry under contract but it’s too early in his career for large figures. Kevin Durant has a 10-year, $300 million contract with Nike.
James first signed an endorsement deal with Nike in 2003, the day before the NBA lottery. That was a 7-year, $90 million deal. Nike has produced 13 different versions of LeBron James Shoes since then.
“I’m very humble, man,” James told reporters Monday. “It’s been an unbelievable time for myself and my family, and I’m just grateful that Nike and [Nike founder] Phil Knight and everyone over there just believed in a skinny 18-year-old kid from Akron, Ohio, and I’m happy to be a part of such a great company.
“It meant a lot to me even when I signed my first deal just to be with Nike, and it means even more that they’ve given me this,” James said. “It’s like I said, very humbling and grateful, and I’m going to continue to do my job and represent the brand the best way I can, like I know how. Hopefully, people see that.”