LeBron wears Nike. Steph Curry wears Under Armour. Derrick Rose wears Adidas. Which company’s got the best gear? The answer, of course, depends on who you ask.
Securing long-term endorsement deals with well-known athletes is one way the top brands try to outshine their competition. How do you get a star to wear your brand over another? Easy: throw millions of dollars their way.
In August, Adidas signed Houston Rockets guard James Harden away from Nike with a 13-year deal worth $200 million. So when Harden was spotted leaving a movie theater on Sept. 14 wearing Air Jordan sneakers, people noticed. Among those who did was Adidas North America President Mark King, who explained that Harden would eventually have to stop wearing Nikes in public. The company’s desire for Harden to shun the swoosh (and the symbols of other competitors) may be especially strong in the wake of its decision not to renew its apparel contract with the NBA. (The Nike logo will start appearing on NBA jerseys in 2017.)
By guaranteeing $200 million over 13 years, Adidas is making a significant investment in James Harden — an investment that no doubt comes with certain expectations. When, exactly, those expectations kick in, though, may not be crystal clear. About a week after that apparent transgression, Harden was seen leaving a New York City hotel wearing a pair of Nike running shoes.
So why was the 26-year-old star continuing to wear shoes featuring anything but three slanted stripes? Following no shortage of media coverage and public speculation, Harden addressed the controversy at Rockets media day on Monday. The Houston Chronicle’s Jonathan Feigen relayed the star's message through Twitter:
Harden in Nikes today. "I’m still under contract with NIke. I’m waiting for that day, I can start representing (Adidas)."
— Jonathan Feigen (@Jonathan_Feigen) September 28, 2015
And there is the elusive, yet seemingly reasonable, explanation the public (and likely Adidas) has been calling for. Harden's deal with Adidas doesn't officially go into effect until Oct. 1. So maybe he isn't trying to disrespect his new sponsor, or bite the hand that's feeding him, as some have suggested. Maybe he's just trying to fulfill his contractual obligations with Nike — right up until the very last day. So starting tomorrow all we should expect to see from Harden is Adidas, right?