Since July 1st, NBA teams have dominated sports headlines in what’s been one of the most active free agent periods of all time. Teams have committed over $2 billion (and counting) to this free agent class so it is no wonder why it’s the talk of the basketball world. However, underneath all of this chaos brews another intriguing market: Sneaker Free Agency. Nike has long dominated the market however in recent years the competition is beginning to heat up. Under Armour struck gold with 2-time MVP Stephen Curry, adidas has switched their focus from providing NBA apparel to investing in spokesmen, and there is even competition (albeit small) from foreign companies such as Li-Ning, Anta, and Peak. While ‘Sneaker Free Agency’ does not have free agents the caliber of Kevin Durant or LeBron James, there are some marketable names available that could make a difference. Nick DePaula of The Vertical reviewed the top five sneaker free agents so we decided to outline who of this coveted quintet each brand should target as the key date of September 30th approaches.
Suggested Targets: DeMar DeRozan and Kristaps Porzingis
Simply put, the Swoosh is king of the mountain. They’ve been able to dominate the industry by developing innovative and aesthetic products, and marketing them masterfully to consumers. Nike has had continued success into the 2010’s by using three of the best players in this decade to push products: Kevin Durant, LeBron James, and Kobe Bryant. With ‘Mamba out’ and confirmation of the line continuing post-retirement, Nike needs a face (or faces) to continue pushing Kobe products. One way of doing this would be to re-sign DeRozan and utilize him alongside fellow Los Angeles product Paul George to continue the legacy of the Kobe sneaker line. Both players grew up idolizing Bryant, and DeRozan in particular is well known for wearing some of the hottest Kobe’s on court.
If there is any company that could get the most out of Kristaps’ uniqueness on and off the court, it’s Nike. The truth is, sneakers themselves can be relatively comparable but Nike’s marketing is a cut above the competition which could really help raise his profile to new levels. Nike could do a lot with a unique star who plays in one of the biggest markets in the league and that surely must be appealing to both parties.
Suggested Targets: John Wall and/or Bradley Beal
Under Armour has been able to make in-roads on Nike by capitalizing on the failures of their competitors. Case in point: The botched Stephen Curry Nike pitch. John Wall’s deal with adidas fell apart last year and it is no secret that Under Armour, a company based in the DC-Maryland-Virginia area, would love to have the All-Star guard on board at the right price. One huge roadblock to this perfect union is that John Wall is represented by Rich Paul, the long-time friend of Nike lifer LeBron James. It should be noted that nearly all of Paul’s sports’ clients are Nike guys with the exception of Ben McLemore, who signed his adidas deal prior to being represented by Klutch.
Should John Wall not be available Under Armour would do well to take a flier on his backcourt mate Bradley Beal. A young star on the rise who Nike may not offer fair value to due to his shaky injury history. While an injury plagued star can be a problem for sneaker companies (see: Derrick Rose/adidas), Beal gives Under Armour their best chance of having a star player from the DMV on their endorsement roster.
Suggested Targets: Harrison Barnes and Kristaps Porzingis
Adidas made a decision in 2015 to relinquish its apparel partnership with the NBA instead choosing to redirect that money towards the young stars of tomorrow. adidas already has young stars like Damian Lillard and Andrew Wiggins on contract and they were able to add 2016 first round picks Brandon Ingram, Jamal Murray, Jaylen Brown, Dragan Bender, and Kris Dunn to their roster. It’s very clear what direction the Three Stripes are going in and targeting both Barnes and Porzingis fits what they are trying to do.
Barnes was an important cog in a historic Warriors team and there is belief is that his productivity could increase even more if given a larger role on a team. It’s definitely a gamble but if this proves to be true, Barnes would be a solid addition to what’s shaping up to be an impressive adidas roster. It doesn’t hurt that Barnes has an existing relationship with adidas and had issues – albeit minor – with Nike and the Jordan Brand in the past.
Adding a popular and charismatic European star like Porzingis would also be a great get for adidas. adidas’ popularity in soccer has done them no favours in the past when it comes to shaking the Euro/International vibe but instead of running from it, why not embrace it by signing a young, “break-the-mold” type of player like Kristaps?
Suggested Target: John Wall
Jordan Brand has been very selective with who they’ve gone after and as much as we’d like to forget His Airness’ Wizards days they would love to have a presence in MJ’s old stomping grounds. This might be a good landing spot for John Wall – it would give the Jumpman a star player who plays where Jordan played.
Suggested Targets: John Wall
While much of the focus will be on the big three brands do not be surprised if a smaller company like Li-Ning is able to make a splash in the sneaker free agent market. Smaller, less established companies in the market provide players an opportunity to be featured in ways that the top 3 brands can’t. The smaller competitors may also be more likely to throw more money at a player who is looking for a big shoe deal but can’t get one from one of the big brands. With signature star Dwyane Wade nearing retirement do not be surprised if Li-Ning throws big money at a guy like John Wall – another big and athletic guard – who would take Wade’s place as the brand’s signature basketball athlete going forward.
Suggested Target: Harrison Barnes
Peak is another company that is in a position to possibly outbid one of the big three brands should they choose to do so. They have done a good job signing notable NBA talent such as George Hill, Tony Parker, and Evan Turner but they are lacking that one explosive, highlight reel worthy wing player that they could build their brand around. Do not be surprised if Peak makes an offer on Harrison Barnes, especially if he is not retained by the Golden State Warriors in his NBA free agency.
Suggested Target: Bradley Beal
Anta has done very well to secure a top 20 NBA talent like Klay Thompson and a legend in Kevin Garnett however if they want to be a player they would do well to make a large offer to any of these free agents. Of these five the best fit would be Bradley Beal – Anta could successfully market their shoe to shooters if they had two of the best shooters in the league signed to their brand.
Suggested Target: John Wall
In addition to an underrated basketball shoe, Brandblack has very well designed athleisure products. In free agency they should look to target a player with the name recognition and game to help elevate their brand both on and off the court. Brandblack already has Jamal Crawford but adding John Wall, a guy who has started in an NBA all-star game, would go a long way in further establishing Brandblack’s credibility.