It’s hard to think of a more profitable partnership than the contracts signed between shoe brands and famous athletes. Puma, for example, recently signed a partnership to become an official NBA partner, which will allow them to use logos and player’s names on their clothing and shoes. These partnerships are behind some of the most hyped designs, with fans having to join a sneaker community to keep up with release info and get the best possible prices. But only a few athletes managed to change the shoe game forever…
Early in his career Jordan was contacted by Nike to discuss a $500,000 deal to release a new model that would carry his name. At the time Nike wasn’t the giant it is now, and was in desperate need of a deal to compete with Converse. The gamble paid off and the Air Jordans became one of the most successful models of all time, with multiple variations being released each year. Today, a single original pair can be auctioned for more than a million dollars, and designer collaborations are highly sought after commodities among sneakerheads and can be resold for thousands of dollars.
In 2003 Nike had to outbid Reebok and Adidas to sign LeBron James, who had just finished high school, for a deal with $90 million to sponsor his own line of clothing and shoes. James went on to become a Championship winner, earning the title “King James”. Much sturdier and designed for in-court performance, The King’s sneakers have become a favorite among collectors, many of which prefer to proudly keep them on display rather than wear them.
Adidas signed Kobe Bryant in 1996 on a $48 million contract, even before he had played his first NBA game. Bryant’s talent earned him five NBA Championships, breaking multiple records in the process. In 2005 however, he signed with Nike to release several models and then started his own line of sneakers. Kobe’s shoes tend to take on a broader variety of silhouettes and focus on innovation. Sadly, his early passing means the plans he had for creating his own brand will never come to fruition, and his existing models will only become harder to find online.
Besides being an Olympic medalist, as well as NCAA and WNBA Champion, Sheryl Swoopes was the first woman to have her own sneaker line. The Air Swoopes were released by Nike for the 1996 Atlanta Olympic Games. The sneakers were an instant success, and went on to inspire more profitable partnerships between Nike and female athletes from other sports.
Seventy years before the Air Jordan was a fashion icon and basketball became a multi-billion dollar industry, a basketball player and Converse fan named Charles H. Taylor started traveling around the U.S. promoting his favorite sneakers. Today the classic Chuck Taylor All Star may not be the most technologically advanced pair, but the shoes are so iconic that they made Converse a worldwide recognizable brand.
It’s hard to imagine where sneaker culture would be without the influence of these sporting giants. Without players like Michael Jordan or LeBron James the sneaker community wouldn’t have the variety of silhouettes and colorways available today. They didn’t just promote a sport; they promoted a lifestyle which is now followed by millions of people around the world.