NBA Free Agency: Witness How LeBron James, Nike Control Summer's Free Agency

Pat Mixon@patmixonSenior Analyst IJune 29, 2010

There is a new Revolution starting and no one has seen it coming. Ready to Witness this?

While all the recent talk in the press has been about player collusion and secret free agent meetings, one of the other big players in the “LeBron James Cartel” is actually powerhouse footwear company Nike.


The talk goes that Nike is exerting its influence over its pool of core players to create a “Nike Dream Team.” The discussions now are involving the top tier of this summer’s free agency.


And, that tier starts and ends with Nike’s biggest player, LeBron James.  


It has been beaten to death, theorized, and talked until forever comes on what James will do or won’t do, where he will end up and why.


But, while his agent has been getting a great deal of mention as to positioning and posturing for his client, the real puppet master might actually be Nike.


The behind the scenes talk appears serious and real. Nike has everything to gain with landing their guys in the right spots, in the right cities, and for the right teams. Why?  Money.  


In case you missed it, Nike is in the shoe business. They are in the sponsorship business. And, they are actually in the selling aspirational & dreams business.


What does that mean? It means hero worship, putting amazing athletes on a pedestal and then conveying to their customer (i.e.. us) that if we wear the same shoes as the stars do, we will be like them. 


Nike’s commercials appeal to the “wanta be” athlete in all of us who will go out and buy that over hundred dollar pair of shoes to play the sport we love.


I call this the “Be Like Mike” mentality but Nike actually has it down to a science. This is world class marketing at its finest and that is why Nike is the largest footwear company in the world.


So, there is every reason why Nike would like a say in this summer’s free agent dealings. Don’t think twice that they are whispering in the ear’s of the players they sponsor.


Let us run down the list of top tier NBA free agents who are sponsored by Nike. Of course, we have James. Add to the list one of the other hottest guys of this summer and that is Chris Bosh.


But don’t stop there. Add in Amar’e Stoudamire. Keep going. Add in Carlos Boozer.  Don’t forget Tayshaun Prince. What about Rudy Gay? Or, Dirk Nowitzki? And, David Lee. All Nike guys. 


The talk goes that some or possibly all of these guys can end up on the same team.  That could mean some of them joining Dwayne Wade (i.e.. Non-Nike Guy) in Miami or even in Los Angeles with the LA Clippers where Chris Kaman and Blake Griffin are on the Nike payroll.


Or, they work together and go to a team that can be a real winner, even if it requires a player or two taking slightly less money than they would get from another team.  


Chicago, in my opinion, could be a place this happens.


Think about this some more. The Chicago Bulls are close to having two slots open for max free agents. But only close. One or both of those free agents might have to take a little less than what other teams would offer.


Would a free agent really be willing to take a large pay-cut for a chance at a ring. Sound familiar? Well, Ron Artest just went down this path with the LA Lakers and walked away with this exact scenario.


And, we’re talking about not only the top two guys like LeBron and Bosh, but also some of the other free agents that are out there this summer and in Nike’s pool of sponsored players.


Some of these guys, in the right market, will sell more shoes for Nike than in their current, second and third tier cities, these small market teams like Phoenix, Utah, etc.  These players know that their salary is only one component. 


They may currently make more money than they would get next year but on the flip side, they could make it up from other avenues, not the least of which would be sponsorship from a certain footwear giant: Nike.


Lastly, it is a fact and confirmed by LeBron that the free agents are meeting in secret to plot where they will end up. The NBA has never seen this type of power wielded from the player side before. And, may never again.


But what everyone has missed is the big elephant in the room who has also been at the table for all of those meetings: Nike.


Don’t kid yourself. The NBA is big business. David Stern knows this. The players know this. Nike knows this. And, LeBron has realized this and that is why he is the leader on the player side.


The reason this is possible is because everyone can get what they want: the money and the rings. It may come in a different way that most people have seen coming, but it will come.


So, don’t be shocked come on or soon after July 1 if one team like Chicago, or even New York or New Jersey (no way does LeBron go to the Clips unless they are sold) ends up with not only say LeBron and Bosh but also some other Nike guys.


This is a the real Nike Revolution. Are you ready for it?