In the NBA world, Michael Jordan is credited for changing the game, and rightfully so.
But heading into 2013 and beyond, Dwyane Wade is deserving of some kudos, as well.
You probably just don’t know it yet.
And you probably don’t know why, either.
Wade is no Jordan, but his hands on approach in helping to develop one of the most innovative products the NBA has seen in a while is something that would make even 25-year-old Jordan proud.
Jordan, after all, is responsible for lighting the fire underneath the NBA’s owners to shift the economic pendulum from the league’s players back to its owners.
Back then, it worked. Today, there is an economic gulf that exists between the likes of Paul Allen, the current owner of the NBA’s Portland Trailblazers, and Derek Fisher, a 17-year NBA veteran and current president of the NBA players’ union.
Way back in July 1996, Jordan challenged that gulf. As a result, NBA players were locked out in 1999.
Believing that the league and the Chicago Bulls exploited his talents and were disproportionately reaping the benefits of increased gate and television revenues that he helped bring in, Jordan—who had earned a total of $24.9 million over the first nine years of his career—wanted his fair share.
Though Jordan himself said the negotiations were easy, he spent a latter half of the 1995-96 season—and even time during the 1996 NBA Finals—making his unhappiness over his salary well known.
After leading the Bulls to a record 72 regular season wins and defeating the Seattle Supersonics in the 1996 NBA Finals, the Bulls had no choice but to pony up.
In July 1996, the team agreed to a one year deal with Jordan that would pay him $30 million.
The next year, the Bulls won 69 games and another championship, and Jordan was rewarded another one year deal, this one, worth $33 million.
Shortly thereafter, Jordan won his final NBA title and rode off into the sunset.
He left behind some disgruntled owners, though.
Many of the league’s owners saw salaries rapidly increasing. Between 1990 and 1998, the league’s salary cap more than doubled from about $12 million to $26 million.
In 1998, along with Jordan, eight other players earned more than $10 million dollars. Gary Payton ($10.5 million), Hakeem Olajuwon ($11.1 million), Juwan Howard ($11.3 million), Alonzo Mourning ($11.3 million), David Robinson ($12.4 million), Shaquille O’Neal ($12.9 million), Horace Grant ($14.3 million) and Patrick Ewing ($20.5 million) each earned more, individually, than some owners paid for their entire teams not too many years prior.
Concerned with increasing salaries, the NBA insisted upon instituting maximum salaries. The players union refused and the 1998 lockout ensued shortly thereafter.
What became obvious during the course of the lockout was that, despite making millions of dollars, most NBA players had no clue about how to effectively manage their finances.
Some players endorsed products, few had equity in any of them. Many leased cars and rented condos. Yes, millionaires lived check to check.
Once the checks dried up, so did the collective resolve of the union. The players eventually cracked and the NBA’s 1999 collective bargaining agreement contained a cap on player salaries.
Since then, the players union spent considerable time and effort educating its membership on the importance of saving money and preparing for life without paychecks.
Back in 2010, when it became apparent that the NBA’s owners would lock the players out in 2011 and cancel regular season games for the second time in the league’s history, the union distributed a lockout preparation handbook.
But it was useless.
Again, the players cracked, and for the same reason. History repeated itself.
The major pro from all of this, though, is the new found seriousness with which many of today’s wiser players take their post-playing careers and business endeavors.
Wade is a shining example.
But today, Mission Athletecare is taking athletes being involved with investing in products to a whole different stratosphere, and it makes perfect sense since the company was actually co-founded by a group that includes world-class athletes such as tennis champion Serena Williams, MLB All-Star David Wright and gold medal soccer champion Mia Hamm.
The company’s mission is to deliver world-class product innovations and solve issues plaguing athletes of all sports, of all ages and at every level.
But its relationship with the NBA, and specifically, its Court Grip product is a fascinating innovation.
And Wade’s involvement with the company is something worth noting.
Mark French, the founder of Court Grip and partner of Mission Athletecare, amassed data over a four-year period and found that more than 80 percent of the 32 million basketball players in the United States complained about court slippage.
Asphalt provides better grip, but gymnasiums are wood laden. Anyone who has played the game at any level knows that.
Dwyane Wade, who happened to be in discussions with Mission about getting involved with the company, learned about French and Court Grip and immediately became enamored with its potential.
Wade volunteered to test the product and Steve Nash soon came aboard, as well. Today, not only can Mission boast other NBA players such as Dwight Howard, Carmelo Anthony and Brandon Jennings as partners and equity holders, but Court Grip is now an official partner of the NBA.
On every scorer’s table across the country, from Portland’s Rose Garden to Orlando’s Amway Center, NBA players are using Court Grip.
The product is a solution that is applied to the bottom of a player’s sneaker, and it enhances the grip and traction.
A brilliant innovation by French has received widespread acceptance by basketball players of all levels, and not just because of the big named players endorsing the product. No, its success has more to do with the fact that an independent study of its effectiveness conducted over a three month duration showed that Court Grip results in a 24 percent average improvement on a basketball player’s quickness. It also vastly improves balance and stability.
Wade tested the product long before it went to market and decided to give it his full endorsement only after he was certain that he actually believed in it. Ditto for Jennings.
The rest is history. The product is a success, and Wade and Jennings partnering with those at Mission are a major reason why.
Today, we see NBA players not only endorsing products, but taking an active hand in the life cycle, aiding in development and earning equity.
Court Grip’s rise represents a changing of the guard. Today, NBA players are utilizing their marketability and power in the marketplace. Now, they are also considering their legacies once their playing days are over.
That’s something we haven’t seen until fairly recently and it may be something we would have never seen had Jordan not unintentionally caused the 1998 lockout.
Here, the traditional model of an athlete being paid to endorse a product that he may not actually even use is being turned on its head.
French and Mission’s CEO, Josh Shaw, saw and pursued an opportunity to turn a few of the NBA’s players into partners.
What better way to help athletes solve problems than by recruiting those who play the sport at the highest level?
According to French, some of the NBA’s top stars get pitched on investment opportunities quite frequently. Most often, they turn them down.
But in this instance, Wade, after testing Court Grip, saw its potential and seized the opportunity to get in on the ground floor.
It’s the quintessential win-win.
If French is to be credited for a brilliant invention, Wade and his fellow NBA players should be credited for seeing the potential in Mission and its Court Grip product and grasping the opportunity to become equity partners with a company on the rise.
As it stands, some of the flaws of the NBA’s 2011 collective bargaining agreement are becoming apparent. The Memphis Grizzlies trade of Rudy Gay may be a bad sign that small market teams simply can’t afford to pay the luxury tax and the Los Angeles Lakers really wish it could sign Dwight Howard to a maximum extension without him becoming an unrestricted free agent.
Because of them, it’s quite possible that the NBA could be headed for another lockout when the players union has the opportunity to opt out of the current deal in July 2017.
If that happens, though, some of the players will be better equipped to make ends meet without paychecks. Though the marriage with Mission Athletecare is not the first foray into entrepreneurship by NBA players, it is, arguably, the most successful.
The better news for the players union is that this may just be the beginning.
Court Grip has already received industry-wide acceptance and, best of all, is helping NBA players get a fair share.
For the league’s players, this represents evident progress. For the owners, it’s probably something nerve racking.
In 1999 and 2011, the owners scored major victories over the players with the implementation of a maximum salary and shorter guaranteed contract lengths, respectfully.
They locked the players out, stopped cutting checks and simply waited for them to crack.
It worked twice before, but if this new business model is something that sticks, the lockout tactic may soon become a weapon of yesteryear.