LeBron Swapping Numbers with Anthony Davis Could Have Cost ‘Tens of Millions’

A modern merchandising face-off plays out in real time

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In early July, LeBron James offered to swap jersey numbers with Lakers newcomer Anthony Davis. It was a nice gesture—the finishing touch to an NBA-altering trade and an accommodating welcome from the league’s biggest star. Davis wears 23 as a tribute to Michael Jordan but also to his hometown, Chicago. He’s never had another number.

However, by the time James suggested the switch, Nike’s deadline for number changes had passed. (Nike is the NBA’s official apparel provider.) While the company could waive the right to enforce the deadline, they declined to do so, citing the fact that they’d already begun making number 23 James jerseys for the forthcoming season. The financial blow would be, in Nike’s estimation, worth “tens of millions.” 

Nike has suggested that its merchandise stock didn’t just include premade LeBron Lakers jerseys; some have speculated that the number 23 might be featured prominently in the upcoming LeBron 17 as well. As for the assertion that Nike would take a loss of “tens of millions,” it’s possible, purely mathematically. LeBron and the Lakers had the option of buying up the remaining stock, but neither party was interested. Nike’s decision suggests that these jerseys wouldn't able to sell online at a discount or that the sale of new LeBron jerseys (as well as new Davis number 23 jerseys) wouldn’t account for the difference. 


This might be just the latest example of a business decision deleting a nice sports moment. After the number 5 became available, the Kansas City Chiefs QB had hoped to change his number back to his college digit. Once his team figured out they’d have to buy back all the number 15 jerseys, they quickly reconsidered the change. (His dent was only about $100,000, according to the KC Star.)


Davis felt miffed but decided to play with the number 3, which he wore in elementary school. James and Davis will officially change numbers again before the 2020–2021 NBA season.

RelatedLeBron Has Made Crazy Bank Investing in Liverpool

Related: How LeBron James Became a Generational Business Icon

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