LeBron James and Nike have been teammates since before he was even technically drafted, and the partnership has been one of the ages. When you think back to some of the biggest moments and games of LeBron's career—the 48-point masterpiece against the Detroit Pistons in 2007, the 45-point series-saving performance against the Boston Celtics in 2012 as a member of the Miami Heat en route to his first championship, and the legendary block against Andre Iguodala in Game 7 against the Warriors in 2016 during his second stint with the Cleveland Cavaliers to name a few of many, all of those were done in his signature Nike sneakers. In fact, for every major LeBron moment/game (even some of the greatest of his high school career), there's a specific Nike that represents that specific moment. With the new NBA season coming around the corner, we thought now would be a good time to look back on the full history of LeBron James' Nike deal.
The Full History of LeBron James' Nike Deal
How long have the two worked together? We're doing a deep dive
That's right—we're going to break it all the way down, and we're going to start all the way from the beginning.
The very first Lebron James Nike deal
Whenever we hear about a major athlete signing a major brand deal, we always wonder if there were ever any other contenders in the mix. In the case of James, there was, and apparently, his final decision was made just shortly before he was drafted by the Cleveland Cavaliers in 2003. According to Andscape, the then 18-year-old signed his rookie contract with Nike the night before the draft. The contract was worth a reported $87 million fully guaranteed over seven years, which is still the most expensive rookie deal ever signed by a player. That night, Nike was able to finally breathe a sigh of relief as they had been in competition with Reebok and Adidas.
What happened with Adidas? According to Boardroom, they were considered to be the favorites in the teenage LeBron James sweepstakes, but that didn't go any further than a meeting a Malbu. And as for Reebok? Well, James turned them (and their bonus) down too in surprising fashion. Reebok thought they all but had James locked down with a reported offering of over $100 million. They were even in Akron, Ohio with James the night before the draft, but at the eleventh hour the budding superstar left them at the altar to sign with Nike, thus marking his first power move—the first James sweepstakes if you want to call it that.
The very first LeBron shoe
What was the very LeBron James shoe you ask? Why that was the Air Zoom Generation aka the "Debut." This ladies and gentlemen was James' first signature sneaker, and is the colorway worn by the man himself during his inaugural game against the Sacramento Kings in 2003. As you can see, it's very early 2000s with its retro university styling and black, white, and red color mixing. It's also very much a part of not just sneaker history, but basketball history as a whole. While the pricing on the Air Zoom Generation "Debut" doesn't run as crazy as some others, you could be spending as much as $1,000 to have your own replica.
The very first Lebron Nike commercial
The evolution of LeBron's signature shoes
LeBron's signature sneakers have continued to evolve since its respective debut in 2003, telling a story in its own way. Many of James' shoes match where he was at certain points in his career. The early years are a reflection of the first several years with the Cleveland Cavaliers, when he was a young and hungry player falling short of winning championships and being questioned as to whether or not he would ever win one (yes this was actually a thing). The models from the early 2010s are his Miami years, aka Bron in beast mode where you would see him win two of his current four championships. LeBron is what was his technical prime from an age standpoint.
The mid-2010s signature shoes are a LeBron who's taken everything he's learned—the good, the bad, and the ugly, and returning back to the city of Cleveland to do the impossible—bring a championship to a city who had been suffering from a "curse" for over fifty years. And latest models? LeBron in Los Angeles mode where he secured his fourth championship in 2020, and became the league's all-time leading scorer earlier this year. A LeBron who very much seems to be content with his basketball legacy and the future chapters of his life. That leads us to present day.
The coveted lifetime deal
In 2015, James and Nike agreed to a lifetime contract, which was the biggest of its kind in company history, which is reportedly worth an estimated $30 million a year. Make no mistake, this deal is massive and could reach the billions by the time James is in hid mid-60s.
The Lebron James Nike Deal in 2023
Well, we know that James x Nike is forever, so the next chapter is the next release which are the LeBron 21's. Due out on September 28th, the shoes are part of the Nike Zoom Air line, and inspired by 8-year-old daughter Zhuri. That's not all though. According to Sneaker News, the Witness 8 will be coming out during the 2023-2024 NBA season as well, and according to Complex, the "Anthracite" Nike LeBron 4 are going to be making a return during the holiday season.
And knowing James and his love for surprises, we're sure that's just the beginning of it.
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