LeBron James is in the hunt for a second straight NBA championship after leading the Miami Heat to an NBA-best 66 wins during the regular season. It has been a wildly successful 12-month run for King James, as he established himself as the NBA’s biggest star since Michael Jordan. James led the Heat on a 27-game winning streak. He added another NBA MVP trophy (for a total of four), an Olympic gold medal and his first title over the past year. The game’s most dominant player is also crushing the competition in stores, outselling his nearest rival’s signature sneakers 6-to-1.
Nike generated $300 million in U.S. retail sales in 2012 for James’ signature shoes, according to research firm SportsOneSource. Nike’s haul represents a 50% increase from sales of James’ kicks in 2011. “The first thing is the aesthetics. The shoes look great and his star stature continues to rise,” says SportsOneSource analyst Matt Powell. “The media attention on him helps him sell more footwear.”
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The LeBron X caused a stir last summer when the Wall Street Journal reported that the shoes would be priced at more than $300. In reality, the base LeBron X shoe costs $180 and the technology-embedded shoe with Nike+ sensors, which tracks how high players jump and how far they run, is available for $260.
Nike first signed James to a seven-year, $90 million contract in 2003 before James had finished his senior year in high school and was drafted by the Cleveland Cavaliers. It remains the largest initial player endorsement contract ever handed out to a Nike athlete. His early Nike sneakers got mixed reviews and sales were sluggish for the player dubbed “The Chosen One” on the cover of Sports Illustrated in 2002. But James and Nike’s designers eventually found the right fit. “LeBron VI was the first really good looking shoe,” says Powell.
Nike is James’ biggest marketing partner and helps put him on top of the NBA’s top-earners from endorsements. Nike re-signed James in 2010 in a deal that James’ business manager Maverick Carter calls “more of a joint venture.” Forbes estimates that James earns $20 million annually, including royalties from the Beaverton, Ore footwear giant.
The second best-selling active NBA pitchman is Kobe Bryant of the Los Angeles Lakers. His Kobe 8 signature shoes sold $50 million at U.S. stores last year. Bryant has been part of the Nike family since 2003. The 15-time All-Star was an Adidas athlete for the first six years of his career. Bryant’s shoe sales in the U.S. were down in 2012, but he is the NBA’s biggest star in China and his Nike sneakers sell briskly in Asia.
Carmelo Anthony of the New York Knicks ranks third with U.S. retail sales of $40 million for his Jordan Melo M9. Anthony is part of the Jordan Brand roster, which also includes Blake Griffin, Chris Paul and Russell Westbrook.
Today’s NBA stars are all still looking up at global icon Michael Jordan. The Nike-owned Jordan Brand has been on fire with $2 billion in U.S. sales in 2012, according to SportsOneSource. Susquehanna Financial analyst Christopher Svezia estimates the brand grew 25-30% globally in 2012. The royalty agreement is worth more than $60 million annually for Jordan, who last played an NBA game in 2003.
Nike released the Air Jordan XX8 in February. It is the 28th shoe in the Jordan franchise. In addition to new Air Jordans, Nike continues to put out retro versions of the franchise with an average selling price of $130 to $150. The Jordan Brand commands a 56% market share in basketball, while the Nike brand has 37%. Adidas has a 5% share and Reebok is at 2% in the U.S.
Adidas inked Chicago Bulls point guard Derrick Rose to a 13-year deal in 2012, which is expected to pay out at least $185 million. Despite missing the entire 2012-13 season, Rose’s signature shoe has gained traction with sales of $25 million in 2012. But Rose still lags the top guys at Nike.
Adidas’ other top endorsers have really struggled. John Wall signed with Adidas subsidiary, Reebok, in 2010 for $25 million over five years. Reebok had high expectations for Wall, who was a heavily-hyped star after a year at the University of Kentucky, but sales of his signature shoes have disappointed. Retail sales were only $5 million in 2012 and in January Wall departed the Reebok brand for that of its parent, Adidas.
Dwight Howard continues a longtime trend of NBA big men struggling to sell shoes. Adidas moved only $5 million worth of Howard product last year. Powell says the soap opera surrounding his departure from Orlando and first year in Los Angeles hurt him in the marketplace. “Your average 10-year-old can envision being Kobe. He has no way of being Dwight Howard,” says Powell.
U.S. Retail Basketball Shoe Sales
LeBron James (Nike): $300 million
Kobe Bryant (Nike): $50 million
Carmelo Anthony (Jordan): $40 million
Kevin Durant (Nike): $35 million
Derrick Rose (Adidas): $25 million
John Wall (Reebok): $5 million
Dwight Howard (Adidas): $5 million
Story courtesy of Kurt Badenhausen, Forbes Staff