Zion Williamson will never be just a basketball player. Modern culture deems it so. He hasn’t even scored his first basket for the New Orleans Pelicans and already he represents so much more to so many people.
He is not a kid, he is brand. He has a neon name and an image that will be carefully polished over time by those who seek to monetize him.
The process officially began Tuesday when it was announced that Williamson, the mercurial first overall draft pick in the 2019 NBA Draft, will become the latest member of Jordan Brand’s basketball roster of product endorsers.
“I feel incredibly blessed to be a part of the Jordan Brand family,” said Williamson in a statement released by Jordan Brand. “Since I was a kid, I dreamed of making it to the league and having the type of impact on the game Michael Jordan had and continues to have today. He was one of those special athletes I looked up to, and I really can’t express how happy and excited I am for this journey.”
It has already been a bountiful summer for Jordan Brand. Along with signing Williamson, they have reeled in the NBA’s Jayson Tatum and rookie Rui Hachimura, WNBA stars Asia Durr and Kia Nurse and NFL rookie quarterback Dwayne Haskins.
Williamson joins an already sleek group of NBA players with Jordan Brands that includes Russell Westbrook, Blake Griffin, Chris Paul and Jimmy Butler.
The first step: a plan to launch digital billboards featuring Williamson slated to go live in big markets on Tuesday.
This is also a big day for Nike, of which Jordan Brand is a subsidiary. More than 67% of NBA players wear Nike basketball sneakers – but only around 7% of the league sport Jordan Brand.
“We’re excited to welcome Zion to the Jordan Brand,” said Craig Williams, Jordan Brand President. “It’s incredible to watch him play the game with unbridled passion and joy and we look forward to building our relationship with him for many years to come.”
Of course, this is monumental news, not only for Jordan Brand, but for those companies who failed to lure Williamson to their side, like Adidas, Under Armour, New Balance, Puma, and Anta.
“Zion’s incredible determination, character and play are inspiring,” said Michael Jordan. “He’s an essential part of the new talent that will help lead the brand into the future. He told us he would ‘shock the world,’ and asked us to believe him. We do.”
Terms of Williamson’s deal with Jordan Brand were not immediately announced, but you can be certain he will be handsomely compensated. Before the signing was announced, it was speculated Williamson might get a nine-figure deal.
“In my lifetime, I think it’s going to be the biggest bidding war ever done. … He is going to have an opportunity to be the face of every company and every major corporation. He is the most marketable person I’ve seen, for a lot of different reasons,” former Nike sneaker executive Sonny Vaccaro told ESPN.
When Lebron James came to the NBA in 2003 he signed a seven-year deal with Nike that paid $87 million. He signed a lifetime deal with Nike in 2015 that some estimate he’ll bank into a billion.
According to Newsweek, Kevin Durant signed a seven-year deal worth $60 million with Nike, which was renewed in 2014. Only nine rookies have ever had a signature sneaker deal, with Nike (Jordan, James), Reebok (Shaquille O’Neal, Allen Iverson) and Fila (Grant Hill, Jerry Stackhouse) each doing so twice.
Giannis Antetokounmpo’s first shoe deal with Nike paid him just $25,000 a year, according to ESPN. He resigned with Nike before the 2017-18 season for at least $9 million up front.
Portland Trail Blazers guard Damian Lillard makes $10 million a year from Adidas. James Harden’s deal with Adidas from 2015 was worth $200 million. Stephen Curry makes $15 million per year from Under Armor
Many other top NBA picks have signed with rival companies. Ja Morant, Cam Reddish and Darius Garland will represent Nike, Carsen Edwards and Jarrett Culver have chosen Adidas (which Williamson wore as a child) and Kevin Porter, Jr., will wear Puma.
“Over the last 34 years we’ve built an incredible roster of talent with the same determination and greatness as MJ,” said Howard White, Jordan vice president of brand affairs. “There is something special about Zion that reminds me of MJ when he was younger.”