Fresh out of St. Vincent-St. Mary High School, LeBron James signed a still unprecedented $90 million sneaker endorsement deal before ever stepping foot on an NBA court. As a part of this deal, LeBron received a signature sneaker line that has been one of Nike’s most successful endeavors second only to their Air Jordan line. This long-time partnership seems to have taken a turn for the worst as news has surfaced that LeBron has jumped ship to Chinese shoe company Li-Ning; teammate Dwyane Wade’s shoe sponsor.
News of a split had circulated throughout the rumor mill since the inception of LeBron’s latest signature shoe, the Nike LeBron 11. It’s been reported that the 2-time champion was never happy with the design but was assured by Nike executives that the performance qualities would far outweigh any aesthetic issue he had with the model. This promise turned out to be untruthful, with LeBron revealing to pundits that the shoe felt “unnatural” and “uncomfortable on the court”. This led to Nike’s current embarrassing predicament; LeBron refusing to wear the sneaker.
Teammate Dwyane Wade had a similar split with Nike, opting out of his contract with Nike amid creative disputes to join Li-Ning. Receiving complete creative control along with significant company equity seems to have been the only selling point Dwyane needed to get LeBron on board. Reportedly, LeBron bought himself out of his contract and immediately signed a 7 year contract with Li-Ning. It’s a definite financial risk but one the LeBron camp obviously felt they had to make.
When asked for details on the split, LeBron’s agent stated “We wish Nike much more success and hopefully we can continue to move forward & break ground with Li-Ning. I just think with a brand as big as LeBron James, we shouldn’t have to deal with products that don’t meet his standards. And for them not to consult with LeBron before finalizing the 11 was somewhat distasteful. But again, we wish them the best and we’re happy about our new situation.”
LeBron’s newest signature model, the King James Alpha (KJA), is set to hit retailers October 2014, just in time for the next NBA season.