With LeBron James, Nike’s not just “Jumpman, Jumpman, Jumpman” anymore
Michael Jordan and his Air Jordan and Jordan Brand brands have been synonymous with Nike since MJ’s inaugural line of sneakers were introduced in 1985. However, 30 years have passed since then, and there are likely 12-year-old kids in the world who never even saw 23 (or 45) soaring through the paint in a Bulls (or Wizards) jersey. They might even associate the name Michael Jordan more with the star of Creed than the historically electrifying shooting guard. And no one understands this more than Nike.
In a move that showcases their awareness of the need to further define the future of their brand and the icons creating that standard of excellence, they just signed NBA superstar and Cleveland Cavaliers forward LeBron James to an undisclosed deal that ESPN reports is larger than the 10-year, $300 million deal Oklahoma City Thunder forward Kevin Durant signed with the shoe and apparel brand this past summer.
Michael Jordan’s forever culturally relevant, but he hasn’t put on a uniform in over a decade, has shown no desire to engage with technology — he’s not on Twitter or Instagram, nor has he updated his Facebook page since 2009 — and with Nike looking to brand themselves far outside of the realm of just being affiliated with on-court supremacy, Jordan may fall short as a marquee Nike representative.
LeBron James, on the other hand, has morphed from a simple two-time NBA champion, 11-time NBA All-Star and two-time Olympic Men’s Basketball gold medalist into a businessman with a finger squarely on the pulse of the most progressive and commercially viable edge of the tech sector.
To paraphase, Nike just had to do it.
The most exciting moment for Jordan Brand in 2015 had nothing to do with Michael Jordan#, and it doesn’t exactly look great for a brand associated with athletic excellence to have their crowing achievement of the year be a name-drop in a Drake/Future song…
However, as a company defined by representing the best in athletic excellence, Nike’s currently in a fascinating position: In Forbes’ recent list of the world’s most dominant sports brands, Nike sits atop the list at $26 billion, but even Drake knows that Curry is the best player in the world, and Curry is sponsored by Nike’s rival Under Armor. And in other athletic endeavors, Nike’s fallen behind too. Under Armour’s Jordan Speith has eclipsed Tiger Woods at golf, while Uniqlo’s Novak Djokovic has Nike’s Roger Federer’s number in the current men’s ATP tennis rankings. Emergent sports are hard for Nike as well, as Reebok’s claimed Crossfit and Under Armour’s sank its teeth deep into Tough Mudder. For as much as Nike’s seemingly comfortably in front, the need to expand beyond Michael Jordan is critical.
Moreover, considering we’re entering into an era where selling apps matters as much as selling sneakers and product development isn’t highlighted by the development of a Flyknit technology but (possibly) by the development of Nike-branded audio content that would extend into podcasts, music, and maybe even streaming video, LeBron’s brand is much more in line with the modern, digital age.
For example, here’s a brief list of LeBron James non-Nike related business interests and endorsements:
- Audemars Piaget watches
- Samsung hardware
- Apple Music and Beats 1 Radio
- Minority ownership stake in Liverpool Football Club
In that list alone, Nike can co-brand luxury smartwatches with Fitbit and Nike Training app capabilities, Nike-branded smartphones, streaming live audio and visual content, and broker King James apparel for sports other than basketball directly through LeBron James. Michael Jordan and Jordan Brand may have pop cultural cache that can be linked to people and apparel to create impacting movements, but a King James Brand offers the potential to create physical tools other than sneakers that impact pop culture too.
According to MergeMarket, mergers and acquisitions in 2015 were at an all-time high, surpassing their 2007 peak. Even CNBC’s Mad Money maven Jim Cramer has recently taken note of Nike’s desire to invest in tech. While Michael Jordan and Drake are great faces for cultural evolution, LeBron James as the face of Nike’s tech push actually makes all of the sense in the world. The idea of LeBron and Drake collaborating on a King Jumpman OVO sneaker line only worn by the Cavs and Raptors? It’s totally possible. But now so is the idea of pairing the drop of the sneaker with an EP release via Nike that debuts on Drake’s Beats 1 Radio and, say, Drake officially parting ways with Cash Money Records via the EP and announcing a distribution deal with Warner Music.
Even just the idea of Nike, Inc. chairman Phil Knight, Warner Music Group CEO Stephen Cooper, Michael Jordan, Drake, LeBron James onstage at the 2017 Grammys might be the one thing that could push the traditional music industry over the edge.
Currently worth $26 billion, Nike’s largess was built from an era between 1964 and 2014. In the company’s first half-century, their growth was defined by being able to identify and commodify the world’s greatest athletes and watch them transform into globally-renowned signifiers of what was excellent in popular culture. Now, Nike’s a company and brand at a crossroads. The company’s potentially faced with losing its grip on using the best of sportsmen to define cool and create economic capital.
Now, Nike turns to a sportsman whose ability to plug into the tech-driven modern industrial revolution to define not just the rest of his life, but the next fifty years of the one-time Jumpman led brand, too.
Like what you read? Share it.
(That helps us.)
Love what you read? Patronize Marcus Dowling.
That helps us and the writer.
What is Patronizing? Learn more here.