Now, all Andrew Wiggins has to do is play his first college basketball game.
He has the Sports Illustrated cover, is the latest athlete to be linked to rapper Jay-Z’s ROC Nation sports agency and, as of Wednesday, the first nutty sneaker endorsement rumour: eight years, $180-million (U.S.) from adidas AG.
And there are suggestions from Bleacher Report that other companies are willing to enter the bidding.
It all seems absurd to the layman, particularly those of us who wince when we drop more than $75 on a pair of kicks. (Those of us the Lord had in mind, in other words, when he created outlet malls.)
But silly money for shoes and the athletes who wear them is old hat, not to mention big business.
If the money that might await the Canadian after his freshman year at the University of Kansas really surprises you, then you haven’t been paying attention.
Nike Inc. gave LeBron James seven years and $90-million while he was in high school, the largest initial endorsement deal. That has since morphed into a more sophisticated joint marketing arrangement that, according to Forbes, brought in $300-million in retail sales in 2012 for James’s signature shoes, which hit the market at around $260 per pair.
That sales figure is six-times the $50-million generated by Kobe Bryant, and 12 times the sales generated by Derrick Rose for adidas, who signed the injured Chicago Bulls guard to a 13-year, $185-million deal in 2012.
If you haven’t heard of Wiggins by now, get ready.
If the 18-year-old forward, born in Thornhill, Ont., and burnished at Huntington Prep in West Virginia, is as good as everybody says he is and becomes the consensus No. 1 NBA pick after his freshman year with the powerhouse Jayhawks (NCAA rules say it’s okay for coaches to make millions from sneaker deals, but the players must wait until they are pros), your children will want his sneakers.
He will not be the greatest Canadian player of all time out of the gate. (That’s Steve Nash.) He won’t be the first Canadian chosen in the first round and he won’t even be the first Canadian-born player to go first overall.
But no Canadian player will have the anticipated ‘Q’ factor of Wiggins. His hometown team, the Toronto Raptors, have taken a suspiciously low-key approach to throwing away the 2013-14 season in order to get into the lottery for what is thought to be a silly deep draft even beyond the consensus first choice.
Others have been just this side of blatant, including Wednesday night’s visitors to the Air Canada Centre, the Boston Celtics, who essentially blew up their roster to be bad enough to have a shot at Wiggins.
There have been dominant No. 1 picks since James went first in 2003 to the Cleveland Cavaliers, including the likes of Blake Griffin, Dwight Howard and Rose. Griffin revitalized the dunk as a highlight staple; Howard is so good he ruined two franchises. But none of these players post-James can be considered transcendent figures.
An illustration accompanying the SI article has Wiggins imitating a classic shot of Wilt Chamberlain sitting on the bench lacing up a sneaker and staring into the camera. Chamberlain is fifth on the all-time scoring list and is the only player in NBA history to average at least 30 points and 20 rebounds per game over the course of his career.
Kelly Olynyk, the Toronto-born, Kamloops-raised first-round choice (13th overall in 2013), made his NBA debut at the ACC on Wednesday with the Celtics – all long, scraggly hair and headband – and spoke about how all Wiggins needs to do is show respect for the game, his teammates and himself.
“Be humble,” said Olynyk, who had the benefit of a couple of years at Gonzaga University and declared for the draft as a 22-year-old. Wiggins will be 19 if he declares after his freshman year, and already has big shoes to fill – and sell.
Humble won’t come easy.
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