"He is pure gold and you're giving him "Waterbed Warehouse" when he deserves the big four — shoe, car, clothing-line, soft-drink. The four jewels of the celebrity endorsement dollar." — Rod Tidwell's wife in "Jerry Maguire"
On the court, James Harden is under contract to the Houston Rockets for at least three more seasons, having signed a max-dollar, five-year, $78 million contract extension just days after being traded to the Rockets a few years ago. That deal is set to expire after the 2017-2018 season, when James Harden will still be a spry 28 years old.
However, when it comes to one of the four jewels of the "celebrity endorsement dollar," specifically the shoe jewel (I honestly don't know if he has a deal for any of the other three), Harden is currently the most highly sought-after free agent in the sports world. Until recently, Harden had been under contract to Nike, but that may not be the case going forward.
Adidas has made a huge play to try to get Harden into the fold under its athlete umbrella, offering the Rockets All-Star and NBA Players MVP a $200 million deal covering the next 13 years. Darren Rovell of ESPN.com was the first to report the offer on Monday morning. Nike has until the end of next week to match the deal or lose Harden to one of its two biggest competitors.
To give you an idea of a) the magnitude of the shoe business and b) just how rapidly Harden's star has risen, $200 million is roughly half of what the shoe and apparel provider has paid the league to be its uniform provider over the past 11 seasons. (Nike is taking over that deal after the 2016-2017 season.)
In a statement, Adidas spokesman Michael Ehrlich had the following to say:
"We've invited James Harden to join Adidas. We're a brand of creators and he truly embodies what that means with his approach to the game, his look and his style on and off the court. He's coming off a historic season where he won the scoring title and was voted MVP by his peers. His connection with fans is unparalleled and unprecedented and he can take the game, our brand and the industry to new heights."
While ultimately none of this is possible without Harden's transcendent on-court game, it's worth noting a few key decisions by Harden that put him in position to have a big enough buzz for Adidas to justify a nine-figure payout to him:
1. First and foremost, Harden's digging his heels in on being paid max dollars when Oklahoma City was lowballing him back in 2012 turned out to be a stroke of genius. Not only did it force the trade to the Rockets, which yielded the max deal, it also put him on a team where his role allowed him to win a scoring title and become an MVP candidate, a role big enough to justify a massive Adidas contract.
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2. Growing a beard, and keeping the beard, has been a stroke of brand-building genius. It's his signature, a distinctive look that is conducive to catchy nicknames, funny T-shirts and facial costume giveaways.
3. I hate to question the timing and sincerity of true love, but dating Khloe Kardashian right around the time a shoe deal is ending seems a little convenient, especially when you consider that Khloe's sister Kim is married to Kanye West, who moved his Yeezy line from Nike to Adidas last year.
Adidas has not been a real player in the basketball shoe space here in the United States for some time. Nike and its Jordan-owned brand have 90 percent of the market share here, and Under Armour has Steph Curry, the reigning MVP, under contract. Harden would be Adidas's marquee name, and a very wealthy one, if he signs the deal.
Listen to Sean Pendergast on SportsRadio 610 from 2 p.m. to 7 p.m. weekdays. Also, follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/SeanTPendergast.