Since coming to Houston in 2012, James Harden has been one of the best players in the NBA. He's won a scoring title, finished runner up in the MVP balloting, and led the Rockets to a berth in the 2015 Western Conference Finals. He is undoubtedly one of the most recognizable faces in the NBA.
With three years remaining on his deal with the Rockets, we are a long way off from having to worry about Harden's future in Houston with the Rockets, and hopefully, we never reach a point where we have to concern ourselves with it at all. If indeed we do, perhaps we can consult with the good folks at Nike to find out what it feels like to lose Harden in free agency, because that's exactly what was confirmed on Thursday.
Apparently, there are two types of free agency in the NBA, at least for elite players — on-court free agency with their regular contracts with their NBA employer, and shoe free agency with whatever company they've signed on with to endorse footwear. Harden's pending shoe free agency has been well documented here in the last couple weeks. His contract with Nike had expired and Harden had reportedly been offered a $200 million deal to endorse Adidas shoes for the next 13 years. Nike had the right to match the offer.
On Thursday, Nike informed Harden's agent Rob Pelinka that they would be declining the chance to match the Adidas offer, and as a result, Harden will begin endorsing Adidas shoes and apparel beginning on October 1.
The dynamic of the deal is pretty fascinating from a financial standpoint, insomuch as the money Harden will receive annually from Adidas ($15.38 million) is nearly as much as he will receiver next season from the Rockets ($16.78 million), and could exceed his Rockets salary if he hits certain benchmarks, likely tied to product sales.
Harden will have a signature Adidas shoe, something he never had with Nike, as well as his own apparel line that will be part of a Harden brand. Adidas, as a brand, has been in a major funk, struggling to gain just three percent of the domestic basketball shoe market, as compared to the 90 percent that Nike has captured. The struggle has been due, in part, to a slew of injuries to Adidas' pre-Harden marketing face, Chicago Bulls point guard Derrick Rose. Last season, Under Armour passed Adidas for second place in market share domestically, and in the first half of 2015, Adidas sold fewer shoes than Skechers or New Balance.
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Harden's brand is further strengthened by the recognizability of his signature beard, as well as his burgeoning association with the Kardashian family. Harden has been dating Kardashian daughter Khloe, whose brother-in-law Kanye West recently moved his apparel line from Nike to Adidas, as well.
One thing is inarguably certain — Harden's decision to reject Oklahoma CIty's lowball contract offer in 2012 and force the trade to Houston has paid off immensely. There's no chance that he would've won a scoring title and gotten the necessary MVP-level cachet as a third wheel to Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. In short, the max deal that the Rockets gave Harden just scratches the surface of the financial windfall that Harden has received. He added another $200 million on Thursday.
So the Harden-to-Houston trade continues to work out for everybody involved except Thunder GM Sam Presti. Perhaps Harden can send Presti some of his new shoes and gear as a consolation prize.
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.