The annual NBA draft brings excitement and opportunity to aspiring professional basketball players throughout the world. Whether these players have taken the collegiate route, like Duke’s Jabari Parker, or built their resumes overseas, like Australia’s Dante Exum, who signed a shoe deal with Adidas in the fall, each player’s on- and off-court professional brand will begin to take shape once his name is called.
For corporations such as Nike, Adidas, Jordan and Under Armour, the draft is just another step in an ongoing competition to affiliate themselves with these burgeoning athlete brands.
While it’s the shoe companies’ first chance to begin building relationships with the athletes and their new teams, in many cases the affiliation originated long before the players became pros.
A look at the 2012 draft shows that six of the top 10 picks played on Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) basketball teams sponsored by Nike.
|1||Anthony Davis||Mean Streets (Chicago)||Nike|
|2||Michael Kidd-Gilchrist||Team Final (Philadelphia)||Nike|
|3||Bradley Beal||St Louis Eagles||Nike|
|4||Dion Waiters||Team Final (Philadelphia)||Nike|
|7||Harrison Barnes||All Iowa Attack||Nike|
|10||Austin Rivers||Each 1 Teach 1 (FLA)||Nike|
The AAU describes itself as a multi-sport organization dedicated exclusively to the promotion and development of amateur sports and physical fitness programs. Others describe it as a basketball mill. Nike, Adidas, and Under Armour act as club team and tournament sponsors for programs consisting of up-and-coming teenage (and under) basketball players.
Often, these sponsorships provide the young athletes with free apparel, shoes and anything else basketball related. With that small investment, these corporations begin building brand affinity and association with the stars of tomorrow.
The association continues once the most promising players move on to collegiate basketball. Just as in AAU, Nike, Adidas, Under Armour and Jordan jockey to position themselves with the increasingly developed athlete brands.
For the best players, the college ranks are often just the next step in building on top of an already established public presence. Websites such as Rivals.com and Scout.com along with networks such as ESPN will have already highlighted the best high school players through rankings, spotlights and televised games.
By aligning themselves with the premier college programs, these corporate brands guarantee themselves a continued link to the athletes most likely to make it to the NBA.
In theory, the period leading up to and after the draft is where the years of brand association should begin to pay off. The Jordan brand, which is a separate division of Nike, Inc., is likely hoping its parent company’s inroads will help it with one of this year’s top prospects.
Update: Jabari Parker has indeed signed with Jordan Brand
If an athlete has been affiliated with the same brand since high school and AAU ball, it stands to reason that once endorsement opportunities present themselves, brand affinity may have an impact. While financial considerations will likely trump nostalgia, any edge a corporate brand can get in its efforts to secure the next Jordan or LeBron will have been deemed well worth it once the paperwork is signed and the pictures of the athlete wearing the company’s shoes make their way through social media.
And it may be the best of both worlds for a select few. Andrew Wiggins’ AAU team, CIA Bounce, is sponsored by Nike, and his college team, Kansas, is sponsored by Adidas: two suitors he’s already affiliated with will compete for his services.
Courtney Brunious is Associate Director at the USC Sports Business Institute and Managing Editor of The Fields of Green.