Why Nike was forced to pay Kevin Durant

Credit: Alonzo Adams-USA TODAY Sports
Credit: Alonzo Adams-USA TODAY Sports

After all the speculation about where Kevin Durant would sign his next shoe deal, Durant decided to stay with the swoosh.

Durant received a giant offer from Under Armour to carry its brand, but Nike had the right to match any competitor and did so.  The deal ensures that the Oklahoma City Thunder star will wear the Nike brand until the end of his career. So why would Nike spend such a large sum to match Under Armour? Nike may not have had a choice.

Keeping Durant away from the up-and-coming competitor was a solid business move by Nike. Under Armour could have gained greater basketball shoe category legitimacy by signing Durant. Without him, Under Armour’s marquee endorser is the exciting but not needle moving Stephen Curry.

Additional considerations likely played a role in Nike’s decision. LeBron James, Nike’s top endorser, moved from Miami to Cleveland this off-season. Ordinarily, this wouldn’t have been much of an issue. However, Nike was set to launch a Kyrie Irving signature shoe this year. Now that LeBron is in Cleveland, that shoe may not be as successful. Notably, Nike didn’t give Scottie Pippen his own line until the end of Michael Jordan’s career.

Nike was also put in a tough spot with the Paul George injury. If Nike was to lose Durant, George would have been an acceptable backup plan. George plays in the same division as LeBron and is a natural foil. Nike also may have been secretly prepping to push George as its next star. George’s Twitter handle is at the bottom of the Nike website, along with those of Durant, James and Kobe Bryant, while Irving is under the “more” section. Other Nike names are nowhere to be found. George’s injury most likely put that marketing push on hold and left Nike with a roster hole.

Finally, Nike needed a star to carry its western region. Kobe isn’t getting any younger, and he will leave a giant void once he does retire. If Durant left Nike, the company could have been without a big name in the Western Conference (and market).

In the end, Durant was always going to get a mega-deal. By leveraging Under Armour’s offer into a better deal from Nike, he and Roc Nation played the situation perfectly. Nike just couldn’t afford to pass on KD.

Michael Colangelo is Assistant Director at the USC Sports Business Institute and Senior Editor of The Fields of Green.

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