Single-handedly, Zion Williamson made this the most anticipated rookie class, from a sneaker perspective, since LeBron James entered the league in 2003.
Originally, Williamson was hoping to sign his sneaker deal before the draft lottery, but he didn’t ink his deal with Jordan Brand until July 23, holding up several of the draft’s other top selections. As they waited for the biggest domino to fall, multiple brands operated with frozen budgets until Williamson made his decision.
Two weeks have passed since Williamson signed, and four of this year’s lottery picks are still waiting for deals, led by one of Williamson’s former Duke teammates. No. 3 pick RJ Barrett is deciding among Nike, Adidas and Puma, according to industry sources.
While there are still some deals to be sorted out, most of the major sneaker brands have already added at least one young player to their rosters, despite both Under Armour and Anta mostly sitting out this year’s draft crop.
Jarrett Culver, Minnesota Timberwolves
Sekou Doumbouya, Detroit Pistons
Goga Bitadze, Indiana Pacers
Carsen Edwards, Boston Celtics
As the company continues to reduce the number of players on its NBA roster — from as many as 85 in 2017 to around 65 last summer and even fewer in the year ahead — Adidas still had its eyes on a handful of first-round picks.
The brand signed six of the top 10 picks in the 2016 draft but landed only one lottery selection this year, No. 6 overall pick Jarrett Culver. In addition to Culver, international players Goga Bitadze and Sekou Doumbouya will continue their pro journeys in the NBA with Adidas. The brand also highlighted Purdue’s playmaking point guard, second-round pick Carsen Edwards, as a priority and signed the Celtics rookie to a multiyear shoe deal.
“They’re among the next generation of NBA talent, and we look forward to having them join our team as Adidas athletes,” said Kofi Brown, senior director of Adidas Basketball. “They will each play a significant role in continuing to build deeper connections within basketball communities across the globe.”
Zion Williamson, New Orleans Pelicans
Rui Hachimura, Washington Wizards
Signing Williamson could prove to be a company-defining move for Jordan Brand, as the Nike Inc. subsidiary moves toward an era in which its target consumers were born after Jordan’s two-year stint with the Washington Wizards, meaning they never saw him play, much less win championships with the Chicago Bulls.
As the brand looks to diversify and bolster a roster that over the past two decades has largely featured players in Jordan’s likeness on court, its two signings from this draft class each point to a pivotal piece of that new strategy.
Williamson is the immediate superstar. The attention will be relentless as he begins his career in New Orleans, where he’s expected to be the headliner of the brand’s upcoming annual Air Jordan shoe and featured in marketing campaigns this fall.
In Hachimura, the Wizards’ No. 9 pick from Gonzaga, the company is looking ahead to a global future, tapping into a rapidly growing fanbase in Hachimura’s homeland of Japan. He is the first Japanese player to be selected in the first round.
“Rui is already making history on the court, and in the process, he’s become a hero to an entire country,” said Craig Williams, Jordan Brand president. “What’s most impressive to me about these two young men isn’t their remarkable talent but the strong character and maturity they carry themselves with on and off the court.”
RJ Hampton, New Zealand Breakers
The recipient of this summer’s fourth-highest-paying sneaker endorsement deal isn’t technically an NBA rookie yet. Hampton, a former five-star recruit, will play overseas this fall in the Australia-based National Basketball League before officially entering the 2020 draft next year.
Still, he’s already locked into a signature shoe deal with Chinese brand Li-Ning, which currently features Dwyane Wade and CJ McCollum as NBA endorsers.
“After D-Wade and CJ, I could one day be the face of Li-Ning,” Hampton said. “That’s what I really want to do.”
His five-year contract includes aggressive bonus triggers if he’s selected in the top 20 or top 10 of the draft. He’s currently projected sixth by ESPN’s Jonathan Givony.
Darius Bazley, Oklahoma City Thunder
The first shoe deal in this draft class was signed and finalized last fall, in the months after projected first-round forward Darius Bazley decommitted from Syracuse. Initially, he planned to play in the G-League before entering the 2019 draft, but that strategy changed after he signed with Rich Paul of Klutch Sports.
Knowing that Bazley would never compete in the NCAA, Paul landed Bazley a five-year shoe deal with New Balance just as the brand was looking to revamp and relaunch its basketball category. The deal included an internship at the company’s Boston offices for the 6-foot-9 teenager, along with access to its top-of-the-line training facility on site.
Inked a month before Kawhi Leonard’s more splashy signing with New Balance, Bazley’s deal wasn’t without its risks, but it provided long-term security in the event that Bazley’s draft stock suddenly dipped. The contract guaranteed him at least $1 million over the five-year life of the agreement, and it featured a series of bonuses and incentive triggers that could escalate the value to as much as $14 million.
When Bazley’s name was called in late June as the 23rd overall selection in the NBA draft, the strategy and decision appeared to have paid off. He’ll help lead the brand’s new OMN1S basketball sneaker this season, and he’ll be featured heavily in campaigns and social media posts.
“When people look back on this moment, I hope that they say that I left an impact on the game by being me and doing things my way,” Bazley said.
Ja Morant, Memphis Grizzlies
De’Andre Hunter, Atlanta Hawks
Darius Garland, Cleveland Cavaliers
Jaxson Hayes. New Orleans Pelicans
Cam Reddish, Atlanta Hawks
PJ Washington, Charlotte Hornets
Tyler Herro, Miami Heat
Nassir Little, Portland Trail Blazers
With more than 67% of the NBA wearing its sneakers last season, Nike has a strong base, and it added to it this summer with an impressive early haul of first-round picks.
One player who wasted absolutely no time deciding on his deal was Morant, the No. 2 overall pick. After declaring for the draft, he relayed to his agent at Tandem Sports + Entertainment that he didn’t care to meet with any other brands during the process. Morant signed a multiyear, multi-million dollar deal with Nike just before the draft lottery.
“All my life my parents worked for a check,” he wrote on Instagram. “Now I’m proud to say I work for the check. #Nike”
Nike also managed to sign the draft’s other highly revered point guard, Garland, who turned heads with his forward-thinking take on draft suit fashion. The future Cleveland Cavalier opted for a daring, layered look and a collar-less tan suit, created in tandem with L.A.-based tailoring staple Waraire Boswell and Fear of God designer Jerry Lorenzo, who happens to be one of Nike’s biggest collaborators.
While Williamson was sidelined at summer league, Hayes made the most of the added spotlight in Las Vegas. His thunderous poster dunk, the top play of the summer, put his name on the map and brought attention to the metallic gold and black Adidas sneakers he was wearing at the time.
After a stretch of strong play throughout the summer — with him wearing both Adidas and Nike — brands ramped up their interest in Hayes, who eventually landed with the Swoosh.
Kevin Porter Jr., Cleveland Cavaliers
After being all-in on a spring effort to sign Zion Williamson, Puma is shifting its summer plans in the wake of missing out and taking a much more measured approach to signing players from the recent draft. Last year, the brand signed five first-round picks. To date, only the 30th pick by the Cleveland Cavaliers, Kevin Porter Jr., has been added to the roster.
The 6-foot-6 shooting guard checks the boxes on several of the attributes Puma has looked for in the players it has signed during its basketball relaunch. The shifty lefty boasts an exciting scoring game on the floor, filled with step-back jumpers and isolation moves, along with an expressive personality and sense of style.
UNSIGNED LOTTERY PICKS
RJ Barrett, New York Knicks
Coby White, Chicago Bulls
Cameron Johnson, Phoenix Suns
Romeo Langford, Boston Celtics
Once Williamson signed with Jordan, Puma and other brands began to turn their attention to the remaining unsigned crop of players, and Jordan looked to bolster its roster around the top pick. White, the No. 7 pick from North Carolina, is said to be deciding between joining Williamson on the Jordan roster or signing with Adidas. Three lottery picks — De’Andre Hunter, PJ Washington and Tyler Herro — all landed with Nike within the past few days.
Still, it’s rare for this many lottery picks to be unsigned this long after the end of summer league. However, the wait can pay off for players. In recent years, Damian Lillard, Donovan Mitchell and Dennis Smith Jr. were notable lottery names who waited out the annual slate of Las Vegas games, with each receiving improved offers from the likes of Adidas and Under Armour after strong showings. Lillard and Mitchell now have their own signature shoes.
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