DeRozan, Antetokounmpo take centre stage in free agent sneaker wars

The NBA’s free agent frenzy died down a couple months ago, but another one is just getting started.

On Oct. 1, a handful of established and rising NBA stars will hit the open market, and brands like Nike, Adidas, Under Armour, and a new generation of Chinese brands like Li-Ning and Anta have already begun pitching their next potential pitchmen.

John Wall, Giannis Antetokounmpo, DeMar DeRozan, Zach LaVine and C.J. McCollum headline the list of players who will become free agents later this week.

Player relation representatives from shoe brands are a fixture in NBA circles. They are in family rooms after games, in clubs, at the table alongside players at restaurants, at weddings, you name it. Just as an NBA front office would, sneaker reps have been gauging the interest of the talent pool under expiring deals, trying to lure a potential signee away from a competitor or retain their rights long-term.

For Wall, this is the third year in a row he will enter training camp without a shoe deal in place, but after already releasing numerous signature kicks with Reebok and Adidas, with merely decent sales numbers to show for it, he may have trouble securing a mega-deal his talent level and stature would otherwise warrant.

“Brands are always look for guys who haven’t been marketed a lot so there’s still a lot of runway in terms of telling their story,” says Nick DePaulo, who covers the sneaker industry for ESPN and Nice Kicks.

That puts Antetokounmpo, the 22-year-old already pegged as a future MVP candidate, pretty squarely at the top of the 2017 free-agent class. And brands are already doing all they can to get his attention, including showing up to …read more


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