Basketball in America is like one giant
commercial for athletic footwear giants. And Nike, Adidas and Under Armour start
their pursuit of the best athletes early in their teens or younger. Dial back to look at the athletic shoe industry generally. Basketball shoes have
been the driver. And so there is an interest in LeBron James when he’s 16 years old. The nation’s best high school age atheles typically end up on
elite club teams that put them in front of college coaches agents and sneaker
company scouts. It is a bit of the Wild West when you’re talking about AAU basketball. And the sneaker giant’s dole out five and six figure sponsorship deals for teams that include cash and free gear. There’s an undercurrent of
folks who are trying to build these kind of relationships with the notion that
the payoff comes down the line. The sneaker wars actually started decades ago, but it was the debut of the first Air Jordans in 1985 that changed everything. It was a runaway hit for Nike with sales in excess of $100
million dollars in the first year. Today the Jordan Brand racks up about
$3 billion dollars a year in revenue. It’s that magic that sneaker companies
have been trying to replicate ever since It does bring a brand legitimacy and
visibility that you probably can’t get with your target audience anyplace else. Now it’s perfectly legal for footwear companies to shower amateur teams with
free shoes, uniforms and sometimes cash for expenses. But the NCAA, the governing
body of college athletics, forbids preferential treatment to individual
athletes based on athletic ability. But federal prosecutors are alleging the
intense competition for talent has spawned illicit transactions involving
agents, coaches, players and their families. Ten were arrested last fall in
an unfolding corruption case including two Adidas employees. If you take so much
as a dollar from somebody for for playing you’re going to be ineligible
for that. The corruption scandal raised questions about the future of sponsored leagues and whether the big three shoe companies would reconsider their commitment to grassroot ball. But take a look at this roster of the Sierra Canyon
Trailblazers. It’s an elite high school basketball team in Chatsworth, California
loaded with a raft of second-generation NBA kids. That Scottie Pippen Jr.,
Kenyon Martin Jr. and Dwayne Washington Jr. Sneaker companies won’t walk away
from that willingly.