Kevin Durant’s 7-year, $60 million deal with Nike expired several weeks ago, which made him a sneaker free agent of sorts. It appeared as if he was open to sign with any endorser that would throw money at him, regardless of recourse. However, once Under Armour offered KD a 10-year deal worth somewhere between $265 and $285 million, we learned that he is a restricted sneaker free agent. Some of the language in his Nike contract states that The Swoosh has the legal right to match any offer that another suitor would present Durant with. Similar to how it works with restricted free agency in the NBA.
More than a week has gone by since Under Armour’s offer, but it is being reported by Darren Rovell at ESPN that Nike has agreed to match Under Armour’s offer, meaning he’ll stay put.
There was far too much made about what Durant’s potential move to Under Armour would do for his upcoming 2016 free agency decision, when he’ll be an unrestricted free agent. Because Under Armour is based in Baltimore, MD, and Durant is from Seat Pleasant, MD (borders Washington, D.C.), many felt this means he’d join the Wizards. I’ve always felt as if that was a reach and this is all just merely a coincidence more than anything else. Durant identifies with D.C. It’s apparent in his speech, his symbolisms and even the ink on his body. This imaginary connection between Durant and the Wizards, by way of Under Armour, never held much water, because if you ask anybody from the D.C.-area, they’ll tell you that they don’t identify with Baltimore. And if you ask someone from Baltimore, they’ll tell you the same about D.C. Separated by only an hour or so, yes, but it might as well be much further than that for the two cities.
But now that the overblown Under Armour – Wizards connection is behind us, what does this new lucrative Durant deal do to the other Nike basketball pitchmen? As great of a player as Durant is, his “KD” line has always appeared to be third on the Nike basketball depth chart behind the lines of LeBron James and Kobe Bryant. Nike typically releases new technology, like Hyperposite, on LeBron and Kobe sneakers first to test the market, before employing them on Durant’s. The KDs are behind LeBrons on this imaginary depth chart because the LeBrons sold $300 million last year, to KDs $175 million. While the Kobes only sold $50 million, he’s by far the most popular athlete in China which opens up future revenue streams for years to come.
By way of LeBron’s recent deal with Nike, signed in 2010, Forbes estimates that he pulls in $20 million annually from the sneaker company, while Durant will now earn at least between $26.5 million and $28.5 million per year by way of this new deal. If we know anything about LeBron, particularly over the past couple of years, it’s that he’s about his brand and business. He realizes how much money he generates from others and he’d like to see as much monetary return on that as legally possible. Can’t blame him. It’s why he only signed for 2-years on this recent Cavs deal because he knows the ceiling on player contracts will increase in a couple of seasons.
With that as a backdrop, how will LeBron internally take the news that Durant makes more from Nike annually than he does, even though the LeBron signature line is clearly more popular than the KD line? Nike did what they had to do to retain Durant’s services, but will this create a tumultuous relation with the shoe company and James in the short term? In LeBron’s mind, is it justifiable that Durant makes more from Nike than he does even though his sneaker moves way more units than Durant’s? What will negotiations be like the next time LeBron’s Nike deal is up, which is more than three years away? One thing is for certain: Durant’s deal will be brought up at that time by LeBron’s representation.