James Harden is signed with the Rockets until the 2017-2018 season, but he’s currently a free agent in the sneaker game – but not for long. On Monday Adidas offered Houston’s bearded wonder a hefty $200 million endorsement deal stretching over 13 years, which if accepted would be one of the highest-paying sneaker deals in the NBA.
Nike, whose contract with Harden ended this year, has until the end of next week to match the offer. The $200 million, in Harden's other deals with Taco Bell, Foot Locker and Skull Candy, means Harden could potentially make more from endorsements than from the Rockets, who have Harden signed to an $80 million contract through 2018.
But aside from the massive amount of money involved, basketball will likely have a new sneaker staple if Harden signs with Adidas. Nike still commands 90 percent of the basketball shoe market, but with Adidas in need of a marketable star to raise its B-Ball fortunes, Harden has the opportunity to create something entirely fresh and competitive. Adidas has yet to see a culture-changing basketball shoe, and this could be it.
Maybe no shoe will ever see the success of the 1980s Air Jordans, but a Harden-Adidas collaboration has the potential to reach the glory of Nike’s champion sneaker. Harden already has an established presence in fashion—not to mention that trademark beard—so there’s no doubt he would only want his name on something inventive. He’s known for being daring with his outfit choices, and he’s clearly a trendsetter among other basketball players.
But Harden's marketability doesn't just rely on his street style and his stats as the NBA's reigning leader in scoring. He’s young and still a rising star, and he’s already well-covered in the media. He isn’t always the most-liked player in basketball (although, let’s face it, MJ wasn’t always the most-liked, either), but he has a massive fan base in California, Arizona, Houston and even China, where the memory of the Yao Ming era continues to animate millions of Rockets fans. If the Rockets continue to do well and contend for championships, a Harden-inspired shoe would get even more lift.
Adidas is already known for its collaborations with high-fashion designers like Rick Owens and hip hop stars including Kanye West, whom Harden may have a connection with now that he’s dating Khloe Kardashian. Kanye doesn't need to give Harden any fashion tips, but being connected with the Kardashians (love them or hate them) brings a huge boost when it comes to making the transition from basketball star to household name. If Harden signs on, he has all the factors in place to create an iconic signature sneaker.