Lonzo Ball has been the apple of everyone’s eye at the NBA Summer League, and not just because of his play on the court. While he’s mostly played well, many are simply wondering what shoes he’ll wear on a nightly basis.
Ball started the first two games of summer league in his signature ZO2: Prime sneakers from Big Baller Brand, the fledging apparel company started by his outspoken father, LaVar. In the four games he’s played since, Ball has worn signature shoes from Nike, Adidas, and Under Armour — the three major sports apparel brands in the league.
This approach has been endorsed by Ball’s father, even if it limits the visibility of the ZO2 Primes. Over the last month, LaVar Ball has maintained that his son could wear whatever shoe he wanted when he takes the court. He reiterated as much over the weekend in an interview with ESPN.
On the surface, that doesn’t make much sense. Why would Ball wear other signature sneakers when he has his own under his family’s independent brand? How can the Ball family possibly convince anyone to drop $495 on a shoe if its primary endorser won’t even wear it.
But there is some logic to the Ball family’s approach, especially if they’re playing the long game.
Big Baller Brand has been looking for co-branding all along
LaVar Ball has always said his son would be willing to sign with a larger brand — if the price is right. Prior to the Lakers’ semifinal contest against the Mavericks, Lonzo Ball told ESPN’s Cassidy Hubbarth that he was looking to start a bidding war between different companies.
Big Baller Brand has been looking for a co-branding partnership from Nike, Adidas, or Under Armour all along. They could be hoping to play themselves back to the negotiating table with those brands by showing them what Ball can do while playing in their products.
In April, talks between Big Baller Brand and each of the three companies broke down after Lavar Ball insisted on a co-branding partnership, according to a report from ESPN. That made sense, because the Ball family had zero leverage then.
They at least have a bit more now that Lonzo Ball has shown off his skill in front of packed houses in Las Vegas while becoming one of the most talked-about prospects since LeBron James in 2003. It’s hard to stay away from that.
SB Nation reached out to Nike, Adidas, and Under Armour representatives for comment on any interest in reopening negotiations with Ball after he wore their shoes. Requests from all three have not yet been returned.
Why should big sneaker companies be interested in Lonzo Ball now?
Because Ball is the talk of the basketball world. From his quirky jumper to the shoes he wears, everyone eats up Ball content. (Our traffic confirms this). Ball’s second game against the Celtics was the first sellout in Summer League’s history. Plus, he’s a Laker. That sells anywhere.
We still don’t know what the right price is for the Ball family. Maybe Big Baller Brand is still seeking a partnership. Maybe Ball will settle for a bigger endorsement deal. Maybe it’s still $1 billion for the family. It could still be outrageous.
But as this process has continues, Ball’s popularity has only continued to rise. Nike, Under Armour, and Adidas will have to at least take a peak to see if the Ball family’s ask is in the ballpark. It would be irresponsible not to.
Many are overreacting to Ball’s summer league performances, but that actually gives the companies even more reason to invest in Ball. If he drives this much interest during Summer League, the intensity will only increase in the regular season. If the Lakers make the playoffs — a humongous, very unlikely if this year — Staples Center may explode.
But aren’t there risks in this for those companies?
Of course. We still don’t know if Ball is a good player. Summer League games don’t count, so making an investment off them is a dangerous move.
But even if Ball’s stats are inflated by poor competition, his presence isn’t. People are showing up to games to watch him regardless of the competition. He keeps them in their seats.
There’s always a risk when a company makes a long-term investment. But when thinking of risks, you also have to think of rewards that come with success. Nike would remain on top of the game with one of the most popular rookies in the league in its stable in Ball. Adidas and Under Armour would get another potential star to bite a larger chunk of the overall basketball discussion from Nike.
All three companies would be well-served to at least take a look at Ball again.
So what options does the Big Baller Brand have?
They could continue to seek a co-branding deal with one of the three companies. That was their first goal before they were turned away by all three, and it’s still hard to imagine any brand agreeing to such an arrangement for a rookie. But after seeing what Ball can do on the next level, albeit against weak competition, the Ball family has a bit more leverage.
If the Ball family is willing to come down from that demand, they could negotiate a more lucrative endorsement deal with one of the companies. As he continues to work his way up the ladder, more opportunities for player exclusives and signature shoes will arise. Big Baller Brand could build up more slowly and perhaps even get Ball back down the road.
Or, they can continue to have Ball sampling different shoes while selling his $495 signature line on the side. Ball is the most popular rookie in the league right now, so they’re doing something right.
Regardless, there’s a method to the family’s madness that we shouldn’t underestimate. We’ll see it it actually works.