Kawhi Leonard is truly starting anew this fall.
In addition to trading his San Antonio Spurs jersey for Toronto Raptors gear, he’ll presumably be lacing up shoes without a swoosh or a Jumpman logo for the first time in his career.
Jordan Brand reportedly letting Kawhi Leonard walk
ESPN reports that Jordan Brand, the Nike sub-brand that produces the iconic line of Air Jordans, is parting ways with Leonard at the end of his contract prior to the start of next season. Nick DePaula reports that Jordan Brand is letting him walk after he turned down a 4-year, $22 million extension earlier this year.
Leonard has repped Jordan Brand shoes since his NBA career started in 2011.
ESPN reported in March that negotiations between the two sides broke down because Leonard didn’t believe the offer reflected his stature as a two-time first-team All-NBA selection, two-time Defensive Player of the Year and a former Finals MVP.
Leonard’s personality presents a challenge for branding
Jordan Brand apparently decided that an MVP-caliber talent who doesn’t speak in public and hasn’t played meaningful basketball in more than a season wasn’t worth the extra cash or hassle.
Leonard’s breakup with Jordan Brand mirrored his fractured relationship with the Spurs, and that doesn’t seem to be coincidence.
David Robinson spoke Monday about the difficulties he and the Spurs had with a player who often declined to communicate internally. When that same player declines to speak publicly, it makes it difficult to justify a big-money contract when you’re counting on him to promote your brand.
And this is not a criticism of Leonard. If Leonard is introverted and prefers to keep his head down and focus on basketball, that’s his personality and his prerogative.
But that approach comes with consequences. And one of those consequences is losing out on potentially lucrative sneaker deals.
Leonard, like Mike Trout, seems uninterested in brand promotion
An argument can be made that Leonard’s approach is similar to that of Los Angeles Angels star Mike Trout, who drew criticism from MLB commissioner Rob Manfred last week for not working enough to promote his brand. If Trout is content simply being the best baseball player in the world and staying out of the spotlight otherwise, then that’s OK.
Manfred’s beef was also a reflection of a bigger problem with declining interest in baseball, an issue that that the NBA is certainly not suffering.
Leonard will have plenty of sneaker suitors
And don’t take Leonard’s breakup with Jordan Brand as a lack of interest in Leonard. There will be plenty of suitors lining up to lure the soon-to-be sneaker free agent. He may not say much, but his basketball bonafides still carry tremendous value.
In addition to the raised basketball profile of Under Armour and Adidas in recent years, Puma has gotten back into the basketball game by signing high-profile rookies Deandre Ayton, Marvin Bagley III and Michael Porter Jr.
ESPN reports that New Balance is looking to get into the NBA game as well, trying to lure Gordon Hayward from Nike.
Executives from all of these brands are almost certainly discussing the viability of bringing Leonard into their fold as he starts his next chapter in Toronto.
And with the upside of his potentially suiting up next to James in a Los Angeles Lakers uniform in 2019, it may be a good time to get in cheap.
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