Lonzo Ball won’t have a sneaker deal with Nike. Or Adidas. Or Under Armour, either.
The star point guard out of UCLA tabbed to be a top-five pick in the upcoming NBA Draft has been passed over by all three, according to ESPN.com’s Darren Rovell. It’s the first time the Big 3 of sneaker companies have each stepped away from a top prospect.
The reason: LaVar Ball, Lonzo’s outspoken father, wants a sneaker company to license his Big Baller Brand. He wants a partnership that includes Lonzo, as well his other two sons Liangelo and LaMelo, who have each committed to UCLA.
"We've said from the beginning, we aren't looking for an endorsement deal," LaVar said, according to ESPN. "We're looking for co-branding, a true partner. But they're not ready for that because they're not used to that model. But hey, the taxi industry wasn't ready for Uber, either."
What LaVar Ball is looking for is similar to Michael Jordan’s Jordan Brand, which falls underneath the Nike umbrella but has a separate logo and its own athletes. Some of Adidas’ most successful sneaker lines, including Kanye West’s Yeezy line and the Jeremy Scott’s, are also co-branded, as are several of PUMA’s more popular sneakers.
The cold shoulder from one of the draft’s top prospects, however, was expected. Recently at the SportsBusiness Journal's World Congress of Sports, Nike consultant George Raveling called LaVar Ball “the worst thing to happen to basketball in the last hundred years.”
LaVar Ball also drew widespread criticism for his price tag of a $1 billion endorsement deal for his three sons combined. Nike co-founder Phil Knight called the tag “a little bit steep,” though he conceded Lonzo is “an awfully great player” and that his company had an interest at the time.
With the top three companies out of the running, LaVar Ball says he will reach out to other brands, including Peak (Dwight Howard, Matthew Dellavedova, Tony Parker, Lou Williams, George Hill), Li-Ning (Dwyane Wade, Evan Turner, Jose Calderon, Glenn Robinson III) and Anta (Klay Thompson, Rajon Rondo).
LaVar Ball also has a prototype for Lonzo’s first shoe, one he says he’s been working on for “a long time.” He also valued the ability to launch with his son’s shoe right away instead of falling prey to another company’s timetable.
"We're not going to sign with a company and then wait around for five or six years for shoe like Paul George had to wait for with Nike," Ball said.
Lonzo Ball became a household name with UCLA this season, leading the Bruins to a Sweet 16 appearance against the Kentucky Wildcats. He averaged 14.6 points, 6.0 rebounds, and 7.6 assists per game, shooting the three-pointer at a 41.2 percent clip. He declared for the NBA draft and is expected to go No. 1 or No. 2 overall alongside Washington product Markelle Fultz.