Signature shoes are reserved for the highest-profile athletes in the NBA — only 16 players have a signature model. So when it’s time for Adidas to re-sign Andrew Wiggins when his large rookie shoe contract expires, they’ll have to decide if he meets that criteria.
Adidas reportedly has a “strong hesitation” to giving Wiggins a signature shoe, according to a report from ESPN’s Nick DePaula. It is instead eyeing Giannis Antetokounmpo to tote as its next big star.
Antetokounmpo’s deal with Nike expires in September and he’ll have suitors galore, including Adidas. But that could leave Wiggins in a tough spot on Adidas’ basketball roster.
Every brand wants a top notch, high-flying wing player. When Adidas signed him to a 5-year deal where he could make $12 million annually before the 2014 NBA draft, the company thought Wiggins could be just that. But his career hasn’t actualized into what it envisioned to this point, according to DePaula.
At the time, the brand had hoped that Timberwolves rising phenom Andrew Wiggins could fill that role, but internally there has been strong hesitation about whether Wiggins could carry his own signature shoe.
Wiggins is only 22 years old and already has a ton of player-exclusive shoes with Adidas, including within its Crazy Explosive line.
But a signature shoe is a much bigger deal than a logo and a team colorway. Player exclusive deals are lucrative and come with player-centric branding opportunities. But a signature shoe comes with a commitment to push an actual product into the marketplace with a player’s actual name and endorsement fully behind it.
Adidas can push a general basketball sneaker like a Crazy Explosive with Wiggins’ logo on it. But it’s another ball game when Wiggins has to push the Wiggins 1 and generate most of the revenue behind the shoe on his own. The public has to buy into that, and it takes a bigger financial commitment from a brand to accomplish that. Whether Wiggins can do that is a question Adidas needs to answer before handing him his own shoe.
Why a signature shoe makes sense for Wiggins
Wiggins hasn’t fully lived up to his potential, but he’s a solid NBA player at just 22 years old on a budding roster. He has talent and has increased his scoring output in each season he’s played in the NBA.
He still has to become a more well-rounded player, but the scoring is there and, quite simply, fans like points. He’s already participated in a dunk contest and has solidified himself as a high flyer in the league, which consumers also love.
He remains popular internationally, especially among Canadian basketball fans, and that will only continue as he improves on the court. Basketball is a global sport where international appeal matters. Plus, since he’s already signed to Adidas, it has a jump on showcasing his success to an international audience.
The biggest reason Wiggins doesn’t have as much national appeal now is because the Timberwolves haven’t been good. Adding Karl Anthony-Towns to the mix as the Wolves’ best player didn’t help Wiggins’ shoe stock, even if it made the Timberwolves better.
But the Wolves have made solid moves this offseason and should compete for a top-five seed in the West. Making the playoffs would be huge for Wiggins’ stature, even if he’s not the first- or second-best player on his team with Jimmy Butler in the fold.
The Wolves are young and they’re only becoming more relevant in the NBA landscape. Locking Wiggins into a signature shoe deal now puts Adidas on a pedestal moving forward. If they’re playing the Warriors in the Conference Finals or the Cavaliers in the NBA finals, Wiggins and Adidas will be there.
They may be able to negotiate Wiggins to a bargain with his stock being low. Plus, he’s only the third-best player on his team. But still, he’s a 22-year-old with lots of potential. Negotiations can swing both ways.
But it’s still a dangerous proposition for Adidas
Wiggins can dunk and score, but Adidas needs its next signature shoe athlete to set titself apart from the rest of the pack and sell a product of its own stature.
Wiggins has proved he can be a solid player, but what quality does he have that makes him different from, say, DeMar DeRozan. DeRozan is one of the league’s best scorers and a good tough-shot maker. But DeRozan doesn’t have a signature shoe, despite all of his solid qualities.
There are players like Kyrie Irving who, despite his flaws, has proved his worth as a star off the court through his flashy handle, quirky personality, and his ability to hit tough shots. That’s why his signature shoe is Nike’s second-best seller.
Irving is cut from a different cloth, unlike Wiggins. Tons of players can dunk on people, but no one — with the possible exception of Stephen Curry — can put guys on the floor quite like Irving can. That shines bright even when Irving plays in the shadow of LeBron James. Irving built national appeal even without James through game-winning shots and sick crossovers
“There are a number of athletes that are popular in the NBA, but there are only a few that are able to extend their brand above the rest of the league,” Courtney Brunious, the associate director of USC’s Marshall Sports Business Institute, told me.
Because Irving was able to create a character and a niche for himself, Brunious said, he was able to overcome playing in the shadow of James from a brand standpoint.
Wiggins has to do something similar while he’s playing with Towns, but he doesn’t have the same national appeal as Irving. He lacks the personality and social presence Irving does, and without those qualities, his potential signature shoe runs the risk of being suppressed by Towns’ presence. Is that a chance Adidas wants to take?
That’s why Antetokounmpo is already so appealing to Adidas. He’s an All-Star starter, the face of his franchise, a bubbly personality, and one of the best players in the league while being the same age as Wiggins. Adidas is right to covet Antetokounmpo over the guy it already had in the fold.
Adidas hasn’t shown a hesitancy to break with athletes it already has, either. The company cut ties with John Wall after it had to overpay to pry James Harden from Nike. Wall already had two signature shoes with Adidas, but the brand didn’t blink when he walked away from a $7 million deal per year. It even put Wiggins’ logo on the Crazy Explosive, which was rumored to be the design for John Wall’s next signature shoe.
Wiggins might believe he deserves a signature shoe, but his play on the court along with team success will dictate that. As of now, it seems Adidas is leaning toward skipping the signature shoe path with him. With Antetokounmpo on the rise, it should remain that way.