Williamson continues tradition of rich shoe deals for NC products

Players with ties to the state fill the list of the richest NBA shoe contracts

Zion Williamson’s exploding Nike against North Carolina on Feb. 20 made headlines, but it didn’t prevent the former Duke superstar from signing with the shoe company’s subsidiary, Jordan Brand, upon turning pro. (Gerry Broome / AP Photo)

Zion Williamson’s shoes continue to attract the attention of fans and media around the nation.

Williamson’s Nike’s earned headlines in February when he planted his foot a half a minute into Duke’s first game against North Carolina. The shoe split open, causing him to fall awkwardly. He would miss several weeks with a knee injury resulting from the incident.

Despite the faulty shoe, Williamson signed his first professional shoe contract with a Nike subsidiary — Jordan Brand. While numbers weren’t immediately available, the contract was widely publicized as the largest rookie shoe deal in NBA history.

That title currently belongs to LeBron James, who had a seven-year, $87 million deal with a $10 million signing bonus.

Initial reports had Williamson’s deal was for five years, $75 million, which, on a per-year basis would give him the top spot. There are other reports that have Williamson earning nine figures from the deal, which would eclipse James for total value.

Regardless of the true value, it’s clear that Williamson’s rookie shoe deal is the biggest of anyone with connections to the state of North Carolina.

The previous state champion was Vince Carter. The former Tar Heel’s first deal was with Puma. Then a Toronto Raptor, Carter signed for 10 years, $50 million. That’s the fifth-largest rookie deal of all time. At the time, he was the only current NBA player wearing Pumas and the first in five years to sign with the company.

The pairing lasted about 16 months before the two sides parted, with Carter claiming Puma breached the contract and the company accusing Carter of leaving. A court ruled that Carter had to pay $14.5 million to Puma, which was covered as part of his new $30 million deal with Nike.

The previous Jordan Brand record for a rookie deal went to Carmelo Anthony, who signed a six-year, $40 million contract to wear the UNC and Chicago Bulls legend’s signature shoe line. It’s the sixth-largest rookie contract awarded by any brand. He stayed with Jordan following his rookie contract and now makes an estimated $5 million a year to wear them.

The previous high mark for a rookie from Duke was held by Grant Hill, who signed a five-year contract for $30 million to wear Fila, the seventh-highest rookie contract ever. Both sides seemed happy with the deal, because he resigned with the company in 1997 for seven years and $80 million. The partnership has extended into retirement. Fila announced last year that Hill agreed to a lifetime endorsement deal with the company. 

Raleigh’s John Wall is eighth on the rookie shoe money list. He signed a five-year contract with Reebok that paid $25 million and resulted in all kinds of drama. Wall was unhappy with performance incentives that he failed to reach, lowering his rookie payout to about $2.5 million. He also disliked his signature model shoe and stopped wearing it, saying they hurt his feet.

After three years, Wall left Reebok for its parent company, Adidas. When the rookie contract expired, he turned down a new contract with the company for a reported eight years, $66 million. He wanted something closer to James Harden’s $200 million deal and spent two years as a “sneaker free agent” before ending up back with Adidas again. 

Marvin Bagley III has the 10th-largest rookie shoe deal. The Duke one-and-done made the surprising choice to go with Puma, who was attempting to become an NBA factor again following the Carter debacle decades earlier. He signed for five years, $12 million.

Williamson has a long way to go before he begins competing with some of the biggest (non-rookie) shoe contracts in league history.

At the top of the list, of course, is Jordan. In addition to having his own brand, Jordan’s Nike money still blows the ceiling — and the roof — off of the charts. Fifteen years after he played his last NBA game, Jordan still earns an estimated $110 million a year in shoe money.

Among current NBA players, the top-earning shoe contract from the state isn’t from UNC or Duke but from Davidson. Steph Curry earns an estimated $12 million a year from his deal with Under Armour. That’s less than LeBron James, Kevin Durant and James Harden (as well as the retired Kobe Bryant) but still an impressive sum.

Next up is former Blue Devil Kyrie Irving, who earns $8 million a year from Nike, eighth-most among active players.