LeBron James’ lifetime deal with Nike is probably worth one billion dollars.
It is the largest athlete endorsement contract ever.
The exact terms of the deal were not released, but GQ reporter Mark Anthony Green managed to get what seems to be a confirmation of the one billion mark.
In an interview with James’ business partner Maverick Carter, Green tried to get a ballpark figure for the deal.
“What are people saying?” Carter asked.
“Kanye said a billion. So a billion,” Green replied.
Carter didn’t say anything. He just smiled and pointed one finger upwards.
From the reporter’s exclamation and from how Carter followed up, it seems Carter tacitly confirmed the figure.
“Yeah. It’s a fantastic deal,” Carter said. “Nike feels great about the deal. That’s the most important thing. As great as I feel, as great as LeBron feels—Nike feels fantastic about it.”
“It’s the largest deal in the history of the company,” he followed. “Their hope is he makes even more. And our hope is that, too, obviously.”
Nike expected to sell over $400 million worth of sneakers with the athlete’s name in 2015, ESPN reported.
Green’s mentioning of “Kanye” referred to Kanye West’s song “Facts” released in December. One part of the lyrics says:
“Nike, Nike treat employees just like slaves
Gave LeBron a billi’ not to run away.”
West accused Nike of not paying him royalties from the sales of his “Nike Air Yeezy” shoes developed through collaboration with the brand.
It is not clear whether West knew about the size of James’s deal with Nike.
The deal was probed by media before.
ESPN learned in December it “easily surpasses the 10-year, $300 million deal Oklahoma City Thunder forward Kevin Durant signed.”
USA Today’s Sam Amick was told “that estimates of between $400 & $500 million are significantly low.”
On LeBron-Nike deal front, I’m told by person w/ knowledge of financials that estimates of between $400 & $500 million are significantly low
— Sam Amick (@sam_amick) December 8, 2015
Nike spokesman not only couldn’t comment on the deal, but wouldn’t even say if the company plans to release more details in the future.
If the past is an indicator, the deal may include a fixed annual payment plus royalties from the apparel and shoe sales.
James has been with Nike since 2003. His first deal was for $90 million over 7 years.
At the time he was just 18-year-old high school kid from Akron, Ohio. But sponsors already saw he was exceptional. He received offers from Nike, Reebok, and Adidas.
“He is the best high school player I have ever seen,” Terry Pluto, a sports columnist for the Akron Beacon Journal, told ABC back then, likening James’s talent to Michael Jordan’s.
“People are lining up just to look at the kid, just like they were with Jordan,” Pluto said.
In 2010, James signed a $30 million a year deal with Nike, according to totalsportek.com.
“I’m very humble, man,” James said in December 2015. “It’s been an unbelievable time for myself and my family, and I’m just grateful that Nike and [Nike founder] Phil Knight and everyone over there just believed in a skinny-old, skinny 18-year-old kid from Akron, Ohio, and I’m happy to be a part of such a great company.”