Written by Joe Sherman (@BourgeoisiePapi)
The NBA and Nike Basketball are full of stellar athletes, but there are some players that stand far ahead of the crowd. One of them is Kyrie Irving. The Cleveland Cavalier point guard continues to wow his peers and fans with savvy basketball skills and his youthful personality. Despite his recent injury, Kyrie was the lead force behind the launch of the Nike Zoom HyperRev this season. In the game where he debuted the sneaker, Kyrie dropped 40 points in a double overtime thriller against the Atlanta Hawks.
Although he has been a loyal endorser of Nike dating back to his college days as a Duke Blue Devil, Kyrie is expected to be sneaker free agent at season’s end. Simply put, it would be a travesty if Nike let him go. It would be even worse if the brand didn't give Kyrie a signature shoe, and here's why: Marketability. Kyrie has plenty of it.
The Cavalier star has quickly established himself as one of the most exciting players to watch in the NBA thanks to moments like this. Or this. But as his basketball skills continue to flourish, so does his presence off the court. Irving is widely known by his alias Uncle Drew - which was derived from his popular Pepsi Max commercial series. Irving even recruited basketball virtuosos Kevin Love, Maya Moore, and Nate Robinson for cameos. It's rare for a commercial series to garner so much buzz. Irving made it happen. Another player who's been able to garner that that much buzz with non-basketball related endorsements: LeBron James. This is no coincidence, though, Irving is a star in the making.
The Nike Zoom Irving has a nice ring to it.
But to whom much is given, much is tested. The main knock against Kyrie's growing stardom is his health, and the fact that he has yet to lead his Cavalier team into the NBA playoffs. The flashy Irving has built an unfortunate reputation for being injury prone during his time in the NBA. Just recently, Irving suffered a bicep injury that will possibly sideline him indefinitely this season. But that may be a bit harsh for the 22-year-old kid who has to follow in the footsteps of LeBron James. The young point guard is still adjusting to a huge learning curve physically. Even with his injuries, Irving has still managed to capture the 2012 Rising Stars Challenge MVP, the 2012 Rookie of the Year, 2013 Three-Point Contest winner, and 2014 All-Star Game MVP. Not a bad start for the "injury prone" 2011 first overall pick.
During this harsh rebuilding phase of the Cavaliers, Irving has managed to build one of the strongest fan bases in the NBA. In three seasons, Irving has had two separate die-hard (slightly delusional) fans rush the court begging him not to leave. Irving also cracked into the top ten in jersey sales last year. Coming out ahead of other marketing gold mines: Blake Griffin, Russell Westbrook, and James Harden. There is a new wave of stars in the NBA and Kyrie is one of the leaders. Imagine the campaign Nike could structure around Kyrie's growing popularity? The Nike Zoom Irving has a nice ring to it.
image via USA Today
So what’s in it for Nike? Is it worth the risk of investing millions of dollars into a star who plays in such a small market? Contrary to popular belief, the LeBron signature line only recently became a monetary profit for Nike. Further more, Kevin Durant's signature deal is actually losing Nike money according to sneaker research analyst Matt Powell. This has to be the main hurdle for Nike. But maybe this is a wake up call for sneaker companies and athletes to restructure endorsement deals. With the wave of stars emerging, it may be time for companies to revise contracts that truly make sense financially. But with that being said. Forget the dollar figures. Do it for the culture.
Bringing on Irving as their next signature athlete will give Nike their most marketable point guard since Gary Payton. Adidas, Peak, Under Armour, and Jordan Brand (yes I know that JB is a subsidiary of Nike) currently sponsor the NBA’s top point guards. Although Nike has recently engineered lightweight, low-cut models for its premier athletes (like KD and Kobe), it's been decades since the brand's last signature model for a point guard. This is an opportunity for Nike to really focus on designing a performance shoe that is meant for a players with skills similar to Irving's. This would be a huge win for the entire skinny-ankle sneakerhead community - myself included - who are tired of bulky basketball shoes. It would also give aspiring guards worldwide a shoe they can call their own. A sneaker that the little guys can truly be proud of. Yes, the introduction of the Nike Zoom HyperRev has been received well by fans, but designing a signature shoe for a true point guard could also open doors for a popular lifestyle line for Nike. Irving has stated that off the court you can usually find him in a pair of Nike Air Force 1s or Roshe Runs.
Charisma, marketability, skills, and a prominent fan base serves as a strong argument for Nike to lace Kyrie with his own signature sneaker. This scenario is unique and could provide Nike with a return on investment that goes further than just dollar bills. The new school is here and ready to receive the torch. With the recent loss of sharp shooter Stephen Curry to Under Armour, one can only imagine that Nike would not take any chances in letting Irving go elsewhere. But who knows, Kanye and Pharrell might already be on the recruiting trail. Regardless. Let this youngblood be great, Nike.