Fri, May 23, 2003 - Page 24 News List

High school basketball star gets deal with Nike

AP , CLEVELAND, OHIO

LeBron James will go into the NBA with a swoosh after agreeing to a deal with Nike worth more than US$90 million, The Associated Press learned yesterday.

James, the high school star expected to be the No. 1 pick in next month's draft, agreed to terms on the largest shoe endorsement deal ever, choosing Nike over Adidas and Reebok.

James was expected to sign the contract Thursday morning. A source who spoke on condition of anonymity told the AP the deal was worth more than US$90 million.

Nike spokesman Mark Shapiro confirmed that an agreement had been reached with James. ESPN.com, citing unidentified sources, said it was a seven-year deal.

James' publicist, Alexandria Boone, would not confirm the deal but said a formal announcement would be made Thursday.

Recent published reports predicted that the 18-year-old from Akron St. Vincent-St. Mary High School star might get a US$100 million deal, which would be unprecedented in the history of sneaker endorsements.

When Michael Jordan signed his first contract with Nike in 1984, it was for US$2.5 million over five years.

James also signed an exclusive multiyear contract with Upper Deck trading cards Wednesday.

His selection of Nike ends a nearly two-year battle between the shoe companies to land the dynamic player, whose game has been compared to that of Jordan and Magic Johnson.

James has received unprecedented media coverage the past two years. His games were sellouts in arenas around the country, and two of his games were televised nationally by ESPN.

The shoe deal came less than a day before James was to learn where he'll be wearing his Nikes as a pro. The NBA will hold its draft lottery Thursday night, and the winner gets the right to select James, a three-time Mr. Ohio in Basketball and the consensus national player of the year the past two years.

The Cleveland Cavaliers and Denver Nuggets, who finished tied for the league's worst record this season, have the best chance at getting the top pick.

Terms of the deal with Upper Deck were not immediately available, but company spokesman Jake Gonzales said James' contract is on a level with previous agreements signed by Jordan, Tiger Woods and soccer star David Beckham.

Boone said the trading card deal included a US$1 million signing bonus.

"Every kid who plays sports aspires to be the best and be part of a winning team," James said in a statement. "Today's deal with Upper Deck not only means that I've joined a team that is the leader in the collectibles industry, but also allows me to be part of a team of world class athletes representing their products."

Gonzales said James is the youngest person ever signed by Upper Deck, whose other spokesmen include Kobe Bryant, Kevin Garnett and Japanese baseball stars Ichiro Suzuki and Hideki Matsui.

Upper Deck said James' trading card and memorabilia agreement prohibits any other company from using his autograph or his likeness on its packaging. It also stipulates that James can only promote for Upper Deck.

"Upper Deck is known for producing the most collectible and innovative trading cards and memorabilia in the world," vice president Tim Muret said in a statement. "It is fitting that LeBron James and Upper Deck join forces in an exclusive relationship that will bring exciting products to fans and collectors worldwide."

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