With superstar forward Kevin Durant’s Oklahoma City Thunder contract set to expire in the summer of 2016, the possibility of Durant choosing to extend with the club is complicated by his potential deal with Under Armour. The upper echelon players in the NBA are business conglomerates. Notwithstanding their enormous max salaries, which do not reflect their true value to their teams and the league, the top players make gargantuan sums through their endorsement deals. In this case, Durant is reported to have a 10 year, $285 million endorsement contract offer on the table from Baltimore based Under Armour.
After LeBron James took a public relations beating when he took his talents to South Beach, any NBA superstar with a pocketful of endorsements must consider the possible business ramifications of a potential free agent move. Until James moved to the Miami Heat, he was generally well thought of among NBA fans. Until he teamed up with Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh to form a super team, James was never the guy with the black hat. Things changed when he ditched his hometown Cleveland Cavaliers to travel south.
While James remained a marketing juggernaut with the Heat, he still must have considered how his overall standing as a marketer would be viewed at the conclusion of his career. Michael Jordan still enjoys considerable endorsement success even with his playing days well into the rearview mirror. Jordan never suffered the slings and arrows from leaving the Chicago Bulls for a more talented supporting cast. He remains a beloved figure in Chicago. Remaining with the Heat or moving to another well-stocked contender could have left James with a more limited shelf live as a post-career endorsement figure. Although not much has been made of the business aspects of James’ move back to the Cavs, no doubt the general public has a more sympathetic view of him now that he has returned to his roots. The move back to Cleveland will most likely make James more money over time than any other alternative.
The reason the Under Armour endorsement deal complicates a potential Oklahoma City Thunder extension for Kevin Durant is that his roots lie in Washington, DC and the apparel company has its headquarters in nearby Baltimore. Durant could suffer the same negative public relations fate as James if he takes his talents to Los Angeles, New York or any of the other cities which will have teams vying for his unique services. The one team he could choose without a negative public relations slam would be the Washington Wizards, which coincidentally are a team on the rise. Also, Under Armour could possibly push for a move by Durant to a larger market in their back yard.
Any time an NBA superstar considers moving to a different team, a whole host of considerations come into play. There are the obvious basketball issues regarding the coach and supporting cast. Family concerns also predominate. To the extent the player enjoys endorsement income off the court, marketing issues are also important. As the Oklahoma City Thunder brain trust considers the probability of Kevin Durant choosing to extend his contract with the team, a lucrative deal with Under Armour could create additional complications. In all likelihood, Thunder executives hope that Nike decides to match the offer made by Under Armour.
Commentary by William Costolo