"You should have signed with Nike….if you're not with me you're against me."
The words come from the disgraced Nike designer of LeBron James' shoe line, a virulent, disgusting attack on NBA star Derrick Rose after he suffered a career-altering ACL tear.
Why: because Rose signed with Adidas.
So, in the wake of the reigning NBA MVP's injury, Rose's harshest, angriest critic came from a spurned shoe designer. What might this tell us about the importance of the largest shoe-line designers and how powerful they have become in the NBA?
Officially, there is not much to tell: Nike and Adidas are large shoe-making companies that sign star NBA players to large, multi-year contracts to sponsor shoe lines. Unofficially, the show powers now sign the biggest monetary contracts in the sport and hold more sway over the sport's biggest stars' decisions than anyone but their families.
Dig even deeper and the real boundaries of the shoe makers' influence are so shrouded in rumor that it is impossible to know what to believe. Conspiracy theories abound.
Why are Derrick Rose and Dwight Howard not teammates on the Chicago Bulls? Chicago had the best mix of young talent, draft picks, and cash to land Howard in a trade without sacrificing the rest of their team. The Bulls have the NBA's best roster and basketball's largest market for a single team. But Howard, mysteriously, had no interest in coming to Chicago and it did not even make a final list of teams that included Dallas and New Jersey.
The conspiratorial explanation: Howard refused to play with Rose because both stars are Adidas clients. It would be bad business to have the company's two biggest stars in the same market.
Is it true? There is no hard proof but what legitimate explanation is there for Chicago not even being on the list of possibilities? This is not the time to blame the city's notorious weather.
And, at the center of the deepest rumors, lies the NBA's most secretive character: the mysterious Worldwide Wes.
As far back as 2007, NBA insiders called Worldwide Wes the most powerful man in the NBA. He is now formally an agent but his true role is far more shrouded in mystery. He is an advisor and confidant to many top players, someone who earned their trust from their rookie days with a mixture of access and favors. No one seems to know exactly what he does or where he finds the favors to give out.
The one thing everyone important knows: Worldwide Wes comes from the shoe industry.
He worked in the big brand shoe-making business decades ago, leaving formal employment in it to take on his ambiguous advisory role in the 1990s. But Worldwide Wes never lost his contacts and his mixture of access, favors, and ties to top players seems closely tied to the every growing power of his former industry.
Did Worldwide Wes, who has long been a close confidant of LeBron James, secretly help steer him to Miami in the summer of 2010? If he did, was it at the behest of his contacts in the shoe business, many of whom wanted to create an ultra-marketable super team?
Officially, none of this is provable. It's all rumor, spoken more often in whispers than in public. Worldwide Wes is simply a sports agent, Dwight Howard hates Chicago weather, and Nike has a designer who went rogue on Twitter.
But, unofficially, doesn't it make you wonder: does the shoe industry's influence dominate NBA basketball?
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