The National Basketball Association (NBA) is as much a business as it is a professional basketball league. Its status as the premier basketball competition in the world and its millions upon millions of fans make it an attractive commodity that many local companies and multinational corporations have sought to identify with. Over the course of its 75-year history, the NBA has had various apparel partners – the top two being rivals Nike and Adidas, whose logos have defined the various eras of the NBA as much as the players and the franchises who dominated them. While Nike is currently the official outfitter of the NBA, many fans, especially younger ones, often wonder when exactly Adidas had the NBA official apparel contract.
When Did Adidas have the NBA contract? Adidas had the NBA contract for 11 years from 2006 to 2017. Many expected the apparel giant to continue their long-term relationship with the NBA but they opted not to renew their partnership after it emerged that it hadn’t been “as lucrative as hoped”. Rather than extend their NBA contract, Adidas decided to change their investment strategy and instead invest more in players on the court as ambassadors of their brand.
How Adidas Come to Have the NBA Contract
Contrary to conventional wisdom, Adidas is not the first, second, or even third apparel company that has had a partnership with the NBA. Before 1984, Medalist Sand-Knit had the contract to produce NBA jerseys for all teams.
The contract was then scooped up by MacGregor Sand-Knit from 1989 to 1990 though some players wore jerseys made by Champion, who inherited the contract from 1989 to 1997. Champion then went on to produce Authentics for nine franchises from 1997 to 2001 before providing jerseys for six teams from 2001 to 2002.
Nike and Starter also produced Authentics for nine and six teams respectively from 1997 to 1998. Puma later took over all of Starter’s licenses from 1999 to 2001 before Reebok threw their hat into the ring to produce jerseys for eight NBA teams.
From 2001 to 2002, Nike provided Authentics for nine NBA teams. Reebok then took over Champion’s remaining six licenses before taking over those of Nike from 2004 to 2005 to become the NBA’s official outfitter. Reebok’s then continuing relationship with the NBA is what ultimately allowed Adidas to sign an 11-year contract with the NBA which was rumored to have had a total value in excess of $400 million.
Are Adidas and Reebok the Same Company?
No. Adidas and Reebok are not the same company. They however were the same company for 16 years (2005 to 2021) after Adidas (ADIDAS-Salomon) purchased Reebok for $3.8 billion in 2005 in an attempt to give Nike, who were and still are the biggest global sporting shoe and apparel company, a run for their money.
The merger allowed Adidas to take up a 10-year deal that reebok had signed with the NBA in August 2001. The said deal, which would have expired in 2011 was extended through to the end of the 2016/17 season.
In 2015, Adidas shocked the basketball world by revealing that it would not be seeking to extend its partnership with the NBA beyond its 2016/17 campaign. Speaking in a past interview, former Adidas global basket general manager Chris Grancio revealed that the company had ultimately decided to switch their investments to players on the court because they hadn’t been able to elevate their brand for the basketball consumer that they were targeting.
A number of factors were working against Adidas at the time. First, Nike had the lion’s share of the basketball shoe business (upwards of 95%). Second and perhaps more importantly, former Adidas CEO Herbert Hainer was set to retire and the company was yet to announce his successor – a decision that was believed to have made the NBA reluctant to enter another long-term deal.
Nike was also rumored to have blown Adidas’ possible future bids for the NBA contract by offering to pay the NBA upwards of $120 million per year, which was around double what Adidas had previously paid. Things took a turn for the worse for Adidas even after their merger with Reebok as they dropped to third in shoe sales behind Nike and Under Armour.
The latter was experiencing a surge in sales thanks to Golden State Warriors point guard Stephen Curry’s increasing popularity in the mid-2010s. Adidas ultimately cut ties with Reebok in 2021 by selling it to Authentic Brands for $2.5 billion.
Adidas’ Historic Rivalry with Nike
Adidas and Nike have had an ongoing rivalry for almost six decades. The companies are the proverbial two sides of the same coin since it was Adidas that had initially created a monopoly in the 1970s.
Many sneaker historians argue that Adidas might still be the top shoe and sports apparel giant to date had it not been for some pivotal mistakes it made – the biggest of which was passing up the chance to sign up a future NBA superstar in Michael Jordan who would later become the face of the NBA for well over a decade.
The six-time NBA champion had initially wanted to sign with Adidas at the time and would have done so had his mother not suggested that they entertain an offer from a then lesser-known Nike. The credit for signing Jordan rightfully belongs to former Nike marketing executive Sonny Vaccaro, who handpicked Jordan as an ambassador for their product while he was still coming up in the rank of Dean Smith’s North Carolina Tar Heels.
It was Vaccaro who convinced Nike co-founder Phil Knight to go all in on Jordan by first signing him to a five-year deal worth $500,000 a year along with 5% of royalties and his own exclusive line of sneakers. The deal which was initially projected to bring in $3 million in its first four years of sales surpassed all expectations and now rakes in upwards of $5 billion a year.
NBA Players Signed to the Adidas Brand
Adidas has since stuck to its strategy of investing in players and recently signed 12 rookies to new shoe deals for the foreseeable future. Below are some of the more notable players who are currently signed to the brand.
- James Harden (Philadelphia 76ers)
- Damian Lillard (Portland Trail Blazers)
- Donovan Mitchell (Cleveland Cavaliers)
- Derrick Rose (New York Knicks)
- Trae Young (Atlanta Hawks)