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Friday, June 23, 2006
Morrison racks up endorsements as draft nears

By Darren Rovell
ESPN.com

Adam Morrison might not be the No. 1 pick in next week's NBA Draft, but he seems to be at the top of the heap in the eyes of sports marketers.

The 6-foot-8 forward has already racked up endorsement deals with the likes of Topps, adidas and Electronic Arts, and is on the cusp of signing a Diabetes-related contract that might top the others in value.

Adam Morrison
With lucrative athletic endorsements already signed, and a pharmaceutical endorsement on the way, when will Morrison make some cash off the 'stache?

Sources told ESPN.com that Morrison's multi-year, seven-figure deal with adidas was signed this week. With the deal, Morrison will join the ranks of the company's other NBA endorsers, which include Houston Rockets forward Tracy McGrady, Minnesota Timberwolves forward Kevin Garnett and San Antonio Spurs center Tim Duncan.

Morrison's deal with Electronic Arts will allow the company to use him in its marketing campaigns, including a commercial that the company shot earlier this month in Los Angeles with the former Gonzaga star. His contract with Topps is an exclusive autograph and memorabilia trading card deal. The company plans to use Morrison on product packaging and in national advertising.

Morrison was clearly helped along by embracing the spotlight in his final season at Gonzaga. He bested Duke's J.J. Redick to become the Division I scoring champ, averaging 28.1 points per game.

Morrison's marketing agent Rob Lefko said that his client's recognition factor certainly didn't hurt when presenting him to companies.

"We started with a huge advantage in that everyone was aware of Adam," said Lefko of Priority Sports, which represents more than 100 players, including this year's draftees Nik Caner-Medley, James Augustine and Shannon Brown. "They knew what he could do and the passion that he plays with."

Number of Caucasian Americans in the top 20 in NBA scoring
2005-06: 0
2004-05: 0
2003-04: 0
2002-03: 0
2001-02: 0
2000-01: 0
1999-00: 0
1998-99: 1 (Keith Van Horn)
1997-98: 0
1996-97: 1 (Tom Gugliotta)
1995-96: 0
1994-95: 0
1993-94: 0
1992-93: 0

Some in the media have suggested that Morrison might be the next Larry Bird, a comparison largely fueled by his race. Since the 1992-93 season, only two Caucasian Americans -- Keith Van Horn and Tom Gugliotta -- have been in the top 20 in the NBA in scoring. This past year, only one white American -- the Celtics' Wally Szczerbiak -- ranked in the top 50 in league scoring and only one white American -- David Lee -- was selected in the first round of the NBA Draft (he was picked last by the Knicks).

But Lefko said that Morrison's race was never part of the discussion with potential sponsors and sports marketing pundits don't necessarily think anyone needs a great white hope.

"What the public is craving are great basketball players," said Bob Dorfman, executive vice president and creative director at Pickett Advertising. "It doesn't matter whether they [are] black or white. Look at the top of the list of who is making money off-the-court and you see Dwyane Wade, LeBron and Shaq."

Of the teams that are likely to draft Morrison, most do not play in large media markets. Aside from Chicago at No. 2, Toronto, Charlotte, Portland and Atlanta round out the top 5 picks in Wednesday's draft.

"I think people feel like a bigger market can help, but it's not necessary," Lefko said. "Any company he is aligned with knows that he will be on a team that will give him a lot of minutes early on his career and he will be a scorer, so he'll get a lot of attention."

One of Morrison's biggest endorsement deals is soon to come. At the age of 14, Morrison found out he had diabetes and has an insulin pump hooked into his body to regulate his blood sugar. He obviously takes it out for games, but frequently checks his blood sugar during timeouts.

Given his client's prominence, Lefko says he has had significant conversations with four pharmaceutical companies who are interested in using Morrison as a spokesperson. Morrison is also expected to play a big part in an educational campaign. Lefko said that all the companies that have thus far signed deals with Morrison are planning to donate a portion of his pay to Diabetes-related causes.

Darren Rovell, who covers sports business for ESPN.com, can be reached at Darren.Rovell@espn3.com.