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Wednesday, February 13
 
Last-minute deal pays off for Reebok

By Darren Rovell
ESPN.com

Golden State Warriors rookie forward Jason Richardson had his professional coming out party last weekend. The former Michigan State standout scored 26 points and was named MVP in the NBA Rookie Challenge and also won the Slam Dunk contest -- and no one was cheering louder than the executives at Reebok.

Jason Richardson
Reebok's investment in Jason Richardson took off at last weekend's NBA All-Star Game.
For years, the NBA All-Star game has been the ultimate platform for the debut of the latest models of basketball shoes. Nike alone debuted a number of different shoes on 30 players over the course of the weekend.

"Bringing out new shoes at the All-Star game is like buying a commercial for the Super Bowl," said Eric Oberman, basketball spokesman for Nike. "It's a national stage and the best guaranteed audience you can get all season long."

Although Chris Webber's DaDa shoes from Damani Dada, an up-and-coming urban apparel company, received a lot of the buzz, Reebok received a nice boost from Richardson, whom they formally announced as an endorser just two days before Saturday's events.

Reebok wanted to make sure it got the slam dunk champion in order to capitalize on the debut of its Xbeam Franchise shoes, which are said to be designed for the high flyer. As it turned out, the company had three of the four contestants -- Houston Rockets guard Steve Francis (endorser since 1999), Sacramento Kings forward Gerald Wallace (signed at the beginning of the season) and Richardson.

The shoes, which hit stores March 5, have a clear plastic plate in place of the usual foam mid-sole, which is supposed to give the wearer a greater pushoff, according to John Lynch, vice president of sports marketing for Reebok.

With Richardson winning the contest and scoring the rookie game MVP, Reebok thinks it will see the returns. "This is exactly what we planned and hoped for," said Lynch. "There's no question that his performance with the shoes will help translate into sales."

A source told ESPN.com that Richardson received $100,000 bonus from Reebok for the weekend, although Lynch would not confirm the numbers.

Chris Webber
Chris Webber and his chrome shoes were the talk of the All-Star Game, but they didn't impress MJ.
Webber, who has been wearing DaDas for about two months, was named president of the company's basketball division just five days before the game. He wore specially made chrome shoes designed to get attention.

"We realized the All-Star game could generate a buzz, but not to this magnitude," said Lavetta Willis, president and CEO of DaDa Footwear. "We've been bombarded with calls from the press and from retailers saying people are coming into their stores and asking when C-Webb's shoes are coming in."

Webber's shoes won't launch until November, and there was no plan even to manufacture the chrome version until the post-All-Star demand. In fact, Dada only made two pair of the chrome shoes before the All-Star Game. Now, Willis said, DaDa will make 1,000 pair of the chrome model -- expected to be available in June -- but the idea is so new DaDa hasn't set a retail price yet.

Nike, which has the most endorsers in the NBA by a longshot, had a big rollout at the All-Star Game, as well. Michael Jordan was wearing Air Jordan XVII's, Nike's new $200 model that hit stores last Sunday. The company also previewed the Air Zoom GP III on Seattle SuperSonics guard Gary Payton. That shoe, which has an interchangeable one-piece sock, hits stores Feb. 27.

Despite missing the game, Vince Carter still saw his new Nike model -- the Nike Shox VC, which goes on sale in March -- make the scene. A couple thousand pair were sold in the Philadelphia area over All-Star weekend.

Rounding out the new-shoe review, adidas rolled out the KobeTwo All-Star edition of Lakers guard Kobe Bryant's shoe, and Converse announced its rise from the dead with a new roster of pitchmen -- Timberwolves forward Wally Szczerbiak and Cavaliers guard Andre Miller.

The Official What?
You should know by now that Kodak, John Hancock and McDonald's are official Olympic sponsors, since they pay as much as $60 million for the right to be associated with the event. But for companies that don't pay the big bucks, the general recognition factor isn't as good.

Did you know that Diamond of California is the official supplier of Olympic walnuts for 2002 and 2004? (Their Web site says, "To assist them in their rigorous preparation, America's athletes will have an ample supply of Diamond nuts available during their training.") Or that Certified Angus Beef is the official branded beef (they're providing the athletes with frankfurters, pot roast, barbecue beef and deli meats).

Other small-sponsor highlights include Garrett, the official metal detector; Korbel, the official champagne; and Smith's, the official dairy milk supplier.

Promo of the week
On Tuesday, the Minnesota Chill of the United States Professional Volleyball league had an Abe Lincoln lookalike contest. The fan who looked most like our 16th President, whose birthday was Tuesday, would win 1,000 "Lincolns" and a $50 savings bond.

"Someone probably thought 1,000 Lincolns would equal $5,000," said Frank Spaeth, assistant general manager for the team, "but it's really only 1,000 pennies."

The winner of the contest was Deano Kaye, who showed up in a beard, a stovepipe hat, a white shirt with a string bowtie and a coat.

"I don't really look like him," Kaye told ESPN.com. "I'm 5-foot-10, and he was like, 6-foot-5. I guess, if anything, I'm his mini-me."

"He Hate Me" lives on
The anniversary of the XFL's debut was Feb. 3, and few sports fans noticed. Prices for XFL collectibles have continued to drop, as the league produced way too much paraphernalia in its one-year run for most items to have any value. There is an exception, however: Rod Smart jerseys. Replicas of the former Las Vegas Outlaws running back -- a.k.a. "He Hate Me" -- have been sold on eBay for as much as $96 in recent weeks.

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







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