|Wednesday, February 13
Last-minute deal pays off for Reebok
By Darren Rovell
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.
"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.
"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?
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
"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
Darren Rovell, who covers sports business for ESPN.com, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org