|Wednesday, July 31
Updated: August 6, 2:10 PM ET
Footing the bill for AAU teams
By Darren Rovell
The Vince Carter Playaz conveniently wear Nikes on their feet and the Tim Thomas Playaz and Antoine Walker's Illinois Celtics, not surprisingly, wear adidas.
"It's an angle that executives in the shoe business have definitely examined," said Verdell Jones, executive director of the Ft. Sooy No Limit, a high-profile team of 17-year-olds from Illinois that does not have a shoe contract. "If you've signed a player and that player buys a team, it's an automatic connection. Grassroots basketball has been a business for a long time."
But Jimmy Salmon, Thomas' second cousin who runs the Playaz Basketball Club of New Jersey, said he believes shoe companies are not prodding professional athletes to impose their sponsored brands on impressionable players who may one day follow in their footsteps to the NBA.
"We don't receive any money from Nike for the (16-year-old) Vince Carter Playaz to wear his brand of Nike shoes," Salmon said. "Vince sponsors our team and our team is obviously going to be wearing the shoes that he wears."
Thomas sponsors the Playaz's 17-year-old team and Houston Rockets forward Eddie Griffin subsidizes the 15-year-olds. Gary Payton's team, Seattle Elite, was a Nike-sponsored team before the Nike-endorsed Seattle Supersonics guard fronted the costs.
"If Nike, adidas and Reebok figured out that the best way to get a shoe deal with an AAU team was for the player they endorse to support a team, then why didn't adidas tell Kobe (Bryant) and Tracy (McGrady) to support one and Reebok tell Allen (Iverson) to support one?" Salmon said.
Carter, Griffin and Thomas each pay between $20,000 to $30,000 to field a Playaz Basketball Club team, including travel costs, Salmon said. While apparel deals between shoe companies and AAU teams often include the use of both shoes and logoed jerseys, Salmon said his arrangements with NBA players specifies only that their youth players wear specific brands of shoes, not uniforms.
Officials of both adidas and Nike say they have not schemed to outfit AAU teams in their branded shoes by conspiring with NBA players to support the teams.
"Why an athlete donates time, money or product, or chooses to associate their name with a particular organization is a very personal decision," adidas spokesperson Nicole Vollebregt said. "While we do recognize the benefits that adidas receives from someone like Tim Thomas supplying his team with adidas product, we do not influence he or any other athlete to take on these projects."
Said Nike basketball spokesman Eric Oberman: "While it's great that (Vince Carter is) helping grow the game with his team, it's something that he's doing on his own."
Darren Rovell, who covers sports business for ESPN.com, can be reached at Darren.firstname.lastname@example.org