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Tuesday, August 5
 
Will lack of brand loyalty hurt KG's street cred?

By Darren Rovell
ESPN.com

A year ago, Minnesota Timberwolves forward Kevin Garnett was panned for controversial comments he made during a commercial shoot for And 1.

Although his remarks, including sensitive material concerning his teammates and salary, were perceived as a genuine, unrehearsed back-and-forth exchange between Garnett and the commercial's director, Garnett later claimed it was all part of a script.

The 27-year-old has since severed his deal with the shoe company and has now teamed up with Adidas, his third shoe partner since he was selected fifth overall in the 1995 draft. Garnett wouldn't talk about why things unraveled with And 1, but he promises that his endorsement pitches will be 100 percent Garnett.

Kevin Garnett's adidas shoe
Adidas' new A3 Superstar Ultra, available in January, will be worn by Kevin Garnett and Tim Duncan.
"I am my own marketing plan," Garnett said. "People know what's real and what's not real. I'm not going to dress something up and make up a couple lines and put on a different character. The best thing is for me to be me and Adidas loves that."

Sources said Garnett's deal with Adidas is worth approximately $2 million per year, and if Garnett helps sell product, the deal could extend beyond his days on the court. Adidas signed Tracy McGrady to a similar "lifetime" deal in April 2000.

"We now feel like we've got the best three players in the game," said Kevin Wulff, a former Nike executive who is now Adidas' director of sports marketing. "We'll match them up against anyone."

Garnett will now be teamed up with back-to-back NBA MVP Tim Duncan, who signed with Adidas in February. The two will begin the season wearing Adidas' new A3 Superstar Ultra, which will hit stores in January 2004. Garnett, whom the Timberwolves will pay a league-high $28 million next season, is expected to get his own signature shoe, which could be on shelves by February, Wulff said.

Garnett is often associated with players like McGrady, Philadelphia 76ers guard Allen Iverson and Cleveland Cavaliers rookie LeBron James because of their "street credibility." Their perception as being authentic by young consumers in the urban markets, those who buy the bulk of athletic wear, is important in order to translate on-the-court success with off-the-court sales.

Like Garnett, McGrady and James jumped straight from high school to the NBA.

"The fact is people understand my story," said Garnett, noting his shoe company's target market is 15- to 32-year-olds. "I'm real. I'm not ego-driven like Hollywood. I come off as the same person I did before all of this. I don't come from a silver spoon upbringing, and I understand the struggle. I'm an example to those kids that have had that rocky kind of background and I have found my way through."

Although Garnett has been with Nike and And 1, he doesn't expect to have credibility problems.

"True fans who love the attitude and energy I bring to the floor will buy my shoes as long as the shoe looks good and it can work with what they are wearing," Garnett said.

Having been an endorser with two other brands -- Nike for five years and And 1 for the past two -- won't hinder Garnett's sales with Adidas, predicts Neil Schwartz, director of marketing and business development with SportScanINFO, a market research firm that monitors the sporting goods industry.

"The quality of the player and the quality of the shoes is more important than where the player plays or what brand he wears," Schwartz said.

Kevin Garnett
Kevin Garnett has jumped from Nike to And 1 and now Adidas in just seven seasons in the NBA.
Said Garnett: "Minnesota doesn't have the glitz and glamor of a New York, Los Angeles or Chicago, but the same people that criticize market size are the same people who say things about players and they've never picked up a basketball."

If Adidas wants to sell its Garnett-signature shoes, it must be willing to make a similar investment that the company has made with McGrady, Schwartz said.

In his five years with Nike, the company unveiled three shoes -- the Air Garnett, the Air Flightposite KG and the Air Garnett III -- with a total of 12 different looks. Adidas' T-Mac and T-Mac II shoe lines have combined to give consumers 25 different versions of the shoe, according to SportScanINFO.

This is one of the reasons why Garnett's Nike models sold a total of 530,000 pairs, while McGrady's two models have already sold more than 750,000 pairs.

"Not only did Tracy play well, but Adidas put the money behind him," Garnett said. "You saw him on commercials when you were watching TV. You saw him on billboards when you were driving in traffic. You saw him in magazines."

The introduction of James, who signed a seven-year, $90 million deal with Nike in May, into the shoe and apparel business may make it difficult for Garnett to break through with Adidas right away. Nike is expected to unveil a limited edition James shoe on Oct. 29, the day his NBA career officially begins. James' signature shoe and apparel will be unveiled in November or December. Nike rolled out its first product, "King James" shirts, a few weeks ago.

Although Kobe Bryant's sexual assault case could derail the arrival of his signature shoe, which is scheduled to hit shelves on Feb. 7, Nike officials have not publicly stated whether his legal status will force them to push back their plans.

It is not clear if Adidas will launch a Garnett apparel line. Garnett's personal apparel line, Official Block Family (OBF), soft-launched two years ago but was pulled back due to economic conditions and has not re-entered the marketplace.

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








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