Why LeBron James Is So Important to Nike

LeBron James is undoubtedly the best player in the NBA today. But his on-court performance doesn’t just make him the most valuable asset to the Cleveland Cavaliers, it also makes him the face of Nike.

“LeBron should be the NBA MVP every year. His individual numbers and his team’s performance back that up,” Chase Ceparano, co-owner of Huntington, N.Y.-based boutique retailer Rise, told Footwear News. “The No. 1 sportswear brand in the world needs to have equity in the number-one athlete in the game.”

LeBron James Nike LeBron 14 February
LeBron James on the bench in the Nike LeBron 14 before a February game.
CREDIT: AP Images.

To date, Nike has delivered 14 signature shoes for James, as well as 10 silhouettes in the wildly popular Zoom LeBron Soldier franchise. The athletic giant has also used the basketball star in its marketing campaigns, most recently with its powerful “Equality” film, which debuted during last week’s Grammy Awards.

But his abilities on the court alone don’t make him Nike’s most valuable athlete asset.

“He has a tremendous personality, he’s thoughtful in his answers, he’s well-prepared for questions, and he works hard and plays well,” said Matt Powell, VP and sports industry analyst with The NPD Group. “It’s the combination of all those things that makes him an excellent spokesperson.”

Renarts co-owner Ankur Amin believes this combination makes him a star kids today can look up to.

“He doesn’t get involved in anything too crazy, too controversial. He’s an athlete kids can see as a role model,” he said. “If Nike had to make a decision on what athlete to go to town with, it’s easy to rely on someone you could count on to stay out of trouble.”

Aside from athleticism and his personality, industry experts believe fashion-forward youth is enamored with James’ style of dress preferences.

“He’s established himself as a cultural icon beyond just an athlete icon, [and] he can definitely move the needle as a fashion icon,” Powell said. “We’ve seen him influence a lot of things, like when he wore the heavy black-rim glasses, kids wanted to get those.”

LeBron James Sports Illustrated Sportsman of the Year December 2012
LeBron James at Sports Illustrated’s “Sportsman of the Year” awards gala in December 2012.
CREDIT: AP Images.

But performance basketball shoes, the home category of James’ signature kicks, aren’t selling like they once were. For his latest look, the LeBron 14, Nike dropped the retail price $25 to $175 from his previous shoe, the LeBron 13 ($200).

Even though the category isn’t selling as well as it has in the past, Ceparano believes James’ signature styles will eventually become popular again with consumers.

“[Fashion] is cyclical, of course, and the pendulum will undoubtedly swing back in his favor,” he said. “It’s just a matter of time.”

Nike LeBron 14
Nike LeBron 14 “Out of Nowhere.”

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