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With NBA Ja Morant’s Recent Gun Controversies, Insiders Reveal How Nike Should Handle the Situation

Ja Morant
Ja Morant.
Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

The NBA Playoffs are well underway, but Ja Morant and his social media gun controversies has remained the talk of the league.

On Saturday, the Memphis Grizzlies star — and Nike signature athlete — was seen on Instagram Live holding what appeared to be a gun. After the incident, the Grizzlies announced they suspended Morant from all team activities pending league review. This was the second gun-related incident involving Morant this year.

FN has reached out to Nike for comment.

Although the athletic brand has not yet responded to Morant’s second gun incident, industry insiders have formed opinions on what the athletic giant will do with its rising star athlete. The answer, however, isn’t that simple.

“I don’t know that there is a typical response anymore. Each case is evaluated on its own — and the brand’s reaction is evolving over time, new management and so forth,” Matt Powell, an advisor at Spurwink River consultancy, told FN. “In today’s world, brands have less patience than they used to, but I don’t think there’s a standard boilerplate, ‘This is what you do when something bad happens.'”

Specifically with Nike, Powell said the company has historically stood by its athletes until there was no choice but to walk away.

“They saw it as part of their role in the relationship with the athlete to stand by them, at least as long as they could. I’m not sure that they have the patience for that today,” Powell said. “Some of it is driven by the speed of social media, where the stories get in front of everybody so quickly. It’s much harder to be patient. We’ve seen Nike, and other brands, take action more quickly [when incidents happen].”

Powell cited the situation with disgraced cyclist Lance Armstrong as a relationship Nike ended over his doping scandal, and while the company maintained its relationship with basketball legend Kobe Bryant, who faced sexual assault allegations that were eventually dismissed.

Another relationship that Nike ended recently was with Kyrie Irving. The baller was dropped by Nike after he shared a link to the film “Hebrews to Negroes: Wake up Black America” on his social media.

“Kyrie was one of Nike’s best properties and they walked away from that business. They walked away from significant business with Kyrie,” Powell said.

Although there is set playbook for dealing with controversies, Powell believes there are some things brands cannot ignore. “If you harm a group of people — as we saw with the antisemitic comments from both Kyrie from Kanye [West] — those are completely indefensible,” he said. “Harming a great number of people certainly is something everyone is sensitive to in today’s world.”

As for Morant, Powell admitted he is unsure what actions Nike will take, but the fact that this is a second incident “makes it much more difficult for Nike to stand by.”

Jessica Ramírez, senior research analyst at Jane Hali & Associates, said she imagines there’s lots of talk ongoing inside the athletic giant’s Beaverton, Ore. headquarters.

“I imagine there must be some sort of debate going on,” Ramírez said. “The gun issue is obviously a very political topic in this country, especially because of the climate that we’re in seeing so many shootings in schools. Lots of children idolize basketball stars. This might sit in a gray area, and maybe that’s why we’re not seeing a quicker response.”

Powell also noted moving on from Morant could have massive financial considerations.

“There’s money invested in him on their part, and it’s not insignificant,” Powell said. “They’ve been paying him since he came into the league to be an endorser, and they paid a lot of money to develop his shoe. They obviously have his shoe sales now, so there’s a fairly heavy sunk cost in this relationship.”

Ramírez, however, is not so sure the impact would be all that substantial.

“I don’t think there’s much to lose at this point because he is a very young sign-on — there’s only one sneaker,” Ramírez said.

After Saturday’s incident, Morant released a statement via ESPN senior NBA insider Adrian Wojnarowski on Twitter. “I know I’ve disappointed a lot of people who have supported me,” the statement read. “This is a journey and I recognize there is more work to do. My words may not mean much right now, but I take full accountability for my actions. I’m committed to continuing to work on myself.”

Two months earlier, Morant was involved in a similar gun incident on social media. On March 5, Morant went on Instagram Live from a club and was holding a gun. The Memphis Grizzlies announced shortly after the Instagram Live that the baller would “be away from the team for at least the next two games.” Morant also released a statement at that time that suggested he was seeking help and working on “better methods of dealing with stress.”

At the time, Nike responded to the incident, stating, “We appreciate Ja’s accountability and that he is taking the time to get the help he needs. We support his prioritization of his well-being.”

In December 2022, Nike revealed Morant’s first signature sneaker, the Ja 1. In a statement at the time, Nike said Morant, who is Nike Basketball’s first Gen Z signature athlete, “represents the next generation of basketball players who are shaping the future of the game” and that he “sets an example for Gen Z athletes everywhere as a leader who creates the future of the sport through his creativity, authenticity and style.”

Ja Morant Nike Ja 1
Ja Morant in his Nike Ja 1 signature shoe.Ronald Martinez/Getty Images
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Insiders Reveal How Nike Should Handle Ja Morant Gun Controversies
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