Adidas made the ‘single dumbest mistake ever’ with LeBron James as Nike swooped to help him become billionaire

Adidas chiefs were left with their head in their collective hands in 1984 when they fumbled the signing of Michael Jordan.

And 19 years later, lightning struck twice for the Three Stripes when they once again lost out to Nike – this time over another generational talent in LeBron James.


James was being courted by the biggest sportswear brands during his high school days, with Adidas even sponsoring the teamCredit: Getty
It was Nike that secured his signing, despite Adidas being his first choice


It was Nike that secured his signing, despite Adidas being his first choiceCredit: Getty

Flash back to 2003, and James was the talk of the town with the 18-year-old going straight from St. Vincent’s – St. Mary’s High School to the NBA draft – skipping out college in the middle.

And it wasn’t only teams in the Eastern Conference and the Western Conference desperate to snap him up, but also the big three of Nike, Adidas and Reebok.

Just like with Jordan initially, James only had eyes for Adidas, with former executive Sonny Vaccaro selling the Ohio native and his mum, Gloria, on a huge deal spread over ten years.

Quoted by Andscape, he said: “[We were at] a tournament [during LeBron’s senior year,] and I made a statement – not an offer – a statement to the James team: ‘LeBron, Gloria, when your son signs, he’s going to get $100million [£80.2m].’ 

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“It was a statement of fact as to where their mind should be. It was an astonishing number. That was an NBA contract, not a shoe company number. 

“I go to Adidas [headquarters] to see the president. The only thing I gave a damn about was $100million [£80.2m]. They agreed. 

“Adidas rented an unbelievable [house] in Malibu, and we put the contract on the table. Gloria and I flipped it over, and I couldn’t believe what I looked at.

James went from high school straight to the NBA draft and joined the Cavs


James went from high school straight to the NBA draft and joined the CavsCredit: Getty
The American star signed an initial seven-year deal with Nike


The American star signed an initial seven-year deal with NikeCredit: Getty

“The numbers changed. My number changed. I told Mr. James, ‘This is what your value is,’ and now, I was giving him a number that wasn’t what my appreciation of his value is. It was over. There was no way in hell they were going to sign.”

As opposed to a guaranteed $10m-a-year [£8.2m], James was offered a guaranteed $7m-per year [£5.6m], with possible add-ons to take it to £8.2m, but he rejected it – two weeks before his high school graduation.

The offer led a furious Vaccaro to quit Adidas after feeling he had been lied to, where he eventually linked up with Reebok.

Recalling the incident, he remarked: “It was the dumbest single mistake anybody ever made in the history of negotiating.

“If he signs [with Adidas], the whole world changes.”

James’ first agent Aaron Goodwin made no secret that Adidas were his first choice, but was left bitterly disappointed by the contract handed to him.

He stated: “The truth of the entire matter is LeBron was an Adidas guy. They would’ve signed him if Adidas had come in with the offer they were supposed to. 

“I knew he wanted to be with Adidas. LeBron wanted Adidas until Adidas screwed up in Malibu. Then, he wanted Reebok because the number was so high.

James has won four NBA titles, and has won as many NBA Finals MVP awards


James has won four NBA titles, and has won as many NBA Finals MVP awardsCredit: Getty
He was also destined for greatness in the sport


He was also destined for greatness in the sportCredit: Getty

“But I thought Nike was the only company that could build the product for him.”

Adidas’ failure to close out a deal allowed Nike to swoop in, where they handed him an initial seven-year deal worth a guaranteed $87m [£70m].

His Nike contract to this day remains the most expensive rookie shoe deal in NBA history.

Unbeknown to James, Nike had already began developing his own shoe while he was in high school.

In what is arguably one of the best ever presentations to an athlete, they presented James with his own sneaker – in his own size.

Their high-risk, high-reward scenario of designing a shoe without landing the player ultimately paid off, with James then penning a lucrative NBA contract with the Cleveland Cavaliers.

Dressed in a black Nike tracksuit with a white pair of Air Force Ones, James simply stated in his post-lottery news conference: “I’m a Nike guy.”

Just as he was tipped to be, James transformed into one of the NBA’s greatest ever players – winning four NBA titles.

James is the all-time leading scorer in NBA history


James is the all-time leading scorer in NBA historyCredit: Getty

Still playing at the age of 38 for the Los Angeles Lakers, the two-time Olympic gold medallist became the first active basketball player to become a billionaire.

According to Forbes, James is on a $32m-a-year [£25.6m] contract with Nike – almost five times more than what Adidas wanted to pay him two decades ago.

It’s a deal that will forever haunt Adidas, with the brand constantly reminded of their failure with each passing season.

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The all-time leading scorer in NBA history, James has forever etched his name into sporting folklore.

And he’s not finished yet…

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