As the most hyped NBA prospect ever to come out of high school, LeBron James had been hounded by shoe companies since he started playing AAU ball. Executives from Nike, adidas and Reebok could be found sitting courtside at his games, all doing their best to woo the young man they thought could transform their brand and solidify their spot as a behemoth in the NBA.
As we all know, LeBron eventually signed with Nike, beginning a fruitful relationship that has bore 14 signature shoes, 11 shoes in a secondary line, tons of apparel and multiple goosebump-inducing commercials. LeBron recently signed a lifetime deal worth a billion dollars, strengthening the relationship with the Swoosh for the foreseeable future.
It almost didn't go down that way. On the latest episode of Uninterrupted's "Kneading Dough," LeBron and his business partner Maverick Carter reminisced about their initial meeting with Reebok. The two childhood friends had flown in from the Springfield Projects in LeBron's home town of Akron, Ohio, to meet with then-Reebok CEO Paul Fireman, who cut LeBron a $10 million check on the spot. The only caveat? LeBron would not take subsequent meetings with Nike and adidas.
"I had no idea what he was doing at the other end of the table. I just saw [Fireman] writing," LeBron said. "He slid [the check] down there and said 'If you take this right now, just promise me you won't go talk to Nike or adidas.' I was lost for words at the beginning. Our rent [in Akron] was like $17 a month. And now I'm looking at a $10 million check (that I can leave with) and go to high school and go back to the classroom the next day. I was going to homeroom the next morning."
Despite a check insuring his status a millionaire at 18 sitting right in from of him, LeBron turned it down.
"I started thinking: if he's willing to give me a $10 million check right now, what is to say that Nike or adidas is not willing to give me $20 million or $30 million up front?" he said. "We always said we want to hear all three companies. But I still can't believe I left that $10 million."
LeBron and Reebok? What might have been.
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