They sold the righteous for silver, and the poor for a pair of shoes.—AMOS 2:6
This is an article from the Jan. 23, 1984 issue
There are very few righteous and very few poor around the NBA these days, but there are lots of shoes. Nike shoes. Converse shoes. Adidas, Pony, Puma, Spotbilt, Pro-Keds, Brooks, Kangaroos and New Balance shoes. There were even shoes made by Jordache. There are shoes with chevrons, swooshes, stars, cats and pouches on them. There are shoes with goatskin toes and special insoles and Velcro closures. There are high-cut, low-cut and mid-cut styles. Like underwear, shoes come in leather and mesh. Like tents, shoes come in canvas. Like Randy White, they just keep on coming and coming.
They come at you in magazines, newspapers, catalogs and splashy displays in stores, on billboards and television commercials. They're everywhere!
A word about nomenclature. In the athletic apparel industry, footwear is always referred to as shoes—basketball shoes, football shoes, whatever shoes. In the Western U.S., basketball shoes or any other kind of soft-soled athletic shoes are often called tennis shoes. Among the younger set, they are often called sneakers or sneaks. In Yugoslavia, whose Olympic team is negotiating with Converse, they are called kosharka datike. For the purposes of this article, they will be known strictly as sneakers.
A spot quiz to test your basketball sneaker IQ:
1. Who was Chuck Taylor?
2. What basketball sneaker is the biggest seller at Joe's Army and Navy on West 125th Street in Harlem?
3. (a) What sneaker company has the most NBA players under contract? (b) What is the easiest job in the world, besides being a major league first-base coach? (c) What do the last four "digits" of Arkansas basketball coach Eddie Sutton's home phone number spell?
4. (a) How much does Laker center Kareem Abdul-Jabbar get for wearing Adidas? (b) How much does Utah Jazz reserve Bob Hansen get for wearing Nikes? (c) How much does President Reagan get for being President? (d) Who's having the better year, Abdul-Jabbar, Hansen or Reagan?
5. (a) Which college basketball coaches are paid the most for endorsing a brand of sneaker? (b) Why is Kansas' new coach, Larry Brown, willing to risk having his team wear an untested sneaker?
Bonus Question One: What did Larry Bird tell Julius Erving to do with his sneakers on the 20th of the 36 takes it took to make their famous "take two and call me in the morning" Converse commercial?
6. (a) What do you get when you wear a Pony sneaker on one foot and a Bata on the other? (b) What former Portland Trail Blazer once wore four different sneaker brands in the same year?
7. (a) What citizen of the planet Lovetron was once sued by Nike? (b) What brand of sneaker is most popular on Lovetron?
8. (a) Who were the only two players in the NBA with Jordache endorsement contracts? (b) Can you get Jordaches in blue denim?
Bonus Question Two: What's Bob Lanier's real sneaker size?
Basketball sneakers, of course, are only part of the $2 billion athletic footwear industry in which there has been continuous warfare between companies trying to attract big-name wearers ever since Adidas and Puma began slipping $100 bills into the shoes of track and field athletes at the 1964 Summer Olympics in Tokyo (SI, March 10, 1969). The battles are quieter now—sophisticated times call for sophisticated measures—but sneaker execs still see themselves as foot soldiers in a never-ending battle for the soles of the world.
"There's no limit to what the companies will do for exposure," says Bob Carr, editor and co-publisher of Sporting Goods Business magazine. Say it ain't so, Bob.
"The men separate from the boys in the sneaker business," says Carl Ruhl. And Ruhl should know. He has since gotten separated from Pony, going from vice-president of marketing to part-time consultant.
"How would I classify the competition between the shoe companies?" asks Phil Knight, chairman of the Nike board. "Intense."
"It's a war," says former champion pole vaulter Bob Seagren, who is now a vice-president at Puma. Battle stations, everyone.
Sneaker skirmishes break out all the time in basketball. The warriors are forever shooting it out as they try to sign the best mercenaries, uh, players, to endorsement contracts. In turn, the players, through their agents, are constantly battling to get more money from the sneaker biggies. And the sneaker retailers are continuously firing away at the manufacturers for giving away so many pairs of shoes for free. During last year's negotiations between the NBA and its players' union, the owners even tried to get control of the sneaker endorsement money. The Democrats would've had an easier time getting a campaign contribution from Ronald Reagan. The owners' proposal failed, of course. "Save our sneaker contracts" became something of a rallying cry for the players. Put another way, that means: "Give me Ponys, or give me death."
Basketball isn't the only big-money battlefield in the sneaker war, of course. No one except their shoe companies, agents, lawyers and loved ones knows exactly what kind of deals track luminaries like Mary Decker and Alberto Salazar have signed, but it's estimated that each gets $125,000 or more a year from Nike, excluding bonuses for records and such goodies as appearing on the cover of this magazine, appropriately emblazoned with the Nike logo.
Tennis' John McEnroe, who has a reported $600,000 deal (including bonuses) with Nike, may have the single sweetest sneaker deal of any pro athlete, or at least he did until Ralph Sampson happened along. More on him later.
But for several reasons, basketball is singularly important in the footwear war. First, the proximity of basketball players to the seats makes it easier for the fans to sort out what player is wearing what brand of sneaker. And the importance of logo recognition to a footwear executive can't be overstated. If Playboy suddenly started putting sneakers on its Playmates, the execs would look at the feet first. Honest they would, and, hey, they love the fiction, too. Anytime a potential consumer recognizes a logo, that's free publicity and a potential sale. Early-morning Nirvana for your average laid-back Nike bigwig is the sight of a Nike swoosh in an action photo in the morning newspaper or a national magazine. No less appreciative are Nike's rivals when they see the Converse star or the Pony chevron or the Puma cat prominently displayed on TV or in print.
And with good reason. A recent Sporting Goods Business survey found that the No. 1 (54.2%) reason young people bought a sneaker was the logo. Reason No. 2 (42.5%) was color; followed by peer pressure (40%). And you thought today's youth pored over Consumer Reports? "Athletic shoes are a big part of life for many Americans," says Ruhl. "Jeans, T shirts and shoes are status symbols." That's why the companies make their logos big and clear.
Logo recognition is easy for the track and field spectator, too. But except in an Olympic year, basketball gets about a zillion times more print publicity and television exposure than track. Aside from the cognoscenti, nobody much cares who—with the exception of a Carl Lewis or an Edwin Moses—is shod in what in the track world, or, for that matter, if anyone's shod at all in the field world. But the sneaker choice of even the most lowly reserve on the most lowly NBA team—let's see, John Garris of the Cleveland Cavaliers wears Converses—is known to thousands of fans in his home city.
Also, a sort of symbiotic relationship exists between a basketball player and his sneakers that isn't present in other sports; it's akin to the feeling a violinist has for his favorite Stradivarius. Sneaker choice—brand, cut, material and color—may be the first thing a prospective player thinks about. One basketball can serve 10 kids, but 10 kids need 10 pairs of sneakers—except in pickup games involving the school band, in which everyone plays in wing tips and black socks.
"Basketball has the biggest sales potential," says Martin Walter, vice-president of the Boston-based New Balance Athletic Shoe, Inc. "Young basketball players are the most impressionable." And Walter has tried hard to impress. After years of firing shots only in the running-shoe sector of the war, New Balance attacked basketball with a vengeance last season by signing Laker rookie James Worthy to a seven-year, $1.2 million deal.
Aside from capturing the hearts and minds of young players, basketball shoes, according to a survey in the March 1982 issue of Sporting Goods Business, were the most common leisure footwear (50.3%), with running shoes (41%) next. Eliminate California, where everyone wears running shoes to funerals and weddings, and the percentage for basketball sneakers would probably be greater.
Answer to Question 1: The first sneaker salesman.
In 1920, Chuck Taylor first took to the road from the Converse Rubber Co. plant in Maiden, Mass. Taylor was then just two years out of Columbus (Ind.) High, where he'd been an outstanding basketball player. He didn't attend college but played professionally for the Buffalo Germans. In the off-season he crisscrossed the country for Converse, usually in a big Cadillac, stopping at every dimly lit gym where the bounce of a basketball could be heard above the popping of an old-fashioned radiator.
Taylor carried cartons of Converse sneakers in his car. Sometimes he gave a strategy clinic for the coaches and showed some of his trick shots to the kids. "He was a bit of a white Globetrotter," says Joe Dean, Taylor's successor at Converse. Sometimes he just sat around and yakked, a stream of smoke rising from the pipe he kept clamped in his mouth. Finally, he'd get around to saying a little bit about the sneakers he'd helped design. A more subtle shill never knocked on a door, and almost everybody liked Chuck as much as they liked his company's sneakers, which had a virtual monopoly on the nascent basketball market.
In 1923, Taylor's signature became a permanent part of the round ankle patch that still appears on the canvas Chuck Taylor model, and it remains Converse's leading seller, though not its most prestigious model. "Gimme a pair of Chuck Taylors." That's what kids used to say when they came into a shoe store. Or "Gimme a pair of Chucks." He died in 1969. Never has a man done more for a patch and vice versa.
Answer to Question 2: The Adidas Superstar.
With the notoriety and profits it had generated from signing track stars at the 1964 and '68 Olympics, Adidas began horning in on Converse's basketball territory. And Converse, the fat cat, was slow to react. Former UCLA coach John Wooden remembers telling his old friend Chuck Taylor in the late '60s that his product had slipped behind in the quality race. "They hadn't improved the insole; the cushion in the heel hadn't been improved; and the area around the little toe was a problem," says Wooden. "Even though my players wore them, I had to use a razor blade myself on every new pair to cut the seam that would be right over the little toe. If I didn't do that, the players would all have blisters." One can see the headline if Wooden hadn't been a cut-up: BLISTERS SLOW ALCINDOR AS SANTA CLARA SCORES MAJOR UPSET; WOODEN BLASTS CONVERSE.
Converse had a canvas sneaker. Chuck Taylor's selling power and tradition on its side. Adidas weighed in with a leather sneaker with a shell sole, a rubber toe cap and a sole stiffener for added lateral support, and an aggressive selling campaign that made bold use of free tote bags and apparel. No contest. Adidas first appeared in the ABA in 1968. In the 1967-68 season, the San Diego Rockets, with forward John Block leading the way, became the first NBA team to break the Converse tradition and wear Adidases. In 1970, both NCAA finalists, UCLA and Jacksonville, wore Adidases; in the previous five finals both the Bruins and their opponent had worn Converses. WOODEN SWITCHES SHOES; ALCINDOR BESTS GILMORE.
Like a corporate Moses Malone on an offensive rebounding rampage, Adidas dominated the NBA from 1972 through 1976. The company estimates that during that period about 80% of NBA players wore Adidases, and that was because it was a revolutionary sneaker and it was being given to the players, which Converses never had been.
This season? Adidas has only about 6.5% of NBA players under contract and about 5% of the Division I college coaches. What happened?
Answers to Question 3: (a) Nike, with 135 of 273 players; (b) Being an "adviser" to a sneaker company; (c) N-I-K-E.
Everything about Nike is a bit different. Its name, which rhymes with psyche, is that of the Greek goddess of victory. Its corporate headquarters are in Beaverton, Ore., 10 miles west of Portland; the other major sneakers are made in or distributed from bases on the East Coast. And Nike execs have a casual and consciously non-corporate style. At staff meetings there's generally a lot of talk about aerobics and bean sprouts. The tone is set by Knight, who talks softly and measures his words.
But Nike makes money the old-fashioned, American corporate way—in large amounts. The explosive growth of the company, which increased its sales from $14.1 million in 1976 to $867 million in 1983, stamps it as one of the true phenomenons in recent American business history. Even more astounding is the way Nike has grown—mainly through promotion, not advertising. Its promotional budget for 1983 was a whopping $26 million. "They spend more money on promotion than any 10 sneaker companies put together," says Carr of Sporting Goods Business.
What did this mean to NBA players? "Gravy," says Utah Jazz forward Adrian Dantley. "Lots of gravy." Nike made Adidas, with its modest giveaway approach, look like Scrooge. About five or six years ago, if an NBA player didn't duck, he'd be hit by something with a swoosh on it—Nike sneakers, a Nike bag or an item from Nike's apparel line. "I've worn Converse, Pony, Adidas, Brooks and Nike," says Junior Bridgeman of the Milwaukee Bucks, "and Nike is the leader in fringe benefits. They sent me jogging shoes, tennis shoes, warmups, T shirts, shorts, everything. They even sent the kids who attended my basketball camp things like bags and key chains." Bridgeman, who leaves no sneaker unturned, also wore Spot-bilts briefly this season before returning to Nikes. Hey, a man can't stand still.
In 1976, Nike further escalated the competition among sneaker companies by giving all sorts of players money to wear its sneakers. Ten years ago only superstars had sneaker contracts; now everyone gets something from somebody. "We had to buy our way in, no doubt about it," says Tom Carmody, who as Nike's director of marketing from 1978 to 1983—he has since left the company—was responsible for formulating much of the company's promotional strategy. "We probably started the rampant money battle between the companies." No probably about it.
Nike had more than a pocketbook, though—it had a plan. In the NBA, it went after the players, directly and through the trainers and equipment managers, to whom it gave warmup suits, trips, Christmas gifts, etc., in exchange for access to the players' schedules. "Believe me," says Los Angeles Lakers coach Pat Riley, "if a shoe company isn't willing to work a deal with the trainer these days, it won't get in." And although Wooden maintains that he never consulted a trainer about sneakers and doubts if any other coach of his generation did, either, by 1982 Nike began to use trainers as a pipeline to the coaches, who would suggest to their players which sneaker to wear. The trainers of the top 15 or so collegiate basketball and football teams now receive up to $5,000 a year from Nike.
Piston equipment manager Jerry Dziedzic recently said, "I treat every company equal." As he spoke, he was wearing a Nike warmup suit and carrying a Nike briefcase.
Perhaps you've seen college basketball coaches similarly attired. Gone are the days when a coach could be spotted around campus in rumpled sweats and a pair of old sneakers in the colors of State U. Now he's more likely to resemble a human sandwich board for a sneaker company. NBA coaches are in on the act, too. For example, when Billy Cunningham paced the sidelines on national television last May, coaching the Philadelphia 76ers in the fourth game of their sweep of the Los Angeles Lakers in the NBA finals, it wasn't coincidental that his blue blazer had a Nike swoosh on the breast pocket. You don't think Cunningham and his colleagues do this walking billboard act for nothing, do you? No, they're getting paid very well for it. The pro coaches just take the loot as endorsement income, but the college guys have to do things more subtly. Here's how it works:
A company will sign a college coach to a contract for an amount ranging from $1,500 to $100,000, primarily so the coach will outfit his team in that company's brand of sneakers. That, however, isn't spelled out in the contract for reasons of seeming impropriety, but it's an implied part of the deal. Only in rare cases, when a star player has somehow come to his own "understanding" with another company, are all the members of a team not shod as the coach is shod. The autonomy of the college coach over such matters as selecting sneakers is generally absolute, which is why a school's football team may wear Nikes and its basketball team Pro-Keds. A rare case in which a coach was overruled occurred at UCLA, where influential alumnus Sam Gilbert used to have a lot to say about sneaker choice. In 1981, Pony offered new coach Larry Farmer more than $40,000 to keep the Bruins in Ponys. But Gilbert wanted to return to Wooden ways, which meant wearing Adidases. Gilbert won. FARMER TAPS FOSTER AT GUARD; GILBERT BARS PONYS.
In addition, the coach gets a hefty supply of footwear for himself, his immediate family, his brother-in-law and any college officials he might be trying to butter up, and he'll probably be invited on all-expenses-paid vacations with other coaches and company execs. And they don't go to Pullman, Wash., but to Spain and Monaco.
Once again, it was Nike that started the practice of paying college coaches sneaker money and creating a new type of BMOC—Big Mammon On Campus. Of course, the sneaker companies call their BMOCs advisers and sometimes make halfhearted claims that they earn their money by providing feedback and input. No doubt some coaches have made suggestions about improving sneakers—remember Wooden slicing away with his razor blade—but in general the coaches do nothing for the money except to attend a few clinics and outfit their teams in the chosen brand. "The practice bothers me," says John O'Neil, president of Converse. "The rationale is that it's no different for a college coach to work for a shoe company than it is for a professor of chemistry to consult for a chemical company. The difference is, of course, that for the most part the coaches aren't required to do anything, as the real consultants are." The companies are simply playing the old logo recognition game: North Carolina basketball coach Dean Smith signs with Converse, so Michael Jordan wears Converse, so half the folks in Chapel Hill, N.C. will buy Converse.
But you haven't heard the best part. The BMOCs can take the money, spend it in Spain, wear the free shoes and sports coats and sweatsuits, and still feel good about it. That's because the companies supply free shoes to the teams whose coaches are under contract. The coaches are actually saving money for their athletic departments. At Georgia, for example, shoe giveaways—which include freebies to the trainers, cheerleaders and dance girls as well as to the athletes and coaches—save between $40,000 and $50,000 annually.
"That might pay for a non-revenue sport like golf," says basketball coach Hugh Durham. "I have no reservations about my [Nike] contract because the school is benefiting. If only the coaches were benefiting, I'd have reservations." Righteousness, thy name is coach.
With such sweetheart deals, no wonder coaches feel so close to the sneaker companies. For example, it was Georgetown's John Thompson, not the company, who suggested that his star center, Patrick Ewing, wear a T shirt with a Nike logo on it in last season's nationally televised game against Virginia, a bit of commercialism that was subsequently banned by the NCAA.
Answers to Question 4: (a) About $125,000 a year; (b) About $5,000; (c) $200,000 plus meal money on the road; (d) Probably Abdul-Jabbar, who through Sunday was averaging 18.5 points and 7.8 rebounds per game. Reagan, who is playing his usual strong defense, is probably having a better year than Hansen, who is managing only 7.2 minutes of playing time per game.
A few years ago, back in the glory days of the sneaker war, the Abdul-Jabbars of the world were making their $100,000, but people like Hansen were commonly making $15,000 and more, too. Nike was trying to sign up everybody with two arms and a move to the basket, and the other established companies were scrambling to get their share of names on the dotted line. Plus, new companies like Pony were entering the war with open checkbooks. Yes, it was a great time to be in the NBA, even if you were the 10th man in Cleveland.
But the free spending of the sneaker companies has been curtailed. Sure, they still go mad now and again, but not over players like Hansen, who last spring was drafted in the third round out of Iowa. The companies started figuring that logo recognition was being diminished by the sheer number of firms that were in on the action. "There're too many insignias now," says Bart Stolp, Adidas' director of advertising and public relations. "It's one thing when 90 percent of the players are wearing the same thing. Then you can make an impression. But not now." This is no doubt partly a rationalization for Adidas' falling so far behind Nike and Converse, but it's partly good business sense, too. "I think it's amazing they even paid me to wear shoes," says Scott Lloyd, a center who played with five teams and is no longer in the NBA. "I can understand Converse wanting Dr. J to wear its shoes, but me?" No more, Scott. It's going to be increasingly difficult for the lower draft choices to make much more than pocket money on a sneaker contract.
Instead the companies have decided to sink big bucks into a few people—superstars like Abdul-Jabbar; stars with engaging personalities, like Detroit guard Isiah Thomas; players with maximum cable television exposure, like Atlanta Hawk starters, and players in the major markets. "In New York, Chicago or L.A.," says Converse's Dean, "a player gets more than in Utah, San Antonio or Indiana." That's why Kurt Rambis of the Lakers, to whom Los Angeles until recently paid the NBA minimum salary of $40,000 a year, gets $35,000 from Converse.
Worthy's deal with New Balance was the major sneaker news of 1982. Since it was new to the basketball wars, New Balance felt it had to make a big strike, so it tapped Worthy, who became the first pick in the 1982 draft when he left North Carolina after helping the Tar Heels win the national title in his junior season. Worthy has intelligence and personality, and he plays in a major market. He was a good choice for New Balance, but no one knows if he'll sell $170,000 worth of shoes a year.
The 1983 Crazy Contract Award went to Puma, which gave Sampson and his size 17s the biggest sneaker contract ever signed by an American athlete: an estimated $500,000 a year in guaranteed payments for five years and perhaps another $500,000 annually as his cut of the sales of a Ralph Sampson line of sneakers. Actually, Pro-Keds, which Sampson had been wearing since the eighth grade, had offered more money. However, the board of directors of Pro-Keds' parent company, Stride Rite Inc., got nervous about the deal and called it off.
The evolution of Sampson's sneaker deal took more twists and turns than one of his moves to the hoop, but suffice it to say that both sides played some sneaky games. While, as a Virginia senior, he was being courted by several companies, Sampson wore Pumas occasionally in practice, Nikes in a game in Japan and Pro-Keds the rest of the time. The sneaker companies, meanwhile, sent Sampson all sorts of specially made clothing. When the bidding got serious, Pro-Keds offered stock options, while Puma flew Sampson to West Germany to custom-fit his narrow 17A foot. "It was a high-stakes poker game" is the way Sampson's agent, Tom Collins, describes it.
The question is: Can Sampson possibly earn his $1 million a year? Puma obviously thinks so. Pro-Keds must have thought so, too. "Personally, I don't think the guy can sell any shoes," says Converse's Dean.
Worthy's and Sampson's contracts threw the top of the scale out of whack. If Worthy was worth $170,000 as a rookie, proven superstars like Erving, Magic Johnson (Converse), Abdul-Jabbar (Adidas) and Malone (Nike) must be worth millions, right? Wrong. Each reportedly makes no more than $125,000 a year. Other top players, like Bird, Dantley, Marques Johnson and Bill Walton make around $100,000. Walton might not be worth that money now, but he probably was when he signed a multiyear deal in 1974. However, older stars will no doubt point to Sampson's and Worthy's deals when they renegotiate their own sneaker contracts. Reportedly, Converse hopes to sign Bird to a long-term deal worth about $125,000 per year. Erving has already signed an unprecedented "lifetime" contract, which pays him about $125,000 a year while he's active and around $30,000 per annum for eight years after he retires.
The next stratum includes the likes of Detroit's Thomas and Dallas' Mark Aguirre (Converse) and San Antonio's George Gervin and Artis Gilmore and Cleveland's World B. Free (Nike). They get about $75,000 a year, with bonus clauses putting $100,000 in reach. At $60,000 per annum are top players in good media cities, like Jamaal Wilkes of Los Angeles. The scale goes down significantly from there.
Of course, along with the loot, the outstanding pros get a nearly infinite supply of sneakers. Dantley wears a pair of sneaks once, maybe twice, and then discards the shoes, so Adidas gives him at least 50 pairs per season.
And the players also get a lot of perks. For instance, Erving and his wife, Turquoise, let Converse know that they wanted a trip to Hawaii, so Converse organized a clinic there with Doc as the main speaker. The 28 members of Nike's Pro Club—players whose sneaker contracts pay them a minimum of $30,000 a year—traveled free to Hawaii in 1981 and Spain in 1982; a member chosen as the Pro Club MVP also gets free use of a Rolls-Royce, which when Gus Williams was chosen MVP four years ago would have cost $1,000 a month. And Pro Club members also stand to make extra "pool money" from sales of a specific brand. "Most players in the league don't talk about their contract money that much. But sometimes Junior [Bridgeman] and Sidney [Moncrief] talk about the pool," Marques Johnson says of his Milwaukee teammates.
Small wonder that the splendor of the contract is imprimis when most players decide which sneaker they're going with. (Sure, there is loyalty, such as the kind Dr. J shows when he politely refuses requests to autograph sneakers other than Converses, but that's to be expected and to be demanded by the company, considering the kind of money they're putting out.)
"Let's face it, there are all kinds of shoes players can wear and be comfortable in," says Chicago Bulls center Dave Corzine, who switched from Converse to Nike in 1982. "I'm no different from any other player. What it all boils down to is that Nike offered me more money, so I took it. That's how 90 percent of the players in the league do business."
Even Dean, who likes to talk about the "family ties" between company and player, says that "some athletes would play barefooted if the price was right."
Answers to Question 5: (a) North Carolina's Dean Smith and Kentucky's Joe B. Hall, who get about $100,000 from Converse; Indiana's Bobby Knight and UCLA's Larry Farmer, about $100,000 from Adidas; (b) Because he's getting between $50,000 and $60,000 a year from the manufacturer, Brooks.
As with players, the college coaches who command the best sneaker deals are either the most successful, the most visible or the most influential. Farmer is a coach at a big-name university that's not only in a major market, Los Angeles, but also has its own extensive television network. Though he and his six-figure friends get more money than the other coaches, they also do more—television spots, clinics and the like—to earn their money.
Brown's contract, like Worthy's, was a case of opportune timing: Brooks was new to basketball and needed to make a splash, so it picked one high-profile guy to do the splashing. Most other well-known coaches make between $10,000 and $50,000 a year, with coaches directing less notable Division I programs getting as little as $1,500. "You used to be able to get a Division I coach for drinks and dinner," says George Balanis, East Coast promotion manager for Pro-Keds. "Now the only thing that matters is if you walk in with a checkbook. Even the Division I women's coaches are looking for money now."
College coaches are generally skittish about discussing their sneaker contracts. Though being an "adviser" is technically legit and the sneaker contract saves money for the school, there's still a certain aura of impropriety about the whole shebang. That's probably why Texas basketball coach Bob Weltlich denied he had a contract with Converse when asked about it by Kirk Bohls of the Austin American-Statesman. Later, the truth came out: No, Weltlich doesn't have a signed contract, but he does get about $30,000 per year from the company for doing a few clinics and providing that ever-valuable "feedback." Thirty grand is definitely not chicken feedback.
Some coaches, North Carolina's Smith, Indiana's Knight and Virginia's Terry Holland, among them, give some of their sneaker haul back to their school in the form of donations to a scholarship fund or the like. And some observers believe all coaches soon will be giving up more than that. The observers see athletic directors putting their schools' teams up for bids: i.e., a shoe company will have to pay a set fee to outfit all of a school's athletic teams. The money will go to the athletic fund, and it will be up to the athletic director to decide if he wants the coach to have any of it.
The NCAA has no rule against a coach receiving endorsement money, nor does it prohibit athletes from using their coach's brand of sneaker. At least not yet. But it did prevent Ewing from continuing to wear his Nike T shirt.
Answer to Bonus Question One: "Take two and shove them...."
Answers to Question 6: (a) A sprained ankle; (b) Sidney Wicks.
Julius Erving is not the NBA's only distinguished doctor. It used to be common for a player to wear the sneakers of his choice and simply stencil onto them the logo of the company to which he was under contract. That isn't occurring as often these days, but only because the companies are wise to it. They try to limit the skullduggery by planting spotters in each NBA city—a kind of mobile foot watch—and by poring over photos of feet in magazines and newspapers.
Basketball is nothing compared to the other sports when it comes to doctoring, though; the proximity of the players to the spectators makes redecorating one's sneakers more difficult in hoops. In baseball, Mike Schmidt, Bob Boone and Del Unser of the 1980 Phillies were all exposed as part-time doctors for one reason or another. But it was in pro football that shoe doctoring first became a public issue. A photo from the 1980 Super Bowl that appeared in SI showed Los Angeles Ram guard Dennis Harrah wearing a shoe with a Nike swoosh and a Converse tongue label. Harrah's mistake was failing to check under the tongue, which is what all experienced doctors are taught to do.
Another SI photo from that same Super Bowl brought to light a second aspect of the sneaky sneaker game—the double contract. Having signed with two companies, Ram running back Wendell Tyler was discovered to be wearing an Adidas shoe on one foot and a Pony on the other. Former Seattle SuperSonics guard Slick Watts once found this ploy wanting. "My balance was off," Watts said. "The Bata played a little higher, and the Pony a little lower, and I sprained my ankle." Other basketball players noted for double-dealing were Maurice Lucas and Eric Money. However, Wicks merits special mention for his four-bagger: In 1975-76, he wore Nikes, Converses, Pumas and Adidases, which is the brand he ultimately chose.
The skullduggery often begins in college, where a star sometimes will wear a different brand of footwear from his teammates. For example, Dominique Wilkins wore Converses when his coach, Durham, had chosen Nike for the rest of the Georgia team. Herschel Walker and Dan Marino preferred Adidases to the brands worn by their football teammates at Georgia and Pitt, respectively.
"Sure, I would've loved to have signed Walker when he was at Georgia." says Pony's Ruhl. "I sent my promotional guy down there, but he couldn't get near him." An exec at a different company says he was told by Walker's representative that it would cost $5,000 to sign Walker. That's against NCAA rules. Of course, it's also against NCAA rules for an athlete to have a representative.
Answers to Question 7: (a) The New Jersey Nets' Darryl Dawkins; (b) Suede, mink-lined Wonderwogga Flyboy Jamlam Specials, available with or without Chocolate Thunder ankle patch.
Despite all the backroom maneuvering that goes on in the sneaker game and despite the way the players sell their soles to the highest bidder, litigation has been rare.
"My philosophy is that you can't win." says Converse president O'Neil.
"We don't sue each other." says Chester Wheeler, Pony's promotions director. "We don't need the bad publicity."
The real reason, of course, is that none of the companies wants the skeletons in its closet to be exhumed.
But Nike broke a precedent when Dawkins broke his contract. Early in 1982, Dawkins told Nike he wanted out so he could sign with Pro-Keds, because a friend, former CBS basketball analyst Sonny Hill, worked for that company. Nike said O.K. But Dawkins wasn't satisfied with Keds, so he asked to come back to Nike—and, by the way, he'd like a $20,000 advance on a new $50,000 contract. Nike reluctantly gave it to him. Just a few weeks later, the fictional planet Lovetron's favorite son—and creator—walked onto the court wearing—tadah!—a pair of Ponys. To make it worse, it happened during the playoffs when the shoe companies feel a player just might be earning his money because of increased TV-viewer attention. To make it doubly worse, it left Nike with 20,000 Chocolate Thunder posters. What would you do with 20,000 useless Chocolate Thunder posters?
Answers to Question 8: (a) John Bagley of Cleveland and Cliff Levingston of Detroit in 1982-83. After a one-year fling at the NBA, Jordache has dropped out of the serious sneaker biz; (b) Not at this point, but don't rule it out.
"They're Kangaroos, see?" Portland Trail Blazer rookie Clyde (The Glide) Drexler said while modeling his sneakers. Not many people are wearing Roos these days, but the Kangaroos people, new to the NBA business, hope Drexler, a terrific leaper, will change that. They're paying him about $100,000 annually for three years, in hope that the public will think that Drexler jumps so high because of his sneakers. Caveat emptor.
In 1983, Hyde Athletic Industries, Inc., which makes Spot-bilt sneakers, came up with a model called The Starting Five and signed Rick Robey, then of Boston; Lonnie Shelton, then of Seattle: Clint Richardson of Philadelphia: Mike Dunleavy, then of San Antonio: and it was negotiating with Bridgeman to endorse it, which was odd, because none of the five was a starter at that time. Now Spot-bilt has lined up the NBA Trainers Association to design two models of sneakers.
Does anyone care what sneaker the NBA Trainers Association endorses? Will Drexler and Worthy carry Kangaroos and New Balance, respectively, to new heights? Will Sampson make Puma or break Puma? Will Adidas make a comeback? Will Converse ever catch Nike? Will Calvin Klein enter the sneaker stakes? "Hi, I'm Brooke Shields. The other day I was out trying finger rolls and...."
Answer to Bonus Question Two: All these years people have been writing that Lanier lakes a size 24EEEEEEEE. The Converse people have his model in their plant in Wilmington, Mass., and it's only an 18½ D. Just thought you should know.