As a college freshman on a high-profile NCAA basketball team, many athletes simply worry about playing time. Andrew Wiggins, however, is apparently concerned about a 10-year, $180 million shoe contract with Adidas.
Original offers from Adidas and Nike both started around $140 million. That number jumped another $40 million basically overnight, according to a report by CBS Sports. That is a significant amount of money and an unusually long contract, even for the supposed best prospect since LeBron James.
Note, the offer is dependent on Wiggins entering the NBA after one season at Kansas.
According to multiple media sources, the bidding likely won't end this soon, though. While Wiggins sits back and watches his stock rise, Nike, Adidas and also Under Armor will continue to push the figure to even higher ranks of ridiculous.
Heck, that makes Michael Jordan's original 1984 Nike contract for $2.5 million look like pocket change. Yes, that was nearly 30 years ago, but still it shows apparel contracts have inflated tremendously over the years.
Despite all the hoopla, some real issues need to be considered. What do contracts like this do to the nature of high school and college athletics? Even more important, how does mounting pressure that comes with a high-caliber contract affect a kid, not only as an athlete but an adolescent? Is it too much, too soon?
To date, the highest shoe contract dished to an 18-year-old was James' seven-year, $93 million dollar deal with Nike. That was 10 years ago, and since it was before the NBA raised the age limit, James went from high school straight to NBA stardom. Although college athletics was not in question with James' contract deal, many wondered whether Nike's gamble would pay off, which it did nine years later, according to NBA analyst Jared Zwerling. But hardly anyone questioned the moral ethics of putting an incomprehensible amount of pressure on an adolescent athlete.
CNBC, among others, predicted that an NBA rookie would never see shoe contract numbers like that again. They were wrong.
Contract deals involving teenagers and up-and-coming pro athletes happen all the time; it's just not often that much money is involved.
Among other top prep athlete prospects is Jabari Parker. The Mormon boy who showed interest in BYU for a time but eventually committed to Duke is expected to enter the 2014 NBA draft alongside Wiggins. Parker could likely end up with a contract offer from Nike in 2014 as well.
Parker's interest from Nike stems from his sophomore season at Simeon High School. Simeon coach Robert Smith signed a four-year deal with Nike, which among other agreements states Nike supplies shoes and apparel that Simeon basketball athletes must sport.
Similarly, Wiggins was involved with Nike from a young age. According to NBC Sports, Wiggins played for the CIA Bounce and Huntington Prep, both sponsored by Nike. When Wiggins chose to play for Kansas, an Adidas-affiliated basketball program, it likely sent Nike for a whirl.
All of this presents a deeper issue than how corporations spend their money. The idea that people expected Wiggins to choose a different college based on sponsorship loyalties could be seen as absurd, but it’s a harsh reality.
Corporations like Nike and Adidas sponsor high-profile high school and college athletic programs to form early relationships with up-and-coming athletes. There are money battles and high-stakes gambles occurring over the future of 18-year-old kids. So ask this question: Is it morally wrong to vie for and essentially bet on an adolescent athlete before his career even begins?
No one's determined that yet, but it's a pattern corporations have been following for the last 10 years, and it's probably not going anywhere.
Wiggins may prove to be the new King James when he enters the NBA next year — although "King Wiggins" just doesn't have the same ring — but he also may not. He is a prep athlete with a lot of potential, but a $180 million burden could be too much for a soon-to-be NBA rookie to carry.
Whitney O'Bannon is a new media sports writer for the Deseret News. Follow on Twitter at @whitney_oban.
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