Murray State's Ja Morant, the most sought-after guard of the 2019 NBA draft class, wanted to sign a shoe deal with Nike, and he got his wish.
After turning pro in early April, Morant insisted on not even meeting or engaging with any other brands during the negotiation process, before signing a multiyear, multimillion dollar footwear and apparel endorsement deal with Nike. The contract was agreed to in advance of the May 14 draft lottery, according to industry sources.
"All my life my parents worked for a check," he wrote on Instagram. "Now I'm proud to say I work for the check. #Nike #NikeBasketball"
While he may be "working for" Nike by wearing the brand's well-established basketball sneakers at the next level, the Memphis Grizzlies are expected to be his NBA employer. Duke's Zion Williamson is the presumptive No. 1 pick. If drafted at No. 2, as many expect, Morant is projected to earn $39.56 million over a four-year rookie scale contract length, according to ESPN front office insider Bobby Marks.
Morant would make $8.72 million during his rookie season, with 5 percent raises the following two seasons. The final year of his rookie contract would see a dramatic 26 percent raise, to $12.01 million.
Sources at rival brands worry that as NBA rookie scale contracts continue to exponentially escalate at the top of the board, players will be less swayed to sign away from Nike over a few hundred thousand dollars difference per year between company offers.
Nike is in the midst of a $1 billion, eight-year league partnership as the official jersey and apparel outfitter, that for the first time features a brand's logo along the NBA uniforms in games. Over 67 percent of the league wore Nike sneakers last season, with another 7 percent wearing the company's Jordan Brand subsidiary on court.
After wearing Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving signature sneakers throughout his two seasons at Murray State, the 19 year-old Morant will be joining a crowded roster of Nike athletes. The brand currently boasts five signature shoes for LeBron James, Kobe Bryant, Paul George, Durant and Irving, with Giannis Antetokounmpo's anticipated Zoom Freak 1 shoe launching this summer.
The brand is also exceptionally high on its rising young core of Ben Simmons, Luka Doncic, De'Aaron Fox, Jayson Tatum, Devin Booker and Kyle Kuzma. Doncic, Booker and Kuzma will all be sneaker free agents later this fall, with Nike looking to re-sign all three.
Throughout his short window as a pro after his All-America sophomore season, Morant and his family have shown to make swift and decisive decisions. Morant's father, Tee, was a high school basketball teammate of Hall of Fame guard Ray Allen at Hillcrest High in Dalzell, South Carolina. The two remained close over the years, with Allen helping to provide guidance and advice at different points of the younger Morant's recent rise through the college ranks. Allen began his 18-year NBA career with Nike, before being hand-picked as one of the first five players to represent Michael Jordan's "Team Jordan" roster of athletes.
Rather than sit through a series of presentations and meetings with prospective agents before declaring for the NBA draft, the Morant family trusted Allen's advice to sign with his longtime agent Jim Tanner. As president of Tandem Sports + Entertainment, Tanner has also represented several additional Hall of Fame and All-Star level players.
As the shoe deal process got underway in late April and into early May, Morant followed a similar line of straightforward thinking, expressing "zero interest" to meet with any company outside of his target, Nike.