Thursday, May 22, 2003

LeBron signs shoe contract with Nike

Prep phenom also make deal with Upper Deck

By Tom Withers
The Associated Press

CLEVELAND - LeBron James will go into the NBA with a swoosh. James, the high school star expected to be the No. 1 pick in next month's draft, signed a multiyear shoe contract with Nike, the same company that launched Michael Jordan's career.

Aaron Goodwin, James' agent, reached agreement on the deal with Nike late Wednesday night following daylong negotiations. Nike spokesman Mark Shapiro confirmed James' signing, which was first reported on ESPN's "Outside the Lines.", citing unidentified sources, said it was a seven-year deal.

James' publicist, Alexandria Boone, would not confirm the deal but said a formal announcement would be made Thursday.

Financial terms were not immediately available, but recent published reports predicted that the 18-year-old from Akron St. Vincent-St. Mary High School star might get a $100 million deal.

James also signed an exclusive multiyear contract with Upper Deck trading cards Wednesday.

His selection of Nike over Reebok and Adidas ends a nearly two-year battle between the shoe companies to land the dynamic player, whose game has been compared to that of Jordan and Magic Johnson.

James has received unprecedented media coverage the past two years. His games were sellouts in arenas around the country, and two of his games were televised nationally by ESPN.

The shoe deal came less than a day before James was to learn where he'll be wearing his Nikes as a pro. The NBA will hold its draft lottery Thursday night, and the winner gets the right to select James, a three-time Mr. Ohio in Basketball and the consensus national player of the year the past two years.

The Cleveland Cavaliers and Denver Nuggets, who finished tied for the league's worst record this season, have the best chance at getting the top pick.

Terms of the deal with Upper Deck were not immediately available, but company spokesman Jake Gonzales said James' contract is on a level with previous agreements signed by Jordan, Tiger Woods and soccer star David Beckham.

Boone said the trading card deal included a $1 million signing bonus.

"Every kid who plays sports aspires to be the best and be part of a winning team," James said in a statement. "Today's deal with Upper Deck not only means that I've joined a team that is the leader in the collectibles industry, but also allows me to be part of a team of world class athletes representing their products."

Gonzales said James is the youngest person ever signed by Upper Deck, whose other spokesmen include Kobe Bryant, Kevin Garnett, Ichiro Suzuki and Hideki Matsui.

Upper Deck said James' trading card and memorabilia agreement prohibits any other company from using his autograph or his likeness on its packaging. It also stipulates that James can only promote for Upper Deck.

"Upper Deck is known for producing the most collectible and innovative trading cards and memorabilia in the world," vice president Tim Muret said in a statement. "It is fitting that LeBron James and Upper Deck join forces in an exclusive relationship that will bring exciting products to fans and collectors worldwide."

James' first trading card will be available July 29, the company said.

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