Culture / Newsy

Will the ‘Adidas Curse’ Doom James Harden?

Shoe Giant Dogged By Injuries and Urban Legend

BY // 08.19.15

Tracy McGrady. Danilo GallinariGilbert Arenas. Kevin Ware. Iman Shumpert. Dwight Howard. Derrick Rose. (Here’s a non-basketball one: Robert Griffin III.)

To sports fans (particularly basketball fans) — and perhaps sneaker fanatics — these are well-known names.

But what comes to mind when you see these names grouped together?

One, they’ve all suffered from debilitating injuries. Two, they are all sponsored by Adidas.

Now that James Harden has signed his $200 million deal with Adidas, what does it mean for the future health of the Houston Rockets superstar and MVP candidate?

The Adidas Curse” hasn’t gained the traction or recognition of the long-fabled “Madden Curse,” where football players who land the coveted cover of the ultra-popular video game are supposedly doomed to a season full of injuries or bad luck. But sports fans who care very much about shoes and shoe deals have noticed an ongoing storyline, one that dates back to at least LA Lakers superstar Kobe Bryant, who upon entering the league during the 1996-1997 season signed a deal with Adidas. Bryant was quick to jump to Nike after the swoosh offered him a better deal and began producing signature shoes for him, in 2004. Kobe would go on to have plenty to say about his former shoe company.

When Washington Wizards star John Wall, who is coincidentally now sponsored by Adidas, signed his first endorsement deal with Reebok, Bryant told him to “buy Nikes.” Kobe did not mince words when he later told Chicago Bulls star Derrick Rose, who had just signed his Adidas deal, that if he wanted to break his foot, he should “wear that s—.”

When Rose did get hurt, a shoe curse suddenly had momentum.

Conspiracies about the quality of certain sneakers and how injury-prone certain NBA players are have been around since people began whispering about whether or not Grant Hill and Chris Webber were “cursed” by having endorsement deals with Fila. And ever since the San Antonio Spurs’ Tony Parker left Nike in 2013 to sign with Chinese shoe company Peak the notoriously speedy point guard has been slowed down by ankle injuries.

Yet Adidas, with its deep pockets and worldwide name recognition, remains the biggest company to carry this burden, whose validity is questionable but whose injury history is not. However, in spite of the German company’s recognition factor, it still holds only a 4 percent share of the U.S. shoe market. Signing a superstar like Harden is an aggressive way for Adidas to validate its oft-maligned basketball shoes (and snag a name bigger than either Wall or Portland Trail Blazers guard Damian Lillard, the company’s two other recent endorsements).

In what is hopefully a good omen, Wall and Lillard suffered no serious injuries or bad luck spells during the 2014-2015 season. (Well, Wall did injure his wrist in the second round of the playoffs, and Lillard’s Blazers suffered a series of blowouts in the first round of the playoffs before losing the series. Coincidence?)

Is it the shoes? Harden has $200 million reasons to tempt fate (if you believe in such things) and find out.

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