James Harden is treated like an NBA owner by the Houston Rockets.
James Harden and Jeremy Lin parted ways after the 2013-2014 NBA season, but Adidas could be bringing them back together. It all hinges on Harden’s ability to be a fashion icon in the vein of his former Oklahoma City Thunder teammate Russell Westbrook.
Adidas is making a huge play for Harden, offering the Houston Rockets’ MVP candidate a reported $200 million contract to leave Nike. If Harden takes the deal, he’ll join his ex-teammate Lin on the Adidas shoe team while launching a significant salvo in the sneaker wars.
The $200 million is a screaming headline-type number — especially considering Adidas paid only $400 million to outfit the entire NBA in an 11-year uniform-supplier deal that expires after the 2016-2017 season. It also instantly paints Harden as more than just the guy with The Beard.
While that may be Harden’s overriding image — and his nickname — the 25-year-old seems to be making a conscious effort to position himself as more of a fashion player. The sparkly hat — which some less-than-fashion-forward sports writers dubbed a “pilgrim hat” — that he wore to a showdown with LeBron James drew plenty of national attention. And Harden only upped his fashion game in the playoffs.
It’s reminiscent of the way Westbrook first positioned himself as a style trendsetter with spotlight-grabbing outfits and faux glasses. Whether Harden will ever follow in the fancy footsteps of Westbrook and be asked by Vogue to do a photo diary from Paris Fashion Week remains to be seen.
What is clear is that Harden’s following the path of Lin, who jumped from Nike to Adidas after his shoe deal with the swooshed ones ended. Lin also already has a signature shoe, which is something Harden would get for the first time in this $200 million Adidas deal.
It’s a somewhat ironic turn of events, considering that many falsely assumed Harden helped push Lin out of Houston. (In truth, Harden has only ever had good things to say about Lin and had little influence on general manager Daryl Morey’s decision.)
While Lin gets the real chance at a fresh start in Charlotte under a coach (Steve Clifford) committed to truly using him, Harden moves into rarefied shoe air. Only Kevin Durant — unquestionably one of the top three players in basketball — signed a bigger recent shoe contract (a $265 million deal with Nike).
Making fashion statements can pay — Harden’s jersey outselling the jerseys of fellow stars like Durant, Westbrook and Blake Griffin reportedly played into Adidas’ decision to make the monster offer. Of course, Harden’s romance with reality TV star Khloe Kardashian probably doesn’t hurt Adidas’ view of his markability, either.
“We’ve invited James Harden to join Adidas,” the shoe company’s spokesman Michael Ehrlich says in a statement. “We’re a brand of creators and he truly embodies what that means with his approach to the game, his look and his style on and off the court.”
Harden’s style may mean a reunion with Lin in a future Adidas commercial, too. Lin already has the GQ fashion spread clout. But Harden figures to soon have the mega money of a would-be style icon.