LeBron James was a millionaire even before he signed his first pro contract. At the age of 18, even before James was drafted by the Cleveland Cavaliers, he signed a 7-year, 90 plus million dollar deal with Nike, including a 10 million dollar signing bonus. He already has four signature shoes with another one on the way, including his own apparel line. He is being paid to chew Bubblicious, drink Sprite, and even has his own PowerAde flavor. When you can dominate your sport, chances are companies will be coming at you with big money endorsement deals to wear or use a certain brand and appear in commercials or print ads with their products.
Reports this week have Kevin Durant signing the second-largest rookie deal in basketball next to LeBron James, a seven-year, $60 million endorsement deal with Nike that includes a $10 million signing bonus. Adidas supposedly offered $70 million but Durant chose to go with the swoosh brand because he has a history dating to eighth grade with Nike. Durant may have a short reign though with the second-largest rookie deal because O.J. Mayo is expected to be one and done at USC.
Mayo will soon have the multi billion dollar companies knocking on his door. Shoe companies like Nike, Reebok, and Adidas will be major players for Mayo’s services. Although forbidden to sign any deals until out of college, shoe companies can and do start early, as evident by Durant’s loyalty. They host tournaments featuring the top high school players. They endorse schools and AAU teams. Reebok gives Mayo’s AAU team, the D-I Greyhounds, a reported $75,000 a year. Mayo will be attending USC this year which is a Nike sponsored school.
Experts and analyst say Mayo could command up to $10 million per year on a sneaker deal with an additional $10-20 million on other potential sponsorship deals. “He has charisma. He walks in a room, you know he’s there. There may be other people who may be as talented him, but he carries himself like he’s special,” said Chris Rivers, vice president of grassroots basketball for Reebok.
Another thing Mayo has going for him is his name. When someone says “LeBron” or “Kobe”, everyone already knows who they are talking about. The same will be true with “O.J.” It would be silly for orange juice companies, like Tropicana or Minute Maid, not to notice his initials. His last name makes him a natural to endorse a mayonnaise manufacturer. Or any foods that taste good with mayo. Or anything that even looks like mayo.
O.J. Mayo not only has the talent to be a household name but he has the marketability companies want. He may not be the best basketball player coming out of next year’s draft but he will be the highest paid one. Only two high school players have had so much hype and the big name. The first was LeBron and O.J is the other. In a few years, don’t be surprised if you see Mayo’s million dollar smile when you are getting a glass of orange juice or spreading mayonnaise on your sandwich, all while watching him dominate the basketball court, in his sponsored sneakers of course.