Following a December victory over the Celtics, LeBron James took the typical postgame questions, until a query deviated from the norm. A reporter asks him about Under Armour — or at least tries to. LeBron interrupts, saying, “Who? Who? Who is that?” (Later, in an interview with Sole Collector, Curry is asked about the exchange. He says of LeBron, “Oh, he knows. That’s why he said that.”)
James ends the conversation by revealing that only one (sneaker) team is fit for his lips, saying, “I only know Nike. That’s it. Lifetime.”
James indeed has a lifetime contract with Nike worth more than $500 million, according to USA Today. He has a one-year deal with the Cavs, probably as a means of maximizing his profit and leverage. If that reporter had been allowed another subversive follow up, perhaps this question would have yielded interesting results: “Who is your primary employer?”
“Your primary employer is who pays you the most money,” ESPN’s Bomani Jones says. “LeBron was Team Nike before he was a Cleveland Cavalier or a member of the Miami Heat or any of those things. We contextualize guys around the teams they play for because that’s the relevant variable for the kind of work that we do.”
It’s perhaps more comforting to believe the team commands primary allegiance. Of course, when it comes to success on the court, what’s good for the goose is good for the gander. Nike wins if LeBron’s Cavs win. It just so happens that James still wears Nikes for his next team, should he ever decide to ditch Cleveland. And James will still draw checks from Nike, long after he’s done with the Cavs. He’s “lifetime,” after all.