A shift in thinking has recently overtaken the sneaker endorsement industry. It’s a welcome transition from tradition. Players are being afforded greater leverage over their futures — both financial and otherwise. Today, New Balance announced that it has signed prep star Darius Bazley to a multi-million dollar deal unlike any other the industry has produced thus far.
Bazley, a 6-foot-9, 210-pound prospect from Cincinnati, Ohio, initially committed to playing his college ball for legendary coach Jim Boeheim at Syracuse University. A short time later, Bazley de-committed from Syracuse and set his sights on playing for the NBA’s developmental G League. Soon thereafter Bazley made another change; he hired agent Rich Paul of Clutch Sports, who quickly and cleverly set Bazley up with an endorsement deal with the newly reintroduced New Balance basketball wing set to officially launch in 2019.
Bazley’s deal is immediately worth $1 million with the potential to span $14 million if and when Bazley makes the leap to the NBA and hits certain performance goals. He’ll also work for New Balance as an intern, serving at the company’s Lawrence, Massachusetts office during the months in which the college basketball season is at its height. He’ll partner alongside the marketing, digital and social teams and, in addition, Bazley’s time will also be spent with the footwear and apparel teams at NB’s sports laboratory.
Bazley’s sneaker contract is the first for New Balance since the early 1990’s, when Los Angeles Lakers great James Worthy served as their hallmark athlete. Much of this deal is based on the Cincinnati prospect’s pro potential. Paul feels his client is far better suited to work out and train for a year in lieu of the college game and/or the G-League.
“There will be some things he misses out on, but I’m not worried at all — not with the talent and skill set he has,” Paul, who also manages LeBron James, Ben Simmons, John Wall and others told The New York Times. “No matter what we do this year, he still has to be developed in the NBA. You see it even with the highest draft picks — it’s not like you come into the league as a rookie and set the league on fire.”
Bazley, of course, isn’t the first high school player to circumvent the NCAA in his route to the NBA since the league implemented its prep-to-pro policy. More recently players like Terrance Furgeson, Emmanuel Mudiay and Dante Exum have either played professionally overseas post-high school or worked with a personal trainer for a year to make themselves eligible for the NBA draft without suiting up on the collegiate level. Brandon Jennings, largely the most important modern-day trailblazer for this cause, ignited his professional career after high school with Italian club Lottomatica Roma before entering the NBA at a later time.
Yet Bazley’s talent and decision to sign with New Balance is unlike any of his predecessors. He’s tremendously talented on the court and extremely intelligent off it. And while certain detractors are already questioning his decision to not play competitive basketball for slightly over a year, he’s completely at peace with his decision and his ability to succeed within it.
“This is my risk,” Bazley told the NYT. “I’m going to go ahead and do it this way, and I’m still going to succeed, even when others say I won’t. This will also be fun. It’s not like I’m going to be doing something I don’t want to do.”
Bazley is currently projected as a late first-round pick in the 2019 NBA Draft. Rich Paul says that “no matter what happens” with Bazley’s NBA career, his multi-year deal will pay him at the very least $1 million. With that, Paul and Clutch Sports have already proven that there are better routes to the NBA for players who are opposed to the NCAA experience.
“In this industry, there haven’t been a lot of options for these kids and their families. More people would challenge the system, but there hasn’t been a real success story yet. Darius has an opportunity to be that success story.”
There’s a great likelihood that the long antiquated prep-to-pro rule implemented back in 2006 will be diminished in the near future. Such a rule is required to be collectively bargained with the NBA Players Union, which means the next time the rule can be changed is likely summer 2023.