Three stripes, two blown knees, and the tragic passing of a loved one. Read in reverse, and one might think this is the tale of an underdog story – especially given the geography. But the story of Derrick Rose, Kanye West and their now shared shelter underneath adidas’ banner is anything but a David vs. Goliath scenario. Given Rose’s current health issues, West’s temperament and the release of his tepidly-received YEEZUS, adidas arguably has two of the largest figures in sports and music who just so happen to be known for things beside their specialized craft at this very moment.
Their origins feel eerily similar despite now having a much more intimate picture of the life and times of Kanye West and Derrick Rose. West, older and more artistic, grew up without a father in the South Shore neighborhood. Rose, raised by an equally caring mother, came from Englewood. They were South-Side-of-Chicago nurtured, with a shared goal that Rose would later speak about: “My whole life has been nothing but trying to find a way to take care of my mom and take care of my family as quickly as possible.” Like many other teens/young men raised in the inner city, inherent gifts were seen as tools to achieve the aforementioned possibilities that seemed like pipe dreams – especially coming from two areas that even now register on the national spotlight for their murder rates despite being the home of two of the larger cultural personalities in today’s pop culture landscape.
It’s undeniable that both men are at a crossroads in their respective professions. In Rose’s short tenure in the league, he’s amassed an MVP trophy, Rookie of the Year honors and the genuine admiration of basketball purists who are refreshed by his “no frills” demeanor despite their regional leanings. For West, his catalog speaks for itself, but in true Kanye West fashion, he’s said of the genre that put him on the map, “I don’t even listen to rap. My apartment is too nice to listen to rap in.” Rose doesn’t seem to want to do anything but play basketball while West seems to want to do everything but make music. It’s this huge distinction that sets them apart.
I won’t ever put myself in a bad position so that people can say bad things about me. I make smart decisions, and my friends and my family, they are all there for the right reason.
– Derrick Rose
It was February 2012 when adidas and Derrick Rose agreed to a staggering 14 year, $250 million USD endorsement deal – which in NBA terms meant that he’d be making “max deal” money per year solely based on the partnership. It’s often pondered how much an athlete is truly worth, but at that time – coming off an MVP season and with a burgeoning rivalry with Nike’s LeBron James – it was wise for adidas to go that extra mile with him without knowing that the proverbial “road back” would be a much needed marketing ploy in the not-too-distant future. While Rose played sparingly since his MVP season due to now two knee injuries, according to TIME his signature shoe sold more than $40 million USD in 2012 – behind only Kobe Bryant ($50 million) and LeBron James ($300 million), and had the second-best-selling jersey globally during the 2012–13 season, though he didn’t play in a single game. While adidas was able to craft a campaign for Rose chronicling his return from a torn ACL that left him in a heap during a playoff game versus the Philadelphia 76ers, it remains to be seen what they can do to capitalize off Rose’s absence from the court once again without rehashing an already tired premise (after all, they used “All In” for Robert Griffin’s return from injury).
Enter Kanye West from stage left.
Kanye West and Nike’s time together resulted in a sneaker that transcended expectations and solidified the emcee on par with another Chicago adoptive son who signaled success by simply flipping up another digit every June. While the crux of West’s problem with the sneaker juggernaut is seemingly financial, there’s no denying that the relationship was mutually beneficial. For Nike, they had a superstar that had the ear of consumers. After all, according to SportsOneSource, “Eighty-five percent of all athletic shoes are not worn for their intended purpose.” And for West, he was slowly making a name for himself in fashion – a medium he seems to painfully pine to be a part of. The resulting Air Yeezy’s were a hotter commodity in footwear in recent memory than any other release. To most this is success; for Kanye, this was merely progress. Why? Because he has an injured ego and rehabilitation isn’t as simple as fixing a blown out knee under the watchful eye of a trained surgeon.
Amidst the aural sea of Kanye West rants about his current status as a cultural icon, I thought an exchange with Hot 97’s Angie Martinez was the most honest and revealing. West said, “The old me might have taken this Nike deal because I just love Nike so much. But the new me with a daughter takes the adidas deal because I have royalties and I have to provide for my daughter.” Here is a valid argument. It makes fiscal sense to take a better monetary deal than the last. In fact, it’s probably a scenario that is universally relatable. Whereas Derrick Rose mentioned his need to care for his family, Kanye is essentially saying the same thing. Yet, the varied approaches at which the two superstars reveal information makes it hard to believe one, while at the same time genuinely buying into the words of the other. West will receive ten million dollars for his deal with adidas (LeBron gets $15 million with Nike) – plus royalties where one notes that if his sneakers with adidas are in as much demand as the Yeezy’s with Nike – it could potentially put him on pace with Michael Jordan who earns approximately $100 million year on $2 billion worth of sales with his 5 percent Jordan Brand deal with Nike. West was angered by Nike’s decision to make his shoes practically unobtainable – or was he really angered that he knew the demand was there and he saw an opportunity to make an inordinate amount of cash that years of touring couldn’t amass?
adidas isn’t wrong for partnering with Kanye West, but their track record with superstars over the years has led to a host of public perception problems for their players – whether due to injury (Rose), ego (Dwight Howard) or other factors that have forced those to jump from the three stripe to the Swoosh (Kobe Bryant). They famously signed then Orlando Magic guard Tracy McGrady to a lifetime deal (including royalties) – covering both his tenure on and off court and seemed to be a reward for T Mac and his first signature shoe giving adidas it’s first number one selling shoe in the US in six years. This move can on the heels of a deal months prior where Reebok structured something similarly with Allen Iverson. In speaking about the partnership, Erich Stamminger, Member of the Executive Board of adidas-Salomon AG and responsible for Global Marketing said, “Tracy is one of the most exciting and respected players in the NBA and we are impressed by his passion both on and off the court. We are excited about his future impact on the sport, our brand and our global basketball business.” What if you considered that quote in a Kanye West/hip-hop context? Well, we have an idea given the recent press release from adidas.
“For 2014, we welcome to the adidas family one of the most influential cultural icons of this generation, Kanye West. Well known for breaking boundaries across music, film and design and partnering with our history in street wear culture and leading innovations in sport, we look forward to creating a new chapter.”
Call it a preemptive strike. adidas has taken on Kanye West as a cultural relevancy insurance policy if Derrick Rose is never the same player much in the same way they inked Tracy McGrady to a deal when they knew they would be losing Kobe Bryant to Nike. Sure, I could see a situation where West found a home at adidas had Derrick Rose not torn his meniscus in his other knee, but this is a scenario where they need him and Nike only wanted him. Money talks, but it’s the desire for his services that causes Kanye West to really listen for a change.
In Malcolm Gladwell’s latest book David and Goliath – which identifies the ideals that create the notion of advantage versus disadvantage – he asserts, “The very thing that gave the giant his size was also the source of his greatest weakness. The powerful and the strong are not always what they seem.” Two giants in their prospective fields have had their weaknesses exposed. Only time will tell if literally walking a mile in their shoes will fill in the blanks for us the fans.
Alec Banks is a Los Angeles-based writer that can be found at smart_alec_