By 2018, concurrent with the R&D team, New Balance …

By 2018, concurrent with the R&D team, New Balance began pitching potential endorsees with the goal of bringing a shoe to market in October 2019. Remember, the typical turnaround is a year and a half. These early pitches didn’t have prototypes or samples. It was all theoretical, just hope and hunger waiting for a chance to come to life. During this time, the design team received word that Kawhi Leonard was on the radar. Usually a player of this caliber doesn’t ever hit the free agency market, but he had turned down a four-year, $22 million extension with Jordan Brand in March 2018 and the company announced that it would let him walk in October 2018.

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“We went from the world not knowing about New Balance Basketball in October (2018) to ‘Can we get him in a New Balance shoe by the All-Star game in February (2019)?’ ” Grondin said. “I’ve been enjoying it. One of the reasons that I came is I wanted to build and start something of my own,” Leonard explained in late January, after being asked why he chose to sign a multiyear contract with New Balance in the neighborhood of $5 million annually. “Start with this new company in basketball and they’ve been great. And we’re going to keep building this relationship from here.”
“We’re not going to turn Kawhi into an Instagram comedian,” Cassidy said when asked about the brand’s conscious decision to heavily lean into Leonard’s eccentricities. New Balance followed that up with another billboard, this one reading “Board Man Gets Titles,” a reference to a story by The Athletic that went viral last season. Merchandise followed in the form of plain black t-shirts with “Fun Guy” in the most ho-hum box lettering imaginable.
One of the better Kawhi Leonard anecdotes of the season, not surprisingly, involves the team that will be trying as hard as any to steal him from the Toronto Raptors after the N.B.A. finals. The Los Angeles Clippers are said to have quietly looked into the feasibility of purchasing the portion of the rights to Leonard’s “Klaw” logo that is still owned by Nike. The Clippers did not immediately respond to a request for comment Wednesday, but such an acquisition would theoretically enable them to bestow full control of the logo upon Leonard as part of their anticipated free-agency pitch meeting with the Toronto superstar.
Forget for a moment that the financial outlay necessary to complete this kind of purchase, by any team, would most likely be considered a salary-cap violation. Let’s also briefly tune out that Nike, as emphasized to me recently by a top official from the sportswear giant, is intent on rebuffing all approaches and retaining its rights to that logo for as long as it can — to assure that it would not appear on gear made by Leonard’s new contract partners at New Balance.
Toronto Raptors star Kawhi Leonard has agreed to a multiyear endorsement deal with New Balance, league sources told Yahoo Sports. Leonard, 27, will serve as the face of New Balance basketball, with the company looking to re-establish itself in the basketball market.
Kawhi Leonard will have a new team in more ways than one in 2018-19. The former San Antonio Spurs star, who was traded to the Toronto Raptors, has been a Jordan Brand endorser since coming into the league, but industry sources say that the company is going to let Leonard walk when his contract expires later this year. Extension talks between Leonard and the Nike subsidiary stalled earlier this year after Leonard turned down a four-year, $22 million extension.
Would a new company be able to get the historically reserved Leonard to jump in on the arena entry trend, with a series of made-for-social-media-styled outfits that have helped to raise the star power of players around the league? And even if it did, would fans find a sudden pitchman persona contrived and forced, given Leonard's longtime disdain for promotional appearances and public attention? Like most dynamics currently surrounding the embattled All-NBA forward, there's no sensing where exactly his head is at, though the coming months should provide some resolution for all involved.
Nick DePaula on Kawhi Leonard's talks with Jordan Brand: “Kawhi’s deal is going to be expiring this fall. Here’s where things stand with Kawhi. Over the course of this last season, there was an extension offer that was made, as Ramona Shelburne and Michael C. Wright of ESPN first reported. This is pretty common because brands would rather offer an extension than have guys enter the summer and hear pitches from rival companies. In Kawhi’s case, the extension that was offered was four years and a little over $20 million. It was an incredibly fair deal, in my estimation. Obviously, Kawhi was a Finals MVP and he’s a great two-way player, but there are realities in terms of the San Antonio market and his marketability, so [his production] may not translate in terms of sales. There’s so much more that goes into selling shoes than just being a great player."
Nick DePaula: "Kawhi’s team didn’t feel like that’s where his market was and they were looking at something in the range of $10-million-plus [per year], which is what a lot of the top signature guys get, like LeBron James, James Harden, Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant and even Derrick Rose, famously. Kawhi’s camp was looking at that double-digit range, but Jordan Brand was pretty much standing firm at $5-million-plus [per year]. Again, I think that’s a great offer. In Kawhi’s case, the thing that’s tough is that he’s tweeted just _four times_, the last of which went up three summers ago. He’s never had an Instagram page. His personality isn’t on display much at all. He’s not known for his entry-arena fashion, as a lot of guys are known for nowadays."
Nick DePaula: "There are a lot of off-court dynamics that he hasn’t really built, so it’ll be interesting to see how they figure this out. He’ll likely take pitches from [companies] heading into August and we’ll see what happens. You look at a guy like Nick Young; I think a lot of brands would rather sign a guy like Nick Young than Kawhi! Obviously, on the court, it sounds crazy. But if you had to pick head-to-head, based on Nick’s social-media presence [and personality], I think you’d go with Nick at this point.”
Jordan Brand, a division of Nike, and Leonard's representatives came "very close" to completion on a new four-year extension worth more than $20 million. But discussions broke down abruptly because representatives for Leonard didn't feel that the new deal reflected the forward's accomplishments and standing within the league, sources said.
It's unclear whether Leonard intends to leave Jordan Brand when his contract expires on Oct. 1, but a source close to the situation said the shoe company owns the right to match any competing offers. Once the brand's exclusive negotiating window closes in July, Leonard and his representatives can start fielding potential new offers from other companies. Pitches are typically held in late August and early September, as players historically look to resolve shoe deals before the start of training camp in late September. Jordan Brand would have 10 business days to match any competing offer sheet signed by the forward. There are no current talks between Jordan Brand and Leonard's representatives, sources said.
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April 21, 2021 | 3:08 am EDT Update
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