It has been a tough slog for NBA and NFL rookies seeking endorsement deals the last two years. Companies are heavily scrutinizing their marketing budgets as they recover from pandemic-fueled business disruptions.
One hoops star bucking the trend is Jalen Suggs, who is widely expected to be a top-five pick in Thursday night’s NBA Draft after one year at Gonzaga. Suggs gained national fame with his 40-foot buzzer-beater to lead the Zags over UCLA in the Final Four in April and has signed deals with a dozen partners already.
“Companies are being very selective and very strategic. These are tough times, but he’s crushing it,” said Wasserman basketball agent Darren Matsubara, who represents Suggs.
The sneaker pact is almost always the flagship agreement for NBA stars, and Suggs is no different. He landed a multi-year, multi-million-dollar agreement with Adidas in the lead-up to the Draft and is joined by fellow rookies Jalen Green, Evan Mobley and Sharife Cooper as new members of the Three Stripes family.
Suggs was highly sought-after by the sneaker companies and entertained multiple offers from brands—an extreme rarity the last two years—before choosing Adidas. “Their on-court stuff is great, and they have a ton of young guys and talent,” said Suggs in an interview. “But their core creativity is something that really drew me as well. Adidas gives you the freedom to help in that process as you’re continuing to build your brand.”
Suggs pointed to Donovan Mitchell and his Spida line, as well as Damian Lillard, whose Dame D.O.L.L.A is one of Adidas’ bestsellers, as two Adidas athletes he admires for how the brand has handled their on-court and off-court game.
With Wilson replacing Spalding as the official basketball maker of the NBA starting with the 2021-22 season, the brand identified Suggs as the one rookie it wanted to share its message before Draft day, joining Trae Young and Jamal Murray on the Wilson roster. “Jalen epitomizes a player who grew up playing our products,” said Wilson Basketball general manager Kevin Murphy, who pointed to Suggs’ AAU, high school and college career with Wilson balls. “There are a lot of great highlight reels with him shooting our balls; he’s got a great personality, and he tells our story well and means it.”
Murphy says the brand is “limited” from a marketing budget and needs to be selective. “We are invested in making sure we have the right players on our staff.”
Wasserman has built an endorsement portfolio for Suggs around brands he uses in his everyday life. Suggs calls Chipotle one his “favorite spots,” so it’s a natural tie-in for the guard to post photos of himself at the chain to his nearly 500,000 Instagram followers. Suggs told Wasserman that he wanted to expand his financial education, which ultimately produced a partnership with Wells Fargo. Other sponsors in his portfolio include AT&T, 2K Sports, Gatorade, Hugo Boss and New Era.
Matsubara would not comment on the financial terms of any of the agreements but said that none of the deals have market impact clauses based on where Suggs lands Thursday night and that none are tied just to the Draft. NBA marketing contracts carry layers of bonuses tied to personal and team performance, particularly with sneaker deals. Sportico estimates Suggs will earn at least $3 million off the court over the next 12 months. Suggs would earn $7.3 million in playing salary during the 2021-22 season as the No. 4 pick.
Suggs says the endorsement agreements have been a “fun process,” yet he is careful to make sure the marketing commitments do not alter his routine. “I’m getting a lot of these deals because of my play on the court,” he said, “[so] it is about understanding priorities and that basketball always comes first.”