Okay Class, Today We’re Going to Be Talking About Nike Vs. LaVar Ball.
I said, “Good morning,” to every one of my students. Once they all sat down, I asked if they could remember the last thing we had discussed.
Austin said, “You were gonna tell us about LaVar Ball.”
“That’s right! Thank you, Austin. Okay class, today we’re going to be talking about Nike vs. LaVar Ball – does anyone know who Phil Knight is? If so, what do you know about him?”
“I think so,” Ricardo said. “He’s a coach, right?”
I rolled my eyes upward. “No, you’re thinking about Bob Knight – Phil Knight is the guy who created Nike. Do you know how Phil Knight turned Nike into a global powerhouse?” I glanced around the room and heard some mutterings before I continued. “Phil Knight had a simple marketing strategy. Rather than relying on advertising, he got top athletes to endorse his shoes – does anyone know who Nike’s biggest endorsement deal was?”
Andy fired his hands into the air and said, “Michael Jordan.”
“That’s right, Andy. In 1984, Nike signed Michael Jordan to a $500,000 per year contract, which at the time was something no one had ever done. But, Nike also included an out clause, if Air Jordan’s didn’t earn Nike $4 million in 3 years, Nike had the right to cancel the deal. What happen next was completely unexpected; Nike sold 70 million worth of Air Jordan’s in the first two months of sales in 1985… totaling $130 million in revenue.
“Oh dang,” I heard someone say.
I paused, then looked up and said, “Oh now you see where I’m going with this. There’s big money in the sneaker industry, guys, and instead of playing in the same lane as everyone else, one father named LaVar Ball is changing the game up by thinking ownership. Austin, tell everyone who LaVar Ball is.”
Austin stood up. “He’s the guy who said he could beat Michael Jordan one-on-one and he said his son Lonzo is better than Stephen Curry.”
“Yep that’s right-- he also has two other sons named LiAngelo, and LeMelo. LaVar is the founder of a company named Big Baller Brand, but the big story today is that he’s thinking outside of the box and changing the landscape of the shoes industry. Guys, listen up… LaVar Ball told Nike, Adidas, and Under Armor, he’s not interested in signing a multimillion-dollar contract. Instead he wants them to license his start-up, Big Baller Brand... By the way class, the term licensing means you permit someone to use your product in exchange for a royalty. LaVar Ball stated, ‘We’ve said from the beginning, we aren’t looking for an endorsement deal. We’re looking for a co-branding, a true partner. Just imagine how rich Tiger Woods, Kobe Bryant, Serena Williams, Michael Jordan and LeBron James would have been if they dared to do their own thing. No one owns their own brand before they turned pro. We do, and I have three sons, so it’s that much more valuable.’”
At this point I asked my class if they thought Lonzo Ball should sign with one of the big shoe companies or try to start his own sneaker brand.
I hate that this happened, but nearly everyone’s hand raised. I could even remember a few of them having something to say about it. I desperately wanted them to see it wasn’t about the money, so I yelled, “Come on, fellas, you don’t see the big picture?” Several of them grinned, and some of them ventured to shake their heads.
“As a family, they are changing the game and paving the way for athletes to do their own thing, manage their own brands and become entrepreneurs – not to mention, Lonzo could make history; he could be the first athlete to have his own sneaker brand before ever playing a game in the NBA, and all this is possible because his father educated himself on entrepreneurship – what would happen if Lonzo were to sign with one of the major shoe companies?”
Ricardo answered, “He would make a lot of money!”
“Uh huh, you’re right, Ricardo, but is that worth forfeiting a legacy? More importantly, no one would ever challenge the status quo of big shoes companies.”
I was annoyed by his comment, so I raised my voice. “What is Nike, Adidas or Under Armor doing for your community?”
No one said a word; it was dead silence. I sighed heavily and ask them if anything I was saying made sense. I didn’t hear a single word from anyone.
As calm as I could, I said, “Nike is making billions of dollars off the inner-city, why aren’t they doing more for the community? You guys spend billions of dollars every year making companies like Nike rich, the least they could do is create programs that ensure you have a shot at a lucrative career. And then some guy from Nike’s camp named George Raveling, called LaVar "the worse thing to happen to basketball in the last hundred years."
Disgusted and angry by what I had just read, I said, “Why would someone say something insulting like this? I’ll tell you… corporate greed! Corporations like Nike despise people like LaVar Ball because they’re afraid that LaVar Ball’s model will set a ripple effect in the inner-city and other players will expect the same. So, Austin, do you still believe LaVar Ball is crazy, or is he somewhat of a genius?”
He sat there thinking about it. “I would say he’s both, but mostly a genius because he understands some key components to starting a successful business.”
“For starters, LaVar has vision. Every great entrepreneur needs to have a vision to build a successful company. LaVar Ball said he had envisioned the Big Baller Brand apparel company ever since his three sons were born. If that isn’t vision, I don’t know what is. He clearly understands the concept of branding. Listen up, fellas, when you become good at something, others will start to notice. Whenever they start to remember you as such, you’ve established what is called a brand. A brand awards you influence over others. If you’re entrepreneurial you can leverage your brand by creating products and people will buy your products because they perceive your brand has credibility. Basketball sneakers are consistent with Lonzo brand, so it only makes sense to have his own shoes and people will be inclined to buy them because he’s a great basketball player. Does that make sense?”
They all nodded their heads, but from the baffled look they exchanged, I could tell they didn’t get it.
“Let’s talk marketing and sales,” I said. “He’s pretty good at it. He knows if he makes outlandish claims about himself and his son in the media, people will talk about his Big Baller Brand. He’s creating buzz around his brand and utilizing what is called ‘word of mouth’ marketing. Ultimately, he understands when people talk about his brand, those conversations will translate into sales. Nearly everything he says goes viral. As a matter of fact, he’s generated the kind of publicity that companies like Nike, Adidas or Under Armor would spend millions for… yet it practically costs LaVar nothing. It seems like it’s some destiny going on,” I said.
I explained how his entire plan was well-thought-out and if any company is to compete, it must figure out a way to stay in the minds of their customers.
“Speaking of staying in the minds of their customers, LaVar doesn’t have to go out and sign top athletes to jumpstart his brand because he has three sons who are projected to play in the NBA; they’ll do it for him. When Big Baller Brand is no longer in the headlines, his other two sons will have the opportunity to reintroduce their brand and keep the buzz going.”
I never held my tongue when it came to being honest or teaching my class a life-lesson, but there was something about the final part of this lecture that kept me from expressing myself. What I really wanted to let them know was how the mainstream media had done a good job masking the importance of entrepreneurship in the LaVar story. The only article I had found online that mentioned the value of learning about the entrepreneurial process was written by an African American blogger. This made me think there was a plot to hide the significance of learning about entrepreneurship, so the African American community would not see the importance of starting their own businesses. I left this part out because I was fairly new to teaching and I didn’t want to scare or confuse my class, and secondly, I didn’t want to be the first one to tell them that we live in a shitty world, one that sees black and brown people as “less than,” or “not equal to” and people in this world would do anything to keep black and brown people marginalized. I wish I had spoken up, because those thoughts went to bed with me that night.
My Opinion About Big Baller Brand
I just want to add my two-cents. I like what “BBB” is doing, I really do, but for me to get behind them one-hundred percent, I need to know they’re going to give back to the black community. We’ve seen this story way too often where shoe companies take, take, take from the black community and give nothing in return. The black community can no longer afford to ignore the social-giving aspect with any business--if we do, we’re essentially creating another company such as Nike that takes more than they give back. To become a stronger community, black people must put their focus and energy into companies that rebuild and reinvest in black communities.
Lastly before I get out of here… head over to my YouTube Channel, “Seeing the World through the Eyes of a Black Entrepreneur;” it’s a platform where I teach aspiring entrepreneurs how to perceive the world differently. Not only will what I have to say keep you motivated and uplifted, it will also steer you closer to starting your own business.
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