When Kawhi Leonard was contemplating his controversial departure from the San Antonio Spurs, his organizers complained bitterly about his inability to score a supermax deal because of market size.
Leonard got his wish and was traded from San Antonio, swapped to the Toronto Raptors.
And he ended up getting his shoe deal, with a new deal with New Balance Basketball announced today.
New Balance has walked away from basketball endorsements in recent years. The signing of Leonard indicates a change in that strategy.
The Boston-based shoe and apparel company has always lagged far behind industry giants Nike, adidas and Under Armour.
It’s most notable basketball endorsement deal came with Los Angeles Lakers Hall of Fame forward James Worthy during his playing career in the 1980s and 1990s.
More recently, New Balance partnered with Leonard’s former teammate, retired Spurs forward and current team broadcaster Matt Bonner.
New Balance provided Bonner with shoes for several years. And during the 2010-11 season, Bonner was sent a prototype for a signature shoe that he was developing with the team.
But the shoes fell apart at the beginning of his first game he wore them in. Bonner then was told the prototype shoes were not meant to be worn and soon afterwards, New Balance ceased its sponsorship of basketball shoes.
ESPN.com reported earlier this year that Leonard’s representatives came “very close” to completing a four-year extension with the Jordan Brand, a division of Nike. The deal reportedly would have been worth $5 million per year for Leonard.
But discussions abruptly broke down after Leonard’s representatives didn’t feel that the deal reflected his accomplishments and standing in the league.
Leonard finished second and third in voting for the NBA’s Most Valuable Player award in 2016 and 2017. But he was limited to nine games with the Spurs in 2017-18 as he recovered from right quadriceps tendinopathy.
At the time, Leonard was making about $500,000 on his shoe deal with Nike. The contract would have increased his yearly benefits by about 10 times.
Now, Leonard and his bizarre laugh will be the prime marketing arm of New Balance, the lone American-made shoe.
Leonard has shown little rust after missing most of last season. He’s averaging a team-best 24.6 points per game for the Raptors, who have jetted to an 18-4 record that is the best in the NBA.
He’ll make his first trip back to San Antonio on Jan. 3 when the Raptors face the Spurs at the AT&T Center.