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Nike vs. Adidas series would keep game alive

The Jordan Brand Flight Tour kicked off in

The Jordan Brand Flight Tour kicked off in Hong Kong. Chris Paul and Carmelo Anthony coached the Nike 19-and-under Chinese All-Stars, played drills, and played some one-on-one. (July 27, 2011) Photo Credit: Jordan Brand Flight Tour

There was a rowdy, adrenaline-filled conversation among some Adidas basketball marketing executives a few years ago about a campaign idea that would have crossed a line from which there would be no turning back.

The idea, according to a former Adidas staffer, was to shoot a commercial where a van with an Adidas logo pulled up to the gates of the Nike campus in Beaverton, Oregon and a cast of basketball athletes represented by the three-stripe company would aggressively file out.

Kevin Garnett, who is now no longer with Adidas, would then roll a ball toward the gates and growl, "Who wants some?!"

Imagine the possibilities. Over the past week we have seen some well-known summer leagues come together for some entertaining Us vs. Them competition, such as Friday's Melo League (a Baltimore circuit named after Carmelo Anthony) and Rucker Park All-Star game (a New York vs. Baltimore showcase) and Saturday's Drew League vs. Goodman League game (which was more East vs. West).

The summer league all-star games have provided welcome distractions to the NBA lockout, which threatens to cancel basketball at the highest level this fall. But even if the NBA shuts down for some, or all, of the 2011-12 season, the game itself never stops. And one way to feed the hunger for this sport in the U.S. during the lockout is to get the major sneaker brands involved.

A Nike vs. Adidas series that plays in Las Vegas on national TV would keep the game alive, keep most of the stars home and create a rare, perhaps even once-in-a-lifetime competition between the game's biggest endorsement rivals. Forget these silly ideas about agents forming six-team leagues. They never happen.

But this idea takes the players back to their AAU roots, where the rivalry between the brands are at it's fiercest.

"I think this would intrigue the hell out of people," said the former Adidas staffer, who asked to not be identified because he was revealing the company's internal conversations.

A Nike staffer, who also requested anonymity, agreed that the idea had strong possibilities, but added that it would take "a well-respected basketball person" to bring together these high-topped Montagues and Capulets.

OK, so while the Fix did pique the interest of both companies with this idea, we don't qualify as a mediator.

"You have to understand, there is a serious dislike between the two companies," the Nike staffer politely explained. "There are people that geniunely dislike each other."

We went to one of basketball's most prominent agents, who represents players who have endorsement deals with both companies, and asked his advice.

"I think it would work," he said with ebullience in his voice.

The greatest challenge would be schedule and venue and the logistics of setting something up knowing that the lockout could end at any time and end the series. So right away this is a venture that couldn't happen unless the NBA season was officially canceled. That wouldn't come until February, which means you're scheduling games and selling tickets and attempting to get ESPN involved right when March Madness is getting started. That right there takes a little wind out of our sails.

But wait, what if this were organized for AFTER the NCAA Tournament ended and around the time when the NBA Playoffs were scheduled to begin? People are already conditioned to watch basketball in April and May.

With the season lost and -- despite all the hyperbole about great opportunities in playing overseas, mark my words: a majority of the union's membership will NOT find jobs this season -- players needing their dose of competition, you should be able to attract some of the bigger names on the Nike/Adidas rosters to participate. And here is where the second issue is raised.

Adidas, as the Nike staffer said, "has way more to lose."

Oh snap.

Nike Basketball, which also includes the Jordan Brand, has long been the most popular apparel brand in sports and basketball is its most successful genre. It is the brand that rose to stratospheric prominence on Michael Jordan's vapor trail and set the standard for sports apparel and sports endorsements. And they have been the hunted ever since.

Adidas jumped in with both feet in the 2000s and started making headway by signing superstars such as Garnett and Tracy McGrady. They now are headlined by Dwight Howard and Derrick Rose, but the roster thins out quickly. They do now have Reebok under the umbrella, so we can count John Wall among their athletes. Maybe they could team up with some of the other brands, such as the Chinese companies ANTA (which snatched Garnett from Adidas) and Li-Ning. 

But Nike has two divisions that are loaded with superstar power, starting with Kobe Bryant, LeBron James, Kevin Durant and Amar'e Stoudemire on the Nike Basketball side, and Dwyane Wade, Carmelo Anthony and Chris Paul on the Jordan Brand side. If you put the two together, it would be no contest.

But if you separated the Jordan Brand team -- with Joe Johnson, Ray Allen, Rip Hamilton, Gerald Wallace and Kevin Martin, among others -- and put them up against Adidas -- which also has Tim Duncan, Chauncey Billups, Josh Smith, Michael Beasley and Kendrick Perkins, among others -- you might have a much better competition.

As for coaches, all you need to do is find former players whom were once represented by these companies. Sure, this will have the feel of an all-star game. But once it gets down to winning and losing, you'll see the competition heat up. And you can expect there to be intensity between the two companies, which will trickle down.

If Adidas isn't interested, and they might not because of its relationship with the NBA as the official apparel supplier and partner in the return of the NBA Store on Fifth Avenue, then Nike could take this idea as their own and pit their Nike Basketball team vs. their Brand Jordan team.

Oh, yes, we failed to talk about money (wasn't that refreshing?). Something like this would have to be tethered to a charitable cause or two or 10. The companies involved would have to accept this as a major marketing opportunity during a year in which the NBA is dead. The players should get a piece of the pie because, after all, they are the show. And you want the best of the best to play.

The idea obviously isn't without flaws, but it's a start. If they're not going to have NBA basketball, there still will be basketball somewhere.

So, who wants some?


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