#360USA: Nike deal proves LeBron's might

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James is catching up with Jordan in shoe sales.

Superlative numbers on the court, bewildering figures off of it. LeBron James remains an absolute colossus with basketball in hand and, as the statistical landmarks continue to rack up (devour his individual achievements on Wikipedia if you can spare a few hours), the man rightly known as “King James” further cements his place on the Hall of Fame throne.

The 30-year-old takes residence alongside the likes of Leo Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo in terms of the most consistently brilliant sportsmen of this, or any other era.

Turn on the TV here in the US and, more often than not, James will be on screen. Whether he’s relaxing in a comfortable Kia car or pumping iron while wearing Beats headphones, LeBron’s brand is almost impossible to ignore. He’s a relentless, one-man marketing machine.

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Yet the figures flying around this week following Nike’s decision to hand the Cleveland Cavalier a lifetime deal were quite remarkable. It’s believed the contract – the first of its kind in the company’s proud 44-year history – is worth a cool $500 million. That’s a rather welcomed $30 million a year. Being a legend really does pay.

“It’s clear LeBron is already one of the all-time greats and this will transcend beyond his playing career. The increased success of his brand as a signature athlete is why this contract has been agreed,” a highly-placed Nike source told Sport360.

Any of those highly enjoyable, yet ultimately irreconcilable, debates about who’s the greatest player of all time would have James pitted against that other Swoosh superstar, Michael Jordan. In reality, only Jordan can match him.

The sportswear giants have made more versions of James’ signature shoe than any of their stellar performers other than the Chicago Bulls legend whose affiliation with Nike has elevated him into the realms of the financially unbelievable.

Ever since the Air Jordan brand showcased its apparel for more than just basketball, Jordan has become the highest-paid retired sportsman in the world. He is worth $1.1 billion. Not bad for someone who retired 12 years ago.

These huge contracts, however, aren’t new in the NBA. Oklahoma City Thunder All-Star Kevin Durant signed a $300 million agreement with Nike last year, having been pursued voraciously by the Stephen Curry-backed Under Armour who are snapping at their heels. Adidas have also splashed the cash, throwing $200 million to Houston’s bearded wonder James Harden in a 13-year deal. 

In 2014, people wanting to walk like the King earned Nike $340 million. To place those numbers into context, Durant’s shoe sales were second-best at around $180 million, while the retiring Kobe Bryant was next with $105 million. Those sales alone undoubtedly prove that when it comes to marketability and popularity, James really is in a league of his own.

James, who signed for Nike in 2003 just before the draft on a seven-year, $90 million contract, is racing along in MJ’s slipstream, especially considering sales of his latest shoe are tipped to reach $400 million.

Unequivocally, Nike owns the basketball shoe industry, possessing an incredible 95.5 per cent of the $4.2 billion market last year. James has driven sales with stratospheric acceleration.

“I’m very humble, man,” James said. “It’s been an unbelievable time for myself and my family, and I’m just grateful that Nike and [Nike founder] Phil Knight and everyone over there just believed in a skinny 18-year-old kid from Akron, Ohio, and I’m happy to be a part of such a great company.

“We’ve done a great job of building my brand to this point today. We want to just continue it. If it makes sense for us to have a ‘Team LeBron,’ or whatever the name will be, we’ll take a look at it and we’ll go from there.”

Nike’s revenue has tripled since James’ signing, with the stock price rocketing up more than 1,000 per cent.

“LeBron and I have been in love and obsessed with Nike since we were kids,” said Maverick Carter, James’ business partner. “For LeBron, he’s thrilled to know he’s a Nike guy for life.”

I bet he is.

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Cam Newton hands Carolina Panthers NFL Playoff first-round bye

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Newton celebrates.

Quarterback Cam Newton threw three touchdown passes and his Carolina Panthers pummelled the Atlanta Falcons 38-0 on Sunday to earn an NFL playoff first-round bye.

As the 13-0 Panthers moved a step closer to securing home field advantage throughout the post-season, the reigning Super Bowl champion New England Patriots booked a playoff berth with a 27-6 victory over the Houston Texans.

Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski returned from a knee injury and made an immediate impact, setting up a touchdown in the first quarter and catching a TD pass from quarterback Tom Brady in the second as the Patriots built an early lead.

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Gronkowski finished with four receptions for 87 yards. Brady, sacked three times, completed 22 of 30 passes for 225 yards and two touchdowns without an interception.

New England’s defense also did their part, sacking Texans quarterback Brian Hoyer five times before knocking him out of the game in the fourth quarter.

The victory, along with defeats for the Cincinnati Bengals and Denver Broncos, saw the 11-2 Patriots move back to the top spot in the American Football Conference.

The Pats ended a two-game skid, while the National Football Conference-leading Panthers continued their march toward a perfect regular season.

Against a Falcons team in free-fall, Newton connected on two first-half touchdown passes to wide receiver Ted Ginn jr. Carolina’s 260 total yards in the first quarter marked a club record for any quarter.

“It was important for us to come out fast and get touchdowns instead of field goals,” said Newton, whose team had clinched the NFC South division title last week with a narrow win at New Orleans.

Bolstering his Most Valuable Player credentials, Newton completed 15 of 21 passes for 265 yards before he was replaced by backup Derek Anderson late in the third quarter with the Panthers up 38-0.

It wasn’t all good news for the Panthers, however. Leading rusher Jonathan Stewart — who ran for a touchdown as the Panthers scored on their first three possessions — left the game with a possible sprained foot, and Pro Bowl tight end Greg Olsen hurt a knee.

Injuries were an even bigger concern for the Bengals, who lost quarterback Andy Dalton to a broken thumb in the second quarter of a 33-20 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers.

His injury, and a concussion that knocked tight end Tyler Eifert out of the game, were a blow to a Bengals team that failed to clinch the AFC North division title.

Denver, who went into the day as the AFC’s top seed, also endured a setback as the Oakland Raiders rallied from a 12-0 halftime deficit to beat the Broncos 15-12.

“It was looking rough, but the positive was defensively, we kept them out of the end zone, limited them to field goals in the first half,” said Raiders safety Charles Woodson, who appeared in his 250th regular-season game, the most among active defensive players.

The Seattle Seahawks kept their hopes of reaching a third straight Super Bowl alive with a convincing 35-6 win over the Ravens in Baltimore.

Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson threw five touchdown passes, but Seattle lost running back Thomas Rawls to a season-ending broken ankle.

The injury brought an abrupt end to a stellar rookie campaign in which Rawls had 830 yards and four touchdowns filling in for injured starter Marshawn Lynch, who is recovering for surgery for a sports hernia.

In Philadelphia, the Eagles spoiled LeSean McCoy’s homecoming, beating the Buffalo Bills 23-20 to stay tied for first place in the NFC East with the Washington Redskins — 24-21 winners over the Chicago Bears.

The Kansas City Chiefs stretched their winning streak to seven games with a 10-3 victory over the San Diego Chargers. The Chiefs improved to 8-5 and lead the chase for an AFC wild-card berth.

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Warriors now free to focus on Chicago Bulls' season wins record

Jay Asser 14/12/2015
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Time to renew focus: Golden State.

Now that the Golden State Warriors’ winning streak has come to an end, it feels like a lot of air has been let out of the proverbial balloon.

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The excitement of following a team trying to fend off challenger after challenger, night-in and night-out, in an attempt to make history made for compelling drama, but the intrigue isn’t gone.

Golden State won’t match or break the Los Angeles Lakers’ 33 consecutive wins anytime soon, but they can still surpass the Chicago Bulls’ record of 72 wins in a season. You could argue either way for which record is more impressive.

As mentioned, the building up of a winning streak comes with daily pressure to keep it going and affords hardly any room for error.

The season-long benchmark is just as difficult to achieve, if not more because it requires razor-sharp focus for such a prolonged period of time – six months really.

What is certain, though, is that every single Warriors game going forward might not be a must-watch anymore. Eyes will be on the team, but not to the magnitude which was present during the later stages of the streak. That feeling, of being at or following an event rather than a game, will be missed. 

The atmosphere which Golden State has recently generated just through their sheer presence has been spectacular. Take the double-overtime contest in Boston against the Celtics on Friday. People who were at the TD Garden that night would tell you the electricity in the arena was reminiscent of the energy of an Finals game during the ‘Big Three’ era of Garnett, Pierce and Allen.

It’s amazing to think any regular season game in December could inspire that type of pure euphoria, but that’s what Golden State bring to the table wherever they go. The immediate stakes aren’t as high anymore and the occasions will be fewer, but does anyone think the Christmas Day meeting between the Warriors and the Cleveland Cavaliers won’t draw everyone’s attention?

Teams will continue giving Golden State everything they have because they’re still the defending champions, the best team in the league and who everyone is gunning for.

If the Warriors can achieve 73 wins, which they’re well on pace for, then a loss to the Milwaukee Bucks in December won’t matter.

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