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To fix USA Basketball, Colangelo first had to fix relationship with Nike

Jul 29, 2013, 5:47 PM EST

Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame 2013 Class Announcement Getty Images

Nike and USA Basketball are intertwined. They exert some influence — particularly over players we need on Team USA if we are serious about winning — and while some would argue too much control it is a reality.

So when Jerry Colangelo was given carte blanche as USA Basketball President to fix what was wrong with Team USA after the 2004 Olympics, he had to start with Nike. A well done story at NBA.com by David Aldridge details what Colangelo went through.

This all ties to LeBron James. Even back in 2004 after his rookie season, Nike knew LeBron was the future biggest star in the NBA and the guy that could sell them a lot of shoes. He went to the 2004 Olympics and sat on the bench while Larry Brown went with veterans.

Nike had watched in horror in 2004 as James, in whom the company had already invested millions, couldn’t get off Larry Brown’s bench in Athens. Whether or not James, then 19 and coming off his rookie season in the NBA, was immature at that time, or hard to get along with, wasn’t the point. He was the future of basketball, and the NBA. He was Nike’s guy. And Nike wasn’t going anywhere.

“The Nike relationship with the NBA had fallen apart,” Colangelo said. “But I had a lot of relationships there myself. Phil Knight was a partner of mine in the baseball team in Arizona. I’ve known Phil Knight for so many years. Coach [George] Raveling [currently Nike's Director of International Basketball], dear friend of mine for many, many years. So the relationships were there. And it was a matter of re-establishing a relationship. But I wanted to make it clear to them, this wasn’t an NBA deal. This was USA Basketball. This is our own entity and brand. And that kind of opened the door.”

Here is where Colangelo deserves credit — he convinced Knight and Nike to both stay with Team USA and be a big financial sponsor, but they also let him and Mike Krzyzewski make the call on who gets to play. So yes, Nike guys like LeBron and Kobe Bryant are there, but Adidas guys like Dwight Howard and Derrick Rose can be chosen also.

That’s a tough sales job. Colangelo pulled it off.

USA Basketball has a bunch of sponsors now — including American Express, Gatorade, Jeep, and Right Guard — that includes Nike, but now the all that money the elite men’s team pulls in helps pay for youth development programs. It’s a cycle. What the big names get for their time is the chance to show off and promote their brands on the biggest international stages — and right now the pipeline of young stars wanting to play for Team USA is full.

If LeBron plays in the 2016 Olympics in Rio, it will be in part thanks to a push from Nike wanting him on that stage. Nike still has influence. But their relationship with USA Basketball is much better than it was nine years ago.

  1. chargerdillon - Jul 29, 2013 at 6:16 PM

    So much for American pride huh?

    Are the olympics about playing for your country or for your corporation? (rhetorical question)

    Why do we hear about Lolo Jones who won absolutely nothing in the olympics? Find out who her sponsors are.

    • cmehustle - Jul 29, 2013 at 8:39 PM

      Let me ask you this Mr. American pride. Have you served for our country? Not a rhetorical question, because I have but since your so quick to throw that around I sincerely hope that you have spent some time in the military, or done something for this great nation. And the thing about enlisting, we do it so everybody doesnt have to. Its called freedom of choice. So these olympians are not obligated to do a dam thing for America besides make their money. And neither are you.

      • dezglobal - Jul 29, 2013 at 11:56 PM

        Relax dude

  2. jackntorres - Jul 29, 2013 at 6:20 PM

    Correct me if I am wrong but is this article implying 1992-2004 Olympic teams were only compromised of players under contract with Nike?

    • asimonetti88 - Jul 29, 2013 at 6:37 PM

      It was a bit murky on that, but if that is the implication, it’s wrong. Right off the bat, I know that Grant Hill was wearing Fila when he played for the Dream Team II.

  3. seanb20124 - Jul 29, 2013 at 7:47 PM

    Was Ewing wearing his Ewing brand shoes?

  4. antistratfordian - Jul 29, 2013 at 7:51 PM

    So LeBron saved USA Basketball. Fitting.

  5. jadaruler - Jul 29, 2013 at 9:15 PM

    I read cme’s post and I could hear an Organ playing the background. Great post.

    I’m glad I’m not the only that was horrified by Brown’s coaching in Greece. That team could’ve won gold but they kept Bron on the bench and continued to play Duncan. Timmy is a legend, but Intl ball isn’t his thing.

    • chargerdillon - Jul 29, 2013 at 10:26 PM

      Larry Brown is an amazing coach and he didn’t cost them a loss having Lebron on the bench. We’re talking about then Lebron and now Lebron. I’m not saying I disagree he wouldn’t be the guy to go to but I will always defend Larry Brown, the dude made magic in lots of really bad situations.

      Up until last 2 years the only time the Clippers made it to the playoffs was with him as their coach. He was also the guy that made Iversons one man shows work in Philly.

      It’s because of that loss the USA stars woke up and took notice of the rest of the world in basketball. I really don’t think it’s such a bad thing, and it’s certainly not the coaches fault.

  6. pauliewalnuts90 - Jul 29, 2013 at 9:55 PM

    Terrible. Shoe companies own these players. There’s this great book called “Sole Influence” that documents and comments on the tragedies these shoe companies have produced searching for the next Jordan.

  7. grumpyredskin23 - Jul 30, 2013 at 12:29 AM

    I think USA basketball should go back to no pros playing. True amateur players! Then you can go to pros

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