On October 1, James Harden answered his doorbell, only to be met with a truckload of brand new adidas sneakers. Literally. Surrounded by boxes of shoes, he looked around and said simply, “Swag.” The special delivery was just the beginning of Harden’s new partnership with adidas—The Beard left Nike this summer for a 13-year, $200 million endorsement deal with adi.
And before the Rockets superstar even laced up for a single game this season, his name was bandied about in tabloid headlines. No stranger to the paparazzi thanks to his highly famous friends from the Kardashian clan, Harden was unfairly criticized for rocking Nikes after his adidas deal was widely reported. Understand, once and for all: Harden’s contractual obligations to Nike were through the end of September, silly click-baiters. His adidas deal activated on October 1 and now in full swing, Houston’s enigmatic frontman is looking to challenge his face-of-the-franchise counterparts at Nike (LeBron James) and Under Armour (Stephen Curry) for cache in the closely monitored world of kicks.
Undeniably one of the L’s most popular players, Harden’s jump from the Swoosh to the three stripes—and Nike’s decision not to match the offer (they had a match clause much like restricted free agency in the NBA)—might not impact either brand’s market share in basketball sneakers right away. But with Harden presumably about to get his own signature line as the best NBA player repping #teamadidas, there will be no shortage of, well, swag. He joins the likes of John Wall, Damian Lillard, Andrew Wiggins and Derrick Rose on the adidas roster, though James might gravitate more to his celebrity compadre and new brand mate Kanye West, at least when it comes to fashion.
For Harden, inking with adidas offers a chance to have more say in design, marketing and branding. adidas Basketball GM Chris Grancio lauds Harden a “creator” and it certainly sounds like he’ll be involved hands-on. Meanwhile for adidas, investing in Harden comes with a sizeable price tag, but one ultimately softened by the brand’s simultaneous decision to let its uniform deal with the NBA expire in 2017. adidas’ renewed commitment to focus instead on product and players, like Harden in particular (whose name and game ring out from Houston to the Far East), is exciting. And about a month into #ThreeStripeLife, Harden himself is way, way up.
“It’s a blessing, to be honest. I’m definitely blessed in all measures,” says Harden, adidas Basketball’s new top dog. “Also it’s the work I’ve put in to prepare myself for moments like this. I try not to get too overwhelmed, I try to stay humble about it and just do what I do.”
For the man who played the most total minutes in the NBA last season, taking care of his size 13.5 feet is as critical to his success as he is to adidas. Which is why so far, the H-Town king has been rocking the Crazylight Boost 2015, in various PE colorways concocted by the design team at adidas. Early on, Harden favored an all-white edition with pearlized collar panel for home games, but he’s expanded to rock versions with red, black and even blue accents.
With his endorsement deal finally in place, sneakerheads are clamoring for a James Harden signature shoe. They’ll just have to be patient—part of adi’s pitch for the Beard to join the brand was the promise that he’d have an integral role in crafting his own kicks, which takes time and care. But Harden’s excited at the way he’s clicked with adidas already.
“The energy’s there, the flow’s there. The vibes are there,” he says. “If the vibes are there, you tend to wanna get more work done. It’s exciting for both parties. Myself and the brand.”
Premium product aside, a large part of the reason Grancio and the Three Stripes wanted to land Harden so bad was his infectious personality. Marketing-wise, he’s a dream. Beyond the iconic beard, Harden is also extremely approachable. Watch closely before and after home games, or at his public appearances or local community events. Harden makes a concerted effort to make strangers feel special, and he takes time to connect with kids in particular.
“Since I’m in this position I am now, when I come across kids every single day, I’ll go out of my way to be nice to them, be genuine to them, be sweet, be who I am, because I know I never got that opportunity,” Harden admits. Growing up in Compton, CA he rarely if ever saw a college basketball player, let alone an NBAer, up close and personal. “Those few seconds might change a kid’s life. I try to be genuine and smile and just be happy.”
So far, it’s been all smiles for adidas Basketball and The Beard.