Jerry Colangelo Had to Fix USA Basketball’s Relationship With Nike

The apparel giant Nike plays a large role in the Team USA program (too big a role, some would protest). After failing in spectacular fashion on the world stage, USA Basketball is back firmly on top, and director Jerry Colangelo says a lot of that has to do with repairing the broken relationship with the Swoosh. Per “Nike had watched in horror in 2004 as (LeBron) 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.’ Colangelo picked (Mike) Krzyzewski as the team’s coach in 2005, bypassing NBA coaches. Even though Coach K was already in the Naismith Memorial Hall of Fame, having been inducted in 2001 after his third national championship at Duke, and was universally regarded as the finest coach in the college game, there were grumbles about his getting the job. It did not hurt his candidacy that Krzyzewski also had a strong relationship with Nike. Colangelo had to have three things. He had to have Nike as a primary sponsor. He had to have control over the selection process. And he had to have the financial resources to do what he needed to do. It wasn’t an easy sell with Nike, but ultimately, the company committed to a three-year deal. Colangelo knew if he got his foot in the door with Nike again, there was money to be made with them down the road. He was right. In the prior four-year period before the 2004 Games, USA Basketball raised just $9 million, with the NBA backfilling the costs. By 2008, when Colangelo was named chair of USAB’s Board, the organization raised $33 million in four years. And USAB raised another $35 million between ’08 and ’12. There is now a small cushion available after USAB invests in its Under programs, the World University Games and other youth programs. By 2012, according to Forbes, USA Basketball had a who’s who of corporate sponsors, including 24 Hour Fitness, American Express, Burger King, Cisco, Dr. Pepper Snapple Group, Gatorade, Jeep, Las Vegas Events, MetroPCS and Right Guard. But Nike was the gateway company. ‘We put together some really good partnerships,’ Colangelo said Sunday. ‘We have some heavyweights. And we have some pending that are new. Nike has stepped up not only for this quad, but they’ve extended through two other quads, going all the way to ’24. Here’s the key. I set out to create our own brand. And we’ve done that.’ Having Nike on board was also a carrot for convincing players to come aboard. Whatever you think of the behemoth’s business practices, the pattern was clear: Once a guy signed with Nike, watch and car deals and all the rest soon followed.”