Sneaker Wars

by Lang Whitaker

The Boston Globe is in the midst of a three-part series about the mess that can be youth basketball, AAU, shoe companies and all that stuff.

For those of us that have followed high school hoops for a while, even casually, this is hardly groundbreaking stuff. It’s pretty much impossible to know anything about prep hoops, particularly the whole summer scene, without hearing that this guy jumped from that team or this guy is getting free stuff or whatever.

The Globe‘s series focuses on TJ Gassnola, a guy who runs an adidas-sponsored team in Boston and is completing with a Nike-sponsored team. It’s a well-researched and interesting read, and if this is your first look at the way all of this works it’ll probably take you by surprise.

Part One is here
Part Two is here

The thing is, though, it’s a good bet that nothing is going to happen because of these stories. The stories all point out that there’s nothing technically wrong by NCAA standards with what’s going on. Sure, some kid might lose his eligibility or have a high school athletics board do a double-take at his transcripts, but at the end of the day the system is like this (and has been like this for about a decade) because it works for most of the people involved. The shoe companies are associated with big name players, college teams get players who are better than they would’ve been otherwise, the NCAA gets billions for showing these guys perform during March Madness, and even the NBA turns a blind eye because the whole summer circuit helps further develop the players before they turn pro.

It’s a huge mess — even Sonny Vacarro refers to it as a cesspool in one of the stories before adding that he makes a great living from it.

But until the NCAA decides that it wants to do something about all of this, the stories will keep on coming.