These are trying times for Adidas basketball.
While Nike's two most popular endorsers, LeBron James and Kevin Durant, are likely to finish one and two in MVP voting, Adidas' main guys, Derrick Rose and Dwight Howard, have seen their stars fade significantly over the past few seasons. Rose, who inked a 13-year, $185 million contract extension with Adidas in 2012, has missed all but 10 games the past two seasons. Howard has seen a decline in popularity after his much-maligned departure from Orlando.
Adidas, which has the official apparel deal with the NBA, had less than a six percent stake in the U.S. basketball shoe sales market in 2013. Nike had more than 90 percent.
“They have no backup plan,” longtime marketing executive Sonny Vaccaro told Time.com of Adidas' struggles. “Nike's stable is so secure that they can almost lose a player off every team and still have an All-Star guy that resonates. Adidas doesn't."
Vaccaro worked for Nike and then Adidas before joining Reebok.
Now Adidas has turned to a new star, one whom it hopes will stay healthy and happy.
This week the apparel giant inked a contract with Trail Blazers guard Damian Lillard, 23, that could be worth as much as $100 million for 10 years.
Only James and Durant (who each make about $20 million annually from Nike) and Rose will make earn than Lillard.
"Adidas has been great to me over my first two seasons," Lillard said in a press release. "I've had the opportunity to wear a lot of great product, help design special versions of shoes, be a part of TV commercials and travel the world with the brand. I'm excited for what the future holds for me and Adidas."
This is somewhat of a risky play by Adidas, seeing as Lillard is less experienced than Rose was when it signed the Bulls guard to his mega-deal. Rose's deal was announced in the middle of his fourth year in the league, one season after he was named the NBA's MVP. Lillard, the sixth overall selection of the 2012 NBA Draft, is still finishing his second year in the league.
But Lillard's record mimics Rose's rise. Like Rose, Lillard won Rookie of the Year and was voted an All-Star in his second season. Both are super-athletic scoring point guards who have become the face of their franchises.
Unlike Rose, Lillard has built a strong social media presence, which likely distinguishes him in terms of marketability. Lillard's "4-Bar Friday" Instagram videos have become extremely popular, and the Oakland native has even announced that he's working on a rap album.
Through two seasons, Lillard has per-game averages of roughly 20 points, six assists and three rebounds. His Trail Blazers currently sit in fifth place in the Western Conference and he will be making his playoff debut this spring.