College basketball superstar Zion Williamson’s entry into the professional ranks could kick off an unprecedented bidding war between sneaker rivals Nike and Adidas, according to legendary industry executive Sonny Vaccaro.
Williamson, 19, is widely expected to enter the NBA Draft – and to be the first overall pick – after a dominant season with the Duke Blue Devils. The high-flying phenom is expected to sign a sneaker deal before the NBA draft lottery in mid-May, and the contract could rank among the largest-ever for a player entering the league, according to Vaccaro, a sports marketing executive who worked for Nike, Adidas and Reebok.
"In my lifetime, I think it's going to be the biggest bidding war ever done," Vaccaro told ESPN. "I would put them all on go."
Vaccaro suggested that Williamson’s initial sneaker deal with either company could approach $100 million in value. By comparison, LeBron James received $87 million to sign with Nike ahead of his NBA debut.
Williamson is expected to draw offers from as many as six brands, including Nike, Reebok, Adidas, Puma, New Balance and Anta, according to ESPN.
Williamson already has a high-profile history with Nike. The 285-pound forward’s Nike sneaker exploded during a rivalry game earlier this year against North Carolina, prompting a wave of criticism aimed at the Oregon-based company. In response, Nike designed a customized sneaker for Williamson, whose school, Duke, has an apparel deal with the brand.
But a nine-figure sneaker deal is only part of Williamson’s long-term earning potential. Vaccaro said he has the potential to become a billionaire, given his talent on the court and appeal to potential corporate sponsors.
"If Zion doesn't change, I predict that he will be the first basketball athlete at 18 years old that the world is rooting for to become a billionaire. I say billionaire, very easily," Vaccaro said. "He is going to have an opportunity to be the face of every company and every major corporation. He is the most marketable person I've seen, for a lot of different reasons."