Jaylen Brown could win NBA Finals MVP. He would make history – but not in the way you think

While the Boston Celtics are on the verge of winning their 18th NBA title, Jaylen Brown is approaching a feat unseen for several generations. He could be the first player in at least 45 years to win the NBA Finals Most Valuable Player award without a shoe contract.

Brown is a three-time All-Star, reigning Eastern Conference Finals MVP and was voted to the All-NBA Second Team last season. This honor helped him land the biggest contract in NBA history (well, for now). But the Celtics wing still doesn’t have a signature shoe or an endorsement deal with a sneaker company.

Sneaker deals are a rite of passage in the league, and certainly for its best players. Who else wins the MVP award other than some of the best players in the league? Michael Jordan has six. LeBron James has four. Kobe Bryant, Kawhi Leonard and Kevin Durant each have two.

These stars all had shoe deals and their own signature lines. Others who received the award had simple sponsorship deals. Brown has nothing, and with the Celtics holding a 3-0 lead over the Dallas Mavericks, he’s considered the favorite to win Finals MVP.

Brown was under contract with Adidas until his contract expired in 2021. Since then, he has been a free agent. This month, he wore a pair of Nike sneakers to every game. He wore Kyrie Irving’s ANTA sneakers during the All-Star Game.

“I’m more inclined to go down this disruptive sneaker path,” he said last fall during an appearance on the Point Forward podcast. “Most of the agreements that athletes sign are sort of stationary. Here it is, cut and dry, with no creative control, no control over your marketing, but no input, really. Don’t even talk about creative control. No real contribution, to be honest. In the marketing budget, how you are branded, campaign ideas; a lot of this stuff is developed for you.

By opting out of a sneaker deal, Brown became the highest-profile sneaker free agent in the league. This choice probably cost him a significant amount of money, although it is difficult to say how much.

There has been a downturn in the sneaker industry in recent years, particularly at Nike, agents and industry sources said. Where rookies could come into the league and get a sneaker contract, even if the price was in the six figures, they could now get merchandise deals instead. The company has also been more stingy toward veterans.

Nike has lost key sponsors in recent years. They cut ties with Irving in 2022. Nikola Jokić, fresh off being named Finals MVP, left Nike for 361 Degrees last year.

Matt Powell, a longtime industry expert and advisor to Spurwink River, said shoes associated with big-name players no longer sell as well and in as large quantities as they used to.

“This business is significantly smaller than it was ten years ago,” he said.

Nike has, by far, been associated with the most Finals MVPs since 1980. Their shoes have been on the feet of 22 winners, and Leonard won his Finals MVP award in 2014 wearing Jordan Brand. Converse has been the shoe supplier of choice for Finals MVPs, but only one since 2003, when it was acquired by Nike (Dwyane Wade in 2006).

NBA Finals MVPs have worn an assortment of shoes on their path to history. Stephen Curry is the face of Under Armour. Leonard wore New Balance in 2019. Tim Duncan won wearing Nike (1999) then Adidas (2003). Hakeem Olajuwon signed back-to-back deals in 1994 and 1995, first with LA Gear before signing with Spalding to launch his own low-cost shoe line.

Brown’s closest analogue might be Shaquille O’Neal. The star center wasn’t associated with any major shoe company when he won three straight Finals MVP awards from 2000 to 2002, but he wore someone’s shoes on his feet: his own. He launched Dunk.net, his attempt to create an Amazon for clothing, with the backing of high-profile investors and venture capitalists and positioned himself as the centerpiece of the advertising campaign.

Brown, at this point, has no shoes to sell. He’s a very good player without a shoe deal, and on the verge of a career-making award, not to mention an endorsement profile. But what he will do next is undetermined.

As an emerging star in a large market, with a Finals MVP award under his belt, Brown could make a case for a strong offer, industry experts believe. But he could also choose to follow his own path, giving him the control he seeks.

Several players have launched their own shoes in recent years. Spencer Dinwiddie produced and sold his own shoe while with the Brooklyn Nets. Langston Galloway launched his own company, Ethics, in 2021. Brown has his own sportswear line, 7uice, although he has not yet created sneakers. He apparently wore a prototype shoe for half of this season’s All-Star Game.

“Wanting and being able to have representation, control and a say in how your narrative is projected is not something that big companies are really trying to do,” Brown said this fall.

As he’s already shown, Brown is willing to do things his way. He remains in control of his sneaker future and he could get more negotiating power, or a larger platform, as soon as Friday night if the Celtics complete their sweep of the Mavericks.

(Photo: Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images)

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