NEW YORK (CNN/Money) -
One is an NBA all-star and a key member of the team that has won the league's past three championships. The other is still in high school.
But when Los Angeles Lakers star Kobe Bryant signs his next shoe endorsement contract in the coming months, it's possible if not likely that he'll sign for less money than high school star LeBron James.
|High school player LeBron James will soon see shoe endorsement millions that even many pros will never see.
One industry executive estimates that James will sign a deal for $25 million, the biggest deal signed by an amateur athlete turning pro since golf star Tiger Woods had his coming out financed by Nike.
Bryant, who gave up a contract for roughly $5 million with Adidas after last season, is now playing without a shoe contract, and looking for a new one. But reportedly Reebok has pulled out of the bidding, essentially leaving Bryant with only Nike as a potential endorser, and without as much leverage to get the top dollar.
James won't have that problem. The shoe companies are all eager to sign him in the hopes that he will live up to all the hype and potential that put him on the cover of Sports Illustrated as a high school junior.
LeBron's appearance on Sports Illustrated's cover as a high school junior only added to his endorsement appeal.
"There has been a never ending quest for the next Michael Jordan ever since Jordan came along," said Bob Williams, president of Burns Sports & Celebrities, who arranges athletic endorsement deals. "The fact is there isn't another Michael Jordan out there. But the companies are hoping they find that in James. Kobe Bryant may be the best player in the NBA, but he's shown from the standpoint of selling shoes and apparel that he's not in same league as Michael Jordan."
Sonny Vaccaro, director of grassroots basketball for Adidas, says that James is an incredible talent who may eventually justify all the hype. But he said at this point it's the hype that has made him such a hot commodity among the shoe companies.
Plenty of time
"I'm willing to bet for the long term. He doesn't have to turn into Michael Jordan for a long time. He's only 18," said Vaccaro. "Right now he's caught up in the greatest media frenzy there is. His name recognition is greater than Kobe right now. It's the hype. He's had the greatest build up in the world."
James has taken some public relations hits recently. The Ohio High School Athletic Association considered revoking James' eligibility because he was driving a $50,000 Hummer sport/utility vehicle with three televisions that his mother gave him. The Association cleared that gift, then revoked his eligibility for accepting two pro basketball jerseys from a local shop. James went to court to win reinstatement.
Vaccaro said those controversies only added to James' fame and name recognition, and while it may scare away some potential endorsement deals, it won't scare off the shoe companies.
"They (non-shoe sponsors) have other outlets, they have celebrities, singers," said Vaccaro. "I think the other companies will come in after the shoe company. But the shoe companies can't afford to wait -- they have to act right away."
They'll have to wait a little while, though. James last regular season high school game is this weekend, and not surprisingly, his St. Vincent-St. Mary High School team is expected to go deep into the post-season tournament. The shoe contract will likely be complicated enough that it won't be completed within days of the end of his high school deal, Vaccaro said. But he also doesn't think it'll take long.
"I've never been able to meet with his legal representative," Vaccaro said. "There's so much to shoe deals. It wouldn't be wise for him to sign anything without having his legal people break it down. But I don't think it'll stretch as far as the NBA draft."
By the time of the draft on June 26, Kobe Bryant could have another championship ring. But LeBron may have grabbed the gold ring. The shoe company that signs him had better hope they've found the next Jordan, or it could end up as the big loser in the long run.