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Wednesday, May 21
Updated: July 22, 5:08 PM ET
Sources: LeBron, Nike agree to seven-year deal

By Darren Rovell

LeBron James is more than a month away from signing with an NBA team, but Wednesday night, the 18-year old phenom -- projected to be the No. 1 pick in the June 26 draft -- agreed in principle to a seven-year deal with Nike, sources told

Who had highest offer?
Nike was expected to win the LeBron shoe derby because the company had more money to spend. However, sources told, Reebok actually had the higher offer, but James and his representatives choose to go with the swoosh instead.

This information contradicts details put out by Reebok in a news release on Thursday afternoon. In the release, Reebok said "the costs associated with securing a long-term partnership with (James) was far beyond what we are willing to invest." The company also said that Nike "put more money on the table" and it was Reebok's choice not to match a final offer.

Given the money they are spending on James, don't expect Nike to wait to long to start marketing him. A signature shoe could be out as early as the start of the season in October and a Nike-branded James apparel line could complement the shoe. A separate James logo is also being considered.
-- Darren Rovell

Sources said the deal was worth more than $90 million, but less than the five-year, $100 million deal Tiger Woods signed with Nike in Sept. 2000. The deal also includes a $10 million signing bonus.

"Nike is the right fit and has the right product for me at the right time," James said in a statement. "They are a good company that has committed to supporting me throughout my professional career, on and off the court."

The official announcement came Thursday.

"It truly came down to which company LeBron was most comfortable with," Aaron Goodwin, his agent, told reporters Thursday. "Up until the end, I thought we were going with Reebok."

The battle for James -- which formally began when he declared for the draft on April 25 but actually had begun years before -- was thought to be only between adidas and Nike.

Nike, a $10 billion company with the largest market share in the athletic shoe business, was willing to spend plenty, but James' St. Vincent-St. Mary team had worn adidas, thanks to the work of adidas' director of basketball Sonny Vaccaro. Vaccaro also declined to comment on James' reaching an agreement with Nike.

But once James turned pro, Reebok executive Tom Shine -- who could not be reached for comment Wednesday night -- told that he kept quiet to respect James' amateur status. Over the past few days, Reebok emerged as the favorite, but in the end James went with the swoosh, less than 24 hours before the league lottery.

Rick Burton, executive director of the Warsaw School of Sports Marketing at the University of Oregon, said watching how Nike shareholders respond to the news on Thursday should be interesting.

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"When Tiger Woods signed his first deal with Nike worth a reported $40 million, one analyst said that Nike overpaid and downgraded the stock," Burton said. "A couple weeks later, when Tiger won the Masters, it was concluded that they had bought the right guy. We'll obviously have to wait until October to see the first glimpse of LeBron."

With Nike officials confirming on Tuesday that they had signed Carmelo Anthony, the company could have locked up the first two picks of the NBA Draft, which takes place on June 26. The company also is expected to announce a deal soon with Kobe Bryant, once a penalty clause expires in Bryant's existing deal with adidas in June.

Wednesday was a big business day for James, as he also signed an exclusive trading card and memorabilia deal with Upper Deck. Goodwin declined to give specifics, but one source with knowledge of the deal told it was a five-year contract worth at least $1 million per year plus a $1 million signing bonus.

Darren Rovell, who covers sports business for, can be reached at Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.

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