Being considered a star in today’s NBA is quite possibly the only thing that matters to players.

Star players have the luxury of financial security, fame and notoriety, and sway. However, while superstars tend to hold mass appeal over entire cities, they are also subject to the mass scrutiny that comes with the territory. A bad game here or a lingering injury there can completely derail their perceived excellence, leading to smaller contracts, less fans, and less sway over an organization.

Therefore, it became a point of curiosity to see how much fluctuation an NBA superstar could see in his life based simply off of on-court performance.

Now, in order to do this, we needed to define a few variables. While hammering down on court production is easy based on in-game statistics, the difficulty lies in establishing how we will gauge their net worth. Since basketball contracts are long-term deals, the money players make is not reflective of their on-court play. Additionally, social mentions and public discourse surrounding a player is subject to the interactions that a player incurs throughout their career.

For instance, it would be near impossible to gauge the volatility of Kyrie Irving’s popularity since he plays alongside the most talked about athlete in the world in LeBron James, his other teammate Kevin Love is in trade rumors, and his head coach was just fired.

Therefore, we decided to stick to what we know best and see if there are direct correlations between the on-court production of a player and the revenue they see from the shoe deals.

The Constants:

We took four players at different stages of their careers and with varying levels of success, and we reviewed their playing stats compared to individual shoe vendor data. The data sample is from a select set of shoe vendors in order to draw correlations from trends in shoe sales. As such, the revenue data should not be interpreted as a comprehensive picture of the player’s total yearly shoe sale revenue.

As a point of note, our individual shoe vendor data has been adjusted by a constant ratio so as to not disclose any confidential information while also allowing trends to remain accurate.

Player stats are from the 2014/15 and 2015-16 season, so as to cover all applicable months in the 2015 calendar year.

The hypothesis is that a player’s off the court revenue is exactly as volatile as their on-court production.

Kobe Bryant: Overpaid and Underperforming?

Shooting guard Kobe Bryant of the Los Angeles Lakers has definitely had a Hall of Fame career. On top of his 5 championships with the Lakers, Bryant is an 18-time NBA All-Star, 15-time All-NBA player, and 12-time member of the All-Defensive team. Due to his highly accomplished and prolific body of work, Bryant is the largest cap-hit in the NBA, making $25 million this season.

However, despite being one of the most recognizable players in professional sports over the past two decades, Kobe Bryant’s shoe sales are the second lowest of our test sample. For 2015, his shoe revenue amounted to $361,500. Comparatively, King James saw shoe sales of $3.6 million for 2015.

So, what led to this precipitous drop in revenue? Well, one explanation might be injuries.

On January 21, 2015, Bryant suffered a rotator cuff tear in his right shoulder while going for a two-handed dunk against the New Orleans Pelicans. Though Kobe is in fact right-handed, he still returned to play in the game and ran the offense while shooting and passing almost exclusively with his left hand. He underwent season-ending surgery for the injury, finishing the season averaging 22.3 points but shooting a career-low 37.3 percent, well below his 44.8 percent career mark. He was expected to be sidelined for nine months with a return targeted toward the beginning of the 2015–16 season.

Prior to the injury, the start of the 2015 calendar year was nothing special for Kobe. He was playing relatively well on the court, but the Lakers team was losing consistently and Kobe himself seemed to be frustrated more than focused. This lack of competitiveness was evident in his shoe sales as well, as Kobe’s only made roughly $21,000 worth of sales.

In January 2015, Forbes was looking to find the NBA’s most overpaid All-Stars, beginning with a pool of the 50 highest voted players that the NBA released in its balloting results and then compared each player’s salary to on-court performance through January 19th, (as measured by Wins Produced).

"Bryant tops the list [of overpaid all-stars] thanks to a combination of being the league's highest-paid player, with a salary of $23.5 million, and on-court performance that has actually hurt his team's chances according to Wins Produced."

By the end of January of the 2014-2015 season, the Lakers won 13 games and lost 34, as Bryant only averaged 14 points per game and 36.4% of field goal attempts.

An Injured Player’s Correlation to Shoe Sale Revenue

In February (when Bryant was out the whole month for injury), the Lakers were a mere 3-7 to end the month at 16-41. With Kobe not even being physically present on the court and the team struggling to find any success without him, Bryant saw a major drop in shoe sales of nearly 65%.

Now, it is tough to distinguish based solely on the close of the 2014/15 season whether or not Kobe’s play, or lack thereof, was the primary cause of the drop in revenue or if it was the overall team’s record that resulted in a lack of fan passion for Kobe merchandise, but the numbers do speak for themselves.

Kobe’s Final Season

At the start of the 2015/16 season, Bryant’s shoe sales seemed to have jumped while all of his counting stats were on the decline.

Kobe Statistics vs Shoe Sales

This directly contrasts with what was learned from the 2014/15 season in regards to the effects of on-court performance and the correlation to team success versus shoe sale revenue. However, there is an obvious disrupting factor that can be specifically related to off-court revenue for Kobe Bryant.

This past November, Kobe announced his retirement after a 20-year career spent entirely in Los Angeles. On retirement he said:

"This season is all I have left to give."My heart can take the pounding. My mind can handle the grind. But my body knows it's time to say goodbye."

After making this announcement, his shoe sales became immune to team or player performance.

After struggling through November, Kobe saw his December sales increase to $71,350, all while Kobe was playing poorly compared to his career averages and the Lakers had a sub .500 record.

To be fair, Kobe did increase his shooting percentages across the board in December, and the Lakers doubled their win total from November. It was still not enough to justify any real movement in his off court sales.

Therefore, it is safe to assume that the consistent rise in shoe sales is due to the Kobe Bryant retirement tour, where he is going to be playing in cities across the country and Canada for the final time of his career. This is causing an uptick in merchandise sales that are a good prediction as to why this is revolves around Kobe’s retirement tour, as Bryant travels from city to city, his shoe sales also go up. As Kobe is a Hall of Fame player, it makes sense, as he is approaching retirement shortly.

Though Bryant hasn’t had as much success in the United States as Lebron James or Kevin Durant, his retirement will most likely impact his shoe sales.

Kevin Durant: Shoe Sales Up as Player Performance Rises

Kevin Durant, the ex-MVP forward of the Oklahoma City Thunder, is unquestionably a scoring prodigy. There is an argument to be made that he is still a top three player in this league next to LeBron James and Steph Curry.

In January of the 2014/15 season, Durant was outperforming expectations, as he was contributing 25.5 points, 8 rebounds, and 4 assists. Unfortunately, even with Durant’s statistical success, the Thunder were sitting with only a 23-24 record on the season.

However, the Thunder were able to turn things around in February, going 9-3 on the month, on the back of an uptick in overall play from their dynamic wing. Durant’s play went to another level in February, seeing him shoot over 50% from beyond the arc and seeing his plus minus skyrocket to a plus 15.4.

Durant’s shoe sales seemed to follow his play in witnessing drastic improvement from January to February as well.

In January, sales from his shoes brought in $117,300 in revenue, and in February, sales went up to $442,400, an increase of 277%.

Is it more applicable to attribute this jump in revenue to the overall team’s play or more specifically Durant’s play?

The short answer is both.

When Durant was playing well in February the Thunder turned into a practically undefeatable team. Therefore, it’s safe to say that the combination of both player and team performance is the primary reason why there was such a noticeable spike to his shoe sales, since the data shows that the two are linked.

This becomes even more apparent when we take into consideration the following two month’s data:

An Injury to Body and Wallet

We are starting to see a trend here.

When a player gets injured and is physically off the court, he is also out of the fan’s minds.

While Durant was injured in March and April of 2015, his shoe sales saw our anticipated decline. It started off slowly fading in March to $417,000 only to truly plummet in April, when he only brought in $154,000 of sales. Not to mention, OKC didn’t make the playoffs, even further negatively impacting his public presence.

Sales Sky-Rocketed into the Summer

As the summer went on before the 2015-2016 season, Durant’s sales escalated heading into the NBA season. This is not uncommon, as we have seen the anticipation of the NBA season lead to increase in shoe sales among all four of our test subjects.

However, from July to September, we saw in increase of sales of over 90%. While you always have to consider the fact that shoe releases take place throughout the year, such as the KD 8 Independence Day release, which will skew some month’s data, the scale of the increase is noteworthy. It is safe to assume that the anticipation of an ex-league MVP returning to the court to reestablish the Thunder as one of the league’s best teams was enough to drive excitement levels.

Durant was back on the court in October for the start of the 2015/16 season, but his shoe sale revenue didn’t drastically increase until December. The Thunder as a team didn’t start playing well until December when they went 12-3 and escalated to become one of the best teams in the Western Conference. This could explain the delayed resurgence in shoe sales, or it could be indicative of the fact that there was a substantial run on his shoes prior to the start of the season. Natural decay of demand is something to be expected with products like this.

"King James" and Shoe Sales

It’s no surprise that Lebron James, the forward for the Cleveland Cavaliers, sells an immense amount of shoes --- nearly double that of Durant, the second best seller. James has been ranked as one of America's most influential and popular athletes, as he has won two NBA championships, four MVP awards and two Olympic Gold Medals.

In January of 2015, shoe sales for James were at $174,000, as James was averaging nearly 30 points, 6 rebounds and 6 assists per game as the Cavaliers were struggling to fit all of their newly acquired talent together for their inevitable playoff push.

In February, when Cleveland had a record of 37-23 and many of James’ new shoes were released, including the Lebron XII, the Lebron XII Black Bright Crimson and the Lebron XIII AS White Black Multi, shoe sales went through the roof. Sales went up to $605,000, or an increase of 247% over January.

As a note, it is probably safe to say that LeBron James is recession proof. Even over the summer break, James was averaging shoes sales over $200,000. Therefore, it is fair to assume that his name is strong enough in the public realm to ensure that, even when he is not on the court, his non-NBA revenue is not going to be affected.

On top of just having a recognizable name, James was also featured in one of the summer blockbuster movies, Trainwreck, which was released in July, which combined with the Cavaliers making a run to the NBA finals to deliver a strong June showing for James’ shoes.

Shoe Releases for the Holiday

It is clear that the holiday rush is the primary driving factor behind the 70% uptick in sales between November and December.

Additionally, in December of 2015, Nike signed a lifetime deal with Lebron James, which came as no surprise since James has had his own signature shoe since the 2003-2004 NBA season. Being as he is the most popular player in the NBA, press like this brings financial rewards to both James and Nike.

A Star Basketball Player With No Injury

The interesting question to begin to consider is how much of an impact an injury would have on James’ shoe sales.

As the only one of our four player candidates who never suffered from an injury during the end of the 2014-2015 season and the start of the 2015-2016 season, James was able to be consistently on the court and in the eyes of the media. He was able to perform up to the lofty statistical expectations that he has set for himself throughout his noteworthy career, and even led his injured and depleted team to the NBA Finals.

With all that said, the question still remains, would James’ shoe sales have gone down if he had been injured? Or, as we asserted earlier, is LeBron James recession proof?

Given the data from the other three players, who were all injured at different points in the analyzed time period, the odds of his sales decreasing would appear to be pretty strong.

However, LeBron is the only athlete in our study to keep a consistently steady rate of sales over the summer, which indicates that he has spread his public presence as well as any athlete possibly can. Sustaining retail strength even during an injury would not only have been possible, but probable as his team’s strength as a playoff contender and James’ off the court persona would carry his sales.

Kyrie Irving’s Performance on the Court

Kyrie Irving, point guard for the Cleveland Cavaliers, has achieved numerous successes as a professional basketball player. As the first overall pick out of Duke and the lone All-Star on a struggling Cavaliers team prior to being joined by Lebron James and Kevin Love, Kyrie has become one of the most recognizable players in the NBA.

Between January and February of 2015, Kyrie was on a tear. He was averaging 22 points, 5 assists, and just under 40% from deep. He also managed to knock down 11-three pointers against Portland, the second most points scored in Cavaliers history (behind James' 56).

After seeing a historic showing against Portland, Irving’s shoe sales jumped in February, increasing by over 84%. In fact, even though his statistics for the remainder of the season remained fairly consistent with his January stats, Irving’s shoe sales never regressed back to his January numbers. The best explanation for this established success may be Kyrie’s consistent level of play and the Cavalier’s playoff run.

In February, when Cleveland’s record was 37-23, Irving’s shoe sale revenue was at $35,500. Due to the fact that Irving’s play was directly responsible for bringing Cleveland success, he was able to monetize his performance off the court.

Injured Knee Means Injured Sales

After helping to bring the Cavaliers to the NBA finals, Irving left Game 1 against the Golden State Warriors in the overtime period with a knee injury.

Irving was ruled out for the rest of the series the following day with a fractured left kneecap, sidelining him for three to four months. The Cavaliers went on to lose the series to the Warriors in six games. Over the summer and leading into the new season, Irving saw his shoe sales plummet.

Local vendor data shows Kyrie’s sales decreased 61% between September and October, going from $38,000 to $15,000. November sales for Kyrie dropped even further to $10,500 in total, or a 90% drop when compared to September sales.

Once irving was playing again in December of 2015, his sales increased slightly, but he was still roughly down $10,000 from the end of the previous season, in spite of the Cavaliers’ fantastic record and positioning for another strong playoff run.

So..what’s the verdict?

Simply put, playing well really matters.

Ok, so that is pretty simple logic, so let’s assess this a bit deeper.

Across the board, overall shoe sales saw the biggest jump in November, raising roughly 69% on average and continuing to rocket into December. This is to be expected, as seasonality definitely drives sales.

However, the players that saw the largest jump in sales during this time were Kobe and Lebron. Kobe’s jump is explained by his retirement announcement, while Lebron’s jump is explained by his popularity, so any seasonal adjustments are exponentially larger for a player of his caliber.

After the basketball season ends, most sales trickle off, but increase throughout the summer from May to September, going substantially up as the basketball season gets closer and closer. Once the basketball season begins, the sales also go up dramatically and tailor off in October, as the season is well under way.

The other constant is that a player’s shoe sales dip once they suffer an injury and are removed from the spotlight of the court. Tying all these points together, it is safe to say that not much volatility is to be expected from the perspective of the shoe company once a player is popular enough to deserve a personal shoe line. The major points of impact from the business side of things comes from extended periods on the injury list.

Otherwise, there are definitive variables based around player performance, but players superior enough to earn shoe deals tend to average out their statistics to support strong sales. When a player performs on the court, his shoe sales perform off the court.


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