Reebok isn’t cool.
I had that epiphany sometime around sixth or seventh grade. The Swoosh had gradually subjugated Reebok to the second tier of sporting-apparel couture. And, even though Reebok had snagged the fastest-rising names like Emmitt Smith and Shaquille O’Neal, it just couldn’t come up with a catchy name for its awkward crisscrossing logo.
Adidas had always been there, of course, quietly furnishing little soccer players with cleats and socks.
One thing I hate about Reebok is that I couldn’t buy any real Wisconsin basketball shorts —
Reebok wouldn’t produce them for retail.
Now they won’t produce them at all.
In case you hadn’t heard, Wisconsin is an Adidas school now, joining Nebraska, Tennessee and Northwestern, among others. Sponsoring professional teams and college programs has historically been a measuring stick for shoe companies. As much as sponsoring athletes, it shows who’s selling its product.
Just so you know where Reebok stands, it doesn’t endorse Shaq or Emmitt anymore. It doesn’t sponsor many athletes anymore, or many schools. About the only one that can make Reebok look cool is my boy Allen Iverson, and he’s BIG.
Having Allen helps, and helped Reebok secure an exclusive contract to outfit the NBA with jerseys and merchandise. Problem is, even the NBA isn’t cool anymore. Allen might change that, but that’s another column.
Sweatshops aren’t cool either. That’s what I’m told, anyway. People march on Bascom Hill and sit in and chant and write letters about sweatshops. I never cared much.
Not that I was proud to go to a Reebok school. Remember, Reebok isn’t cool. Michigan State used to be a Reebok school. Then they won a national championship and switched to Nike. UW went to the Rose Bowl and the Final Four and still wore Reebok — until the protests.
When the athletic department cited “human-rights violations” as a reason why Reebok’s contract wasn’t renewed after last year, the protestors were happy. I still didn’t care.
But I care now.
Remember when I said the NBA wasn’t cool — that’s because it’s saturated with young players that weren’t ready to come out, whether from high school or college.
Adidas is part of the problem, and it doesn’t affect just the NBA or even college. It affects basketball and athletics at large. The problem is that Adidas, as well as the Swoosh and probably other companies, pay top-rated high school players. There are no salaries, but the companies give gifts, sometimes in the thousands of dollars, to these athletes, hoping that they’ll sign with them when they get a large pro contract. It doesn’t matter the money they waste on the ones that don’t make it, because they earn it back a thousandfold on the ones that do.
Because of that, companies like Adidas don’t worry about encouraging the kids to go to college (the players can’t rightfully go anyway after accepting money). As a result, kids lose scholarships or go undrafted, missing the opportunity to get a college education. That’s not cool.
I remember when Adidas became cool. Right about the time Reebok was on its last legs. It wasn’t just the soccer brand anymore. It was on the feet of every sixth- and seventh-grader, in the form of Sambas and Brasils. That was only the beginning.
Emmitt won his last Super Bowl and Shaq lost to the Rockets in the finals.
Keyshawn Johnson was drafted No. 1 and signed with Adidas. A year later, Kobe Bryant was drafted No. 13 and signed with Adidas. Adidas wasn’t just cool, it was big-time.
In February, a Sports Illustrated article revealed Bryant had been one of these high school talents “cultivated” by Adidas, which may have played into his decision to skip school. Same with Tracy McGrady. Bryant and McGrady’s success only sets an example for high schoolers who imagine they have NBA talent but actually can’t compete with professionals.
It corrupts high schools, which have no governing body like the NCAA to say a kid can’t play if he’s paid. And it obviously affects colleges, which now have to compete with shoe companies as well as agents to keep players honest and in school.
If Wisconsin’s Adidas ties ever attract one of those blue-chip players, it wouldn’t be such a great endorsement if the kid is forced to leave school because his shoes were too cool.