Should Paul George, Roy Hibbert have more prominent roles with major shoe brands?

Mike Ehrmann

It has been nearly a decade since Jermaine O’Neal’s signature shoe was released by Nike. Shoe advertisements abound, but still none of them feature the Pacers’ two most recent All-Stars. Should fans expect change?

Picture this... It is the mid-2000s, and basketball season is fast approaching. You decide to head to your favorite sporting goods store, and, once there, you begin checking-out the latest selection of kicks. Almost instantaneously, your eyes hone in on the signature basketball shoes - the luxury footwear designed exclusively for the league's elite.

With anticipation mounting, you quietly ask yourself, "Which pair should I choose?"

Up and to your left sits the Dada Latrell Sprewell Spinners.... nah, way too gimmicky. Over to your right is a large display marketing the Audi inspired Adidas Kobe II.... oh no, too boxy. Want a training shoe? You could always try the Reebok Allen Iverson OTC.... uh huh, a high top is a must. From there, you decide to turn your attention to the latest releases from the Adidas "21121" collection. How about the Adidas T-Mac V with actual hardwood embedded on the outside of the heel? What about the Adidas Garnett 3 donned by the league's most recent MVP? Maybe you should just go with the old stand by and purchase the Air Jordan XX?

You continue browsing the racks, but nothing seems quite right. As innovative or fresh as the selection may be, disappointment is setting in fast. Deep down you were hoping that, this time, there would be another option. This time, you thought you would not have to pick a pair of signature shoes inspired by stars from only the Lakers, Sixers, Rockets, Timberwolves, or Bulls.

But wait! Lo and behold, down and to your left sits a shoe with blue and gold colorway. Animatedly, you snatch up the shoe. Through closer inspection you notice a small gold "7" on the right side of the heel. Turning the shoe toward the front, your eyes focus in on the "JO7" logo embroidered on the tongue.

This is it! This is what you were searching for all along - the Nike Shox Elite Jermaine O'Neal signature shoe. You make your purchase feeling pleased that you can finally wear a pair of shoes donned by an Indiana Pacer.

Now let's fast-forward to the present. The same dilemma that some fans and/or customers may have experienced in the mid-2000s, still exists. If you make a trip to your preferred sporting goods store today looking for signature sneakers, you are likely to only see the Nike Lebron XI, Nike Kobe 8, Nike KD VI, Jordan Brand CP3.VII, or Adidas D-Rose 4.

If you turn on your television during a nationally televised NBA game, shoe endorsement commercials will more than abound. But, you will just see more of the same names. Derrick Rose will be asking you to let him tell you something about how basketball is everything. LeBron James will be meeting tag-alongs outside of his palace gates for a bike ride. Chris Paul will be holding another "Riquickulous" postgame press conference.

And wait there is more - outside of advertisements for signature shoes, avid NBA Fans are also regularly inundated by Damian Lillard, John Wall, and Jrue Holiday endorsing Adidas while A$AP Rocky explains why, "Quick Ain't Fair." Meanwhile, Reebok has Jason Terry, Nerlens Noel, and Isaiah Thomas breaking ankles in a pick-up game.

See any themes here?

Read any names of players from the Indiana Pacers? Specifically, have you seen any shoe ads that at all feature the Pacers' two most recent All-Stars?

Nope. Nada. Not a one.

Of course, the lack of commercials featuring Paul George and Roy Hibbert is not purely by accident. HoopsHype's most recent log of sneaker endorsers and users lists Roy Hibbert as a Nike "endorser" - specifically the Hyperfuse. Meanwhile, Paul George is shown as merely a "user" of Jordan Brand. Of course, that sneaker information may be outdated given that George, as part of team Nike, made this electrifying dunk at the Nike Sports Festival in Shanghai, China back in 2012.

On the surface, the two players' lack of lucrative shoe deals is not exactly surprising, neither player has the résumé of a LeBron, Kobe, Durant, or Rose. They have not been league MVP, they have not won multiple scoring titles, and they have not been NBA Champions - yet.

When Jermaine O'Neal's signature shoe was released in the mid-2000s, he had finished third in the NBA MVP voting and was a multi-year All-Star. He had averaged 20ppg and 10rpg. In the prior season, the Pacers had posted an impressive 61-21 regular season record, and were, once again, title contenders. He had more than earned the recognition bestowed upon him by Nike when the shoe juggernaut released the Jermaine O'Neal Nike Shox Elite.

That being said, in an article about Rajon Rondo's new shoe deal with the Chinese brand, Anta, the Boston Herald cited a list from the May edition of Forbes Magazine containing the top revenue earning celebrity kicks. The rankings were as follows: LeBron James, Kobe Bryant, Carmelo Anthony, Kevin Durant, Derrick Rose, John Wall, and Dwight Howard.

Cleary a case can be made that James, Bryant, Rose, Durant, and Howard, have reached more career milestones than George... but John Wall, really (George and Hibbert have already had more playoff success than Wall and Anthony)?

Now, arguably, it may be premature for either of the current faces of the Pacers' franchise to have a "signature shoe." Let them be selected as All-Stars a few more times, chosen for All-NBA Teams, or win an NBA title, and then, hopefully their time will come.

Even so, it is still rather peculiar that George does not, at least, have a more front and center role with one of the major or minor shoe companies (If not for looking at his feet during a game or happening to see a clip of that dunk in Shanghai, would most fans even know George was affiliated with Nike?).

It becomes even odder when you examine some of the most recent shoe endorsement deals. Kawhi Leonard recently signed a deal to be one of the faces of Jordan Brand. Stephen Curry just became the centerpiece of Under Armor. Rajon Rondo, as previously stated, recently held a press conference to announce an eight year deal that he signed with Anta where he will design his own shoe and active wear line.

Is George not on par to be as good as or better than the above stars?

If the answer is yes, logic says that shoe companies would definitely be attempting to push the budding superstar to the front of the money making line - especially when considering how well he has started off the 2013-2014 regular season (George is one of only three players in NBA history to win his first eight games of the season and average 20 or more points doing so). The Pacers' star has already been an All-Star. He has been selected to an All-NBA team. He has been the league's Most Improved Player, and his name is already being tossed around as a possible MVP candidate.

Why not sign him to a more lucrative deal?

The answer to that question may remain a mystery unless George is directly asked.

However, if one were to make an educated guess (as to why George and Hibbert are absent from the most prominent shoe advertisements) it would be the Indiana Pacers' ever-present small market problem. You know, that ‘thing' that causes the Pacers to only have the 10th most national television appearances this season. That ‘issue' that results in Indiana - currently, the league's top team - being snubbed from the Christmas Day schedule, while the Brooklyn Nets, New York Knicks, and Los Angeles Lakers - currently, lottery bound - will all make appearances on the league's biggest game day of the year (well, there is a silver lining here, at least the Pacers will not have to wear those new pajama-like short sleeved jerseys designed for the Christmas Day teams).

Ah yes, the small market problem.

It continues to keep the Pacers off national television. Supposedly, it prevented national media members from voting for one of the best rim protectors in the league for DPOY last year. It likely even impacted the number of All-Star votes Paul George received last year from fans (seriously, Ray Allen, Raymond Felton, Jason Terry, and Shane Battier all received more votes). And now, it is likely causing the major shoe corporations to think twice about marketing two small town All-Stars on the national stage.

Of course, it is more than just a little disappointing that Pacers' fans cannot go to a store and purchase the shoes officially endorsed by their local stars.

Maybe Nike, Jordan Brand, Adidas, Reebok, or Under Armor, etc. just need a little motivation in order to feel confident in featuring Paul George or Roy Hibbert in the future?

Perhaps, Roy Hibbert is already providing the needed incentive. After the Pacers defeated the Chicago Bulls earlier this season, the Naptown center tweeted the following:

"People act like I can't have individual goals. I didn't talk about it in the past. Well now I am. I WANT DPoY. That's gonna help my team win"

With reference to his teammate, he later added:

"Best believe @Paul_George24 getting that #MVP trophy this year. No one playing like him"

Admittedly, Roy received some backlash for rather brazenly making premature claims to the NBA's most prestigious awards - but was he wrong? He and his teammate have already earned early places on the NBA.com, KIA "Race to the MVP Ladder." George is slotted at #3 behind only LeBron and Kevin Durant, while Hibbert slipped in at #10.
Who knows, if Hibbert and George can position themselves firmly in the DPOY and MVP conversation while leading their team to the Finals, then perhaps, just maybe, they will be able to overcome the small-market problem and be seen as more marketable or profitable by the major shoe brands.

Is it possible, in a few years, that fans will find a shoe with blue and gold colorway amidst the latest releases of the LeBron, KD, Kobe, CP3, and D-Rose signature lines? Will they be able to pick up a shoe and see a small "24" or "55" on the heel of the shoe? Will a "PG24" or "RH55" logo appear on the tongue?

Fans can only hope.

If so, that is a purchase I would surely make, would you?

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