In December 2019, Dallas Mavericks All-Star guard Luka Doncic signed a sponsorship deal with Jordan brand, which is reportedly lasts five years. At the time, Doncic had already won Rookie of the Year, was getting MVP buzz and was off to a historic start in his sophomore season. He likely could've signed with any sneaker brand in the world if he wanted, but after wearing Nikes throughout his professional career in the EuroLeague, he decided to stay within the Nike family and join Michael Jordan's namesake brand.
Other brands were fighting to sign him to a contract. At one point Doncic wore Stephen Curry's Under Armor shoes to test out some other brands, but he wasn't wooed to sign a deal somewhere else. Apparently, though, LeBron James was trying to put something together to make Doncic a "Team LeBron" athlete.
Luka reportedly signed a 5-year deal with Jordan Brand last year. With this proclamation by LeBron, you have to wonder if four years from now if LeBron launches a “Team LeBron” brand under Nike if he’ll still try to get Doncic on his list of athletes. pic.twitter.com/LARh74KTmN— Jasmyn Wimbish (@JasmynWimbish) December 3, 2020
In an appearance on the Road Trippin' podcast, James details the story of how he went to Nike to try and create a "Team LeBron" brand under the Nike umbrella, similar to what the Jordan brand is, and what Curry just created with Under Armor. If Nike would've allowed it at the time, LeBron wanted to make Doncic his first athlete under his brand.
"When Luka was going through his contract negotiations with Nike, I wanted to begin Team LeBron, and have Luka as my first signee. This is what I wanted, and I don't believe that my guys at Nike were ready for that. I don't even know if Luka knows this, but he knows now. I wanted Luka to be the first signee of Team LeBron, and it didn't happen. He's still under the same umbrella of Nike, but I wanted him to be Team LeBron. That's how much I believed in him. I feel like it's going to haunt me a little bit, but I wanted him to be my guy.
For Doncic, that is a sterling endorsement from a player who he has openly talked about idolizing as a kid. LeBron went on to praise Doncic's game, calling him one of his favorite players in the league, and recognizing the similarities in their play styles.
If LeBron does create a brand under the Nike umbrella, there is still the possibility of Doncic becoming a signee of his, but by the time his contract is up with Jordan -- which is in four years -- he'll have some incredibly lucrative offers on the table from every brand in existence. James wanted to get in on the ground floor before Doncic became a multiple-time All-Star and perennial MVP candidate, but that ship has sailed. Doncic is considered an MVP favorite for the upcoming season, and the historic start to his young career has sped up the Dallas Mavericks timeline to make them a legitimate title contender far sooner than expected.
It's also interesting that Nike didn't grant LeBron his wish, considering he is the face of their brand, and given the biggest miss the swoosh has to its name in Curry. The story of Curry leaving Nike to join Under Armour is well known, and it was brought up again recently as the two-time MVP announced the creation of his own brand within the Under Armour brand.
Technically the Jordan brand is still under Nike, so in a way they still have Doncic, but on an athlete roster that features Zion Williamson, Jayson Tatum and Russell Westbrook in the NBA, it can get a little crowded.
LeBron speaking of Doncic's talents also further solidifies the young guard's quick ascension to becoming a face of the league. That role is still very much filled by LeBron, and likely will be until he hangs up his sneakers, but the two players have been compared more and more as Doncic's game has developed, and as he continues on a trajectory unlike anyone except for LeBron.
Doncic's star continues to rise in the league, as evidenced from the NBA giving the Mavericks a Christmas Day prime-time game against the Lakers, and making them one of the nationally televised games in the league's opening weekend. LeBron knew this would happen, but he wasn't able to get everything together in time to capitalize on it.