After a stalemate over long-term extension talks with current endorser Jordan Brand, Toronto Raptors All-Star wing Kawhi Leonard has agreed to a multi-year shoe deal with re-emerging brand New Balance, according to league sources.
The deal was first reported by Yahoo Sports.
"It's not official," Leonard said at Wednesday morning's media availability. "Me and New Balance haven't announced anything."
He was wearing socks and no sneakers during the session.
It is common in shoe deals that incumbent brands will have up to 10 business days to exercise their "match rights clause," though Jordan Brand has long been resigned to letting Leonard walk, meaning the new contract should become official by next week.
While terms have not been disclosed, industry expectations are that New Balance is likely to have offered significantly more than $5 million per year. That range would be on par with the Jordan Brand extension that Leonard turned down earlier this spring, a four-year deal worth up to $22 million.
Although his existing Jordan endorsement deal expired Oct. 1, Leonard has been wearing last year's Air Jordan 32 Low model during games.
The per-year figure would place Leonard among the top-15 annual shoe deal earners in the NBA. In all shoe deals, there are a variety of additional incentives for individual awards like All-Star, All-NBA team and MVP designations, as well as team success. Each stage of the playoffs beyond the second round triggers additional bonus money. The Raptors currently boast a league-best 18-4 record, powered by Leonard's MVP-level play.
It has not yet been confirmed whether Leonard will receive his own signature model or simply become the face of New Balance's new basketball sneaker. According to industry sources, Leonard and his team have been vetting potential creative agencies to launch and manage his social media accounts.
The notoriously quiet former Finals MVP last tweeted in 2015, and does not have an Instagram account. For many brands in recent seasons, online presence and pre-arena entry fashion have taken on enormous importance.
As part of its re-launch into the basketball footwear industry, New Balance has been closely following sneaker free agents over the past year and looking to sign a headline endorser for 2019. The brand pitched Joel Embiid, Kelly Oubre Jr. and Gordon Hayward earlier this fall, though each player eventually signed elsewhere.
According to industry sources, New Balance not only presented "very competitive" cash offers but also wowed players with tours of their Boston-based headquarters, personalized digital display boards, iPad mixes of the players' journeys, and a strong marketing plan.
For some players, there were reservations about the brand's limited footwear range for the 2018-19 season, as the company is still working to design and build new silhouettes. The brand was known in the NBA throughout the late 1980s with the launch of its James Worthy signature shoe, and last released performance basketball models during the late 2000s.
With Leonard now on board, New Balance is expected to outfit the Raptors star with the debut of its new basketball model, though an exact timeline has yet to be confirmed.