Just ahead of his NBA rookie debut, No. 1 overall pick Paolo Banchero has signed a multi-year footwear and apparel endorsement deal with Jordan Brand. The deal is set to make the Orlando Magic power forward a future face of Michael Jordan's longtime Nike subsidiary company.
"The opportunity to be a part of the Jordan family means everything to me," said Banchero. "I grew up wearing Jordans, and to now be a part of his brand is really a dream come true."
To start, Banchero said he'll look to highlight and wear "different flavors" from Jordan's current performance basketball lineup, namely the Luka 1, Zion 2 and both the mid and low-top looks of the Air Jordan 37.
"The marketing and the product, and just how exclusive they are," Banchero said of what appealed to him. "Jordan, to me, is real sharp and stylish at the same time. I feel like that fit me real well."
Throughout his shoe deal process, negotiated by former Magic player Mike Miller's upstart agency LIFT Sports Management, Banchero saw the impact that his sudden No. 1 pick selection in late June had on accelerating the interest he had received from several brands during the spring.
In May, he took an official pitch presentation from Adidas at a tricked-out Hollywood mansion, where the brand showcased their vision of Banchero being part of the "next wave of stars to come to Adidas." The one-and-done Duke star also received strong interest throughout the process from Puma.
"When Jordan stepped in, that really kind of made me raise my eyebrows," smiled Banchero. "They don't try and sign everybody."
At a recent video shoot just ten miles from Nike's World Headquarters in Beaverton, Oregon, longtime Jordan Brand executive Howard "H" White officially welcomed Banchero to the "family."
The meeting place was the Helvetia Tavern, a modest bar and restaurant just a backroads cruise away from the Nike offices, that first opened in 1946.
White has been with the company for 40 years, and was instrumental in the foundation of the Air Jordan series and Jordan Brand, as Michael's personal sports marketing rep throughout his playing career and beyond.
As the legend goes, White had driven off campus for lunch in 1984, on a quest to try out the Tavern's famed "jumbo burger." In a rush back to One Bowerman Drive, he was late to the first of many campus meetings with a young Michael Jordan.
"He doesn't let me live it down [even] today," joked White, now the Vice President of Jordan Brand Affairs.
With camera and lighting equipment rigged throughout, and his father Mario nearby, it was now the setting for White to share stories with Banchero about Jordan's competitive fire, and advice for the 19-year-old to stay on his path towards achieving his dreams on and off the court.
"This is fun," Banchero said after the shoot wrapped on set. "Coming out here, to what seemed like a random tavern at first, and then I was hearing the story, the history behind it and the significance of this place."
For Banchero, family has always been a constant in his life, and that close-knit feel also emerged as a theme that led to his decision to sign with Jordan Brand. His parents were both athletes, with his mother Rhonda Smith a star basketball player at the University of Washington in Seattle, where she met Mario Banchero, a tight end on the school's football team. Paolo's unmistakable purple Draft suit was a nod to his parents and their UW colors.
Smith-Banchero left school as the all-time leading scorer for the Huskies women's basketball team, before her professional career in the WNBA with the Sacramento Monarchs began soon after. As the Bancheros eventually settled back in the Seattle area to raise a young Paolo, they'd often make the trek down I-5 to the Portland area to visit close friends, who worked at Nike.
"I got family ties to Jordan," smiled Paolo. "Cliff King is one of the guys who works at Jordan, and that's been a family friend of mine since I was a young, young kid."
King joined Nike Football in 2006, where he managed partnerships with top NFL athletes like Odell Beckham Jr, Colin Kaepernick, Russell Wilson and countless others. In recent years, he had shifted to Jordan to grow their gridiron business, as the brand now features nearly twenty NFL players wearing the Jumpman logo.
Banchero will be the first NBA player that King is assigned to manage.
"I've known him before I was even a basketball player," said Banchero. "It's just funny how life works out how it does, and now I'm with Jordan and we're together in business."
It was only three summers ago that Jordan Brand began a refresh effort to bolster their NBA athlete roster heading into its 23rd year, since officially launching as a subsidiary of Nike Inc. in 1997. In a span of six months to close 2019, Jordan signed Jayson Tatum, Bradley Beal, Caris LeVert, Rui Hachimura, Luka Doncic and Zion Williamson, perhaps the most coveted rookie to enter the league since LeBron James.
Both Tatum and Williamson also share a Duke connection with Banchero, leading him to tap into that "brotherhood" for advice during his shoe deal process.
"Them saying, 'Regardless of how much money they're paying you, they're always going to take care of you. Anything you need, whether it's on the court or off the court, they're going to try their best to make it happen for you and look out for you,'" he recalled. "That right there was one of the big reasons why I decided to come."
On the patio of the Helvetia Tavern, just before a break to try out a custom Jumpman logo-charred "jumbo burger" for himself, Banchero sat intently as White recounted the starting points of Jordan's career and how he handled great expectations early.
"Everyone says how great Michael was," began White. "But he was a great listener."
"That was a great conversation," said Banchero. "He's full of energy and a great guy to talk to ... All of the stuff that he was telling me, there's a lot of stuff that I could take from him and apply to my journey."
As he officially begins that NBA journey this Wednesday against the Detroit Pistons and last year's No. 1 pick in Cade Cunningham, Banchero has his shoe deal process now in place, and the platform of being the top pick heading into the 2022-23 season.
"There's a certain expectation that people have of you and a standard that they're going to hold you to, but I like it," said Banchero. "I'm more than ready for it."