On opening night of the 1994-1995 NBA season there were 24 international players spread throughout the respective team's rosters in the league. Fast forward 25 years and there were 108 international players from 38 countries on opening night of the 2019-2020 NBA Season. Historically, foreign players (with the exception of some standout talents) have been mostly role players or secondary players to superstars. Not anymore. A host of international player's in today's game are among the best in the league. That's right, the best in the league. The Milwaukee Bucks' Giannis Antetokounmpo, Nuggets' center Nikola Jokic, Sixers' duo Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons and last year's most-improved player Pascal Siakam of the Toronto Raptors are just a few elite players in the NBA who make up the international player list. One player we did not mention is currently the sixth leading scorer in the NBA, Dallas Mavericks guard Luka Doncic. According to the NBA, Doncic is currently 4th in this year's NBA MVP race behind Giannis, Lebron and Kawhi Leonard - not bad company. While his stats this year are quite impressive, it's even more mind-blowing that he's just a kid.
Dallas Mavericks guard Luka Doncic is a nightly stat-stuffer. He's averaging 29 minutes per game and scoring 29 points per, pulling down 9.6 rebounds and dishing out 8.6 assists. Those numbers rival any player in the NBA at this point of the 2019-2020 season. What makes those numbers even more unique is that Doncic is only 20-years old. Repeat 20-years old. He's the only player in the history of the NBA to average 25 points, 8 rebounds and 8 assists at 20-years old. Doncic hasn't even begun to scratch the surface of what he can do in the NBA. He's clearly a "generational talent" that is going to be a perennial NBA All-Star, All-NBA Team and eventual NBA MVP. His transcendent ability has no limits to what he can achieve on the court... and also what he can earn.
Luka's Nike Deal
The method to the madness of starting off this article highlighting the international phenomenon then going into Doncic's individual stats is quite clear. He's the best of the best when it comes to international players and companies seeking endorsements like Nike drool over foreign gems like Luka. Why? It's pretty simple. The USA market is well-covered and saturated. There is still plenty of money to be made and market share to be taken overseas when it comes to sports and apparel brands like Nike. In Luka's case, Nike has their eyes fixated on Europe.
Already an international basketball star, signing Luka Doncic to a big deal wasn't a risk for Nike. His dramatic success in the NBA may be a little sooner than thought, but also not a major surprise. This past December, Nike announced they signed Doncic to a 5-year deal to endorse the company's Air Jordan line. Fellow young NBA superstar, Zion Williamson also signed with Nike to endorse Jordan's and his deal was worth 5-years, $75 million. For some unknown reason, Luka's financials were not released, but you can guess the numbers are in the neighborhood of Zion. The Jordan brand has had a series of huge wins which has prompted them to announce their first $1 billion quarter in December of 2019. For young international players it must be a dream to be associated with the legend Michael Jordan, which is exactly what Doncic said when his signing with Nike was announced.
“Growing up in Slovenia, and all over Europe, everyone knows about Air Jordans because of the impact Michael Jordan has had all over the world,” Doncic said in the blog post. “It’s a brand with an amazing history. The more I learned about their plans and how much they believe in me, it became an easy decision.”
The Luka Doncic & Nike partnership seems to have some serious long-term potential and will give Nike an advantage in the European market by backing one of their own.
Nike's European "Wonder Kid"
Luka Doncic's professional basketball career started at the age of 13 when he signed with one of Europe's premier clubs. At the age of 16 Doncic signed with a club in Spain and was nicknamed "Wonder Boy" for his incredible talent. He's had success at just about every stop he's made in such a short span of time. One has to keep reminding themselves he's only 20 years old now! He's already helped Slovenia win its first FIBA Intercontinental Cup championship and he was also named Euroleague's MVP in 2018. Luka Doncic's name recognition across Europe gives Nike a great advantage in their efforts to grow the market. However, it's the Jordan/Doncic combination that may prove the most formidable. Even Doncic knows the impact of being with a brand like Jordan,
“I love the fact that there has always been a select number of athletes representing the brand,” Doncic said. “All Jordan athletes are world class at what they do, and I have a lot of respect for that.”
That number of athletes is even smaller when it comes to international-born players. Most of the superstars under the Jordan brand are all US-born players like Russell Westbrook, Jimmy Butler and Chris Paul. Thus, Luka becomes a huge asset to the brand in their efforts of getting more grass-roots and gaining market penetration beyond just the Jordan name.
Overall, it's a massive win for Nike that has leveraged the name of one of the greatest athletes (not just greatest basketball players) that ever lived. The international presence in the NBA is growing and it seems almost a prerequisite now that brands have endorsement deals with foreign-born players. In Luka Doncic, Nike doesn't just have an European-born basketball player. They have a once-in-a-generation talent that could be mentioned with some of the all-time greats if he continues to trend the way he has in the first two years of his career.