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Wednesday, July 24, 2024
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Everything You Need to Know About the Jaylen Brown–Nike-Olympic Beef

  • The NBA Finals MVP has a complicated relationship with the sneaker industry.
  • He accused the shoewear giant of being behind his omission from the Olympic team.
David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

It starts, as it often does, with a carefully parsed emoji.

On Wednesday afternoon, NBA Finals MVP Jaylen Brown tweeted three emoji of a man raising an eyebrow and wearing a monocle. He was clearly reacting to the announcement that USA Basketball had selected his Celtics teammate Derrick White—a good player, but not, you know, a Finals MVP—as an injury replacement for Kawhi Leonard on the Olympic team. (ESPN had reported weeks ago that White, not Brown, was next in line.)

Five hours later, Brown made his complaints even clearer, tweeting “@nike this what we doing?”

Brown has a complicated relationship with the embattled shoe giant and the sneaker industry in general. When he posted Wednesday, many pointed out a 2022 post from Brown, when he wrote, “Since when does Nike care about ethics?” 

He was responding to news that Nike founder Phil Knight criticized Kyrie Irving for his slow-motion non-apology after sharing a blatantly antisemitic documentary on social media. 

Nike dropped Irving after an eight-year relationship because of that scandal, saying that “we believe there is no place for hate speech and we condemn any form of antisemitism.”

Brown has defended his former Boston teammate through Irving’s many self-inflicted controversies. After the Nets suspended Irving for initially refusing to apologize for sharing a link to the documentary, Brown called the suspension “inappropriate” and a “violation of our CBA,” saying it was a union issue. (Brown did later apologize for appearing to support a Brooklyn pro-Irving protest from the Black Hebrew Israelites, saying, “I didn’t have my reading glasses on.”)

But Brown’s sneaker issues go deeper than his occasional defenses of Irving, who signed with Chinese brand Anta last year. He hasn’t signed with a sneaker company for more than three years, since his Adidas deal expired. As The Athletic laid out during the Finals, Brown regularly wears Nike shoes but wore Anta at the All-Star Game; he’s by far the most prominent player without a shoe deal. (He sometimes wears Nike shoes with the swoosh removed.) Reporting in the Athletic story indicated that Nike—amid its horrific 2024—was trying to cut costs by paying endorsers less. Brown has also said that he wants “creative control” that shoe companies are to date unwilling to give him.

As far as Olympic selection, the dots are right there. Nike is a major sponsor of the U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Committee and USA Basketball, and White wears Nike shoes. Grant Hill, the director of USA Basketball and the man who made the ultimate decision, joked about it Wednesday. “For a good portion of my career, I wore Fila,” Hill said. “That was supposed to be a joke. We’re proud of our partners, obviously.” He denied that shoe politics had anything to do with picking White over Brown.

“And, so, whatever theories that might be out there, they’re just that. But that’s my responsibility,” he said. “And it’s tough. It’s tough to have conversations, tell people that they’re not on the team.

“I’m trying to win and I’m trying to put together the right pieces that fit and give us a chance to win.”

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