Adidas woos basketball's rising star

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Adidas-salomon is locked in a battle with its main sneaker and apparel rivals in trying to sign high-school-basketball phenom LeBron James to a lucrative endorsement deal.

Nike, Reebok International and Adidas are all courting the 18-year-old star of Akron, Ohio's St. Vincent-St. Mary High School. Mr. James, who has drawn comparisons to Michael Jordan, is expected to bypass college and be the National Basketball Association's No. 1 draft pick in June.

Neither Mr. James nor his mother, Gloria, who acts as her son's representative, could be reached. High-school players are prohibited from hiring an agent prior to graduation.

While Nike is the acknowledged giant, Adidas has made inroads with Mr. James and his family by sponsoring his high-school team.

Mr. James is expected to get a shoe deal estimated at a minimum of $5 million a year. "He'll get his shoe deal," predicted Steve Rosner, president of 16W Marketing, East Rutherford, N.J. "But mainstream marketers want to see a proven product first before they take a leap of faith."

Mr. James has already helped at least one marketer get some free publicity. When his mother bought a $50,000 Hummer for his birthday last month, the Ohio High School Athletic Association investigated the source of the financing. OHSAA prohibits players from capitalizing on their fame.

Though satisfied with the financing, the organization later suspended Mr. James after he accepted jerseys worth more than $800 from a sporting-goods store. He went to court and had his eligibility reinstated.

contributing: alice z. cuneo

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