The making of the next Michael Jordan

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College-basketball star Jay Williams is the last person you'd expect to see coming out of the offices of John Wren, Omnicom Group president-CEO, or Brendan Ryan, president-CEO of Interpublic Group of Cos.' Foote, Cone & Belding Worldwide.

Captains of industry, yes. Point guards, no.

But the talented Mr. Williams is an unusual case. The Duke University basketball star is expected to be one of the top two or three picks in the June 26 National Basketball Association draft, as well as one of the top two or three choices for companies looking for the next Michael Jordan of endorsements.

So when Mr. Williams' management team set up the traditional round of meetings with marketers, it went one step further. Call it the branding-or, to be exact, the re-branding-of a player.

"We wanted him to meet the people making the commercials, doing the marketing research and making the media buys," said Bill Sanders, director of marketing for BDA Sports Management, Mr. Williams' California-based agent. BDA even created a logo for Mr. Williams (see left).

Mr. Williams recently completed a whirlwind tour that included meetings with Messrs. Wren and Ryan in New York, a trip to FCB's San Francisco office, as well as a meeting at the Playa del Rey, Calif., office of Omnicom's TBWA/Chiat/Day with Catherine Potter, who heads the agency's Nissan account.

Mr. Williams' New York-based financial advisers, Melhado, Flynn and Associates-a Wall Street money-management firm where Mr. Williams interned last year-set up the meetings.

"I had already known Mr. Wren, and I had heard about Brendan Ryan," Mr. Williams said. "I thought there might be some marketing things out there for me to do, and I was interested to see what they thought."

The move appears to have paid off, with the agency executives saying they think Mr. Williams has plenty of endorsement potential.

"You know what impressed me most about him? He is just a remarkably likable guy," Mr. Ryan said.

The reason for Mr. Williams' foray into the ad community is obvious. Athletes for years have been able to supplement their salaries-and in some cases, surpass them-via endorsements. According to Burns Sports and Celebrities, a Chicago sports-marketing firm, Tiger Woods earned $55 million last year in endorsements. Even in his three years of retirement before returning to the NBA this past season, Burns estimated Michael Jordan earned $35 million to $40 million in endorsement deals. (College athletes are barred from doing endorsements by NCAA rules.)

On his tour, Mr. Williams also met with several marketers. NBC's morning news show "Today" has chronicled the meetings and will do a piece on Mr. Williams on June 25.

Mr. Williams was known by his given name of Jason Williams throughout his star-studded career at Duke. But he changed his name to `Jay' last month to avoid confusion with other athletes with less-than-stellar reputations-most notably Memphis Grizzlies point guard Jason Williams, whose past indiscretions include marijuana use and racial epithets screamed at an Asian fan sitting behind the team bench, and Jayson Williams, the former New Jersey Nets star and former NBC broadcaster facing trial on a charge of aggravated manslaughter.

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