Subway has spent heavily securing notable athlete endorsers for its "Eat fresh" message in recent years, but few if any of them are touting the brand as effectively as a basketball star the company isn't paying.
Meet Minnesota Timberwolves' star Al Jefferson, 24, who was emerging as one of the league's best young talents last season before suffering a major knee injury. His attempted recovery is a major preseason storyline that's being closely followed by much of the sports media.
In his attempt to reduce stress on his knee, the 6-foot-11 Mr. Jefferson dropped 31 pounds in seven months -- cutting his weight to 262 lbs. -- and he's telling everyone who asks that he did it by eating at Subway.
"Ham and turkey on wheat bread, footlongs; sometimes I eat two footlongs," Mr. Jefferson told the Pioneer Press.
The paper added that "Jefferson's Subway diet in the offseason -- which helped him lose 31 pounds -- has given him a quicker first step at the power forward position and turned him into a role model for people with weight-loss issues. ... Jefferson weighed 293 pounds when his season ended in February because of a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee. A few days after surgery, he began his diet of ham or turkey sandwiches from Subway -- complete with lettuce, tomatoes and other vegetables. For dinner, he had salads and soups."
Mr. Jefferson is also working with the American Heart Association on a "Get Healthy With Big Al" program aimed at school kids. We doubt Jared Fogle has ever secured such positive PR for the sub-shop chain, and we know Michael Phelps has not.
The chain also has deals with baseball slugger Ryan Howard, basketball standouts Blake Griffin and Tony Parker, Nascar driver Carl Edwards and NFL rookie Michael Crabtree.
Mr. Jefferson's agent, Jeff Schwartz, didn't immediately return a call about his client's uncompensated sandwich hawking, although the gentleman who took a message for him assured us that the firm is "monitoring the situation."
It may be tough for Mr. Jefferson -- who already endorses Reebok -- to extract a big endorsement deal when he's already extolling the virtues of Subway for free, but it seems only fair that the chain starts comping some of those ham-and-turkey subs, no?