LeBron has new shoes, but he can't touch Jordan

LeBron James may be one of the biggest names on the basketball court, but when it comes to sneaker sales, Michael Jordan still holds the title.


LeBron James unveils the LEBRON 12 on September 16, 2014, in Portland, Oregon.
ChinaFotoPress | Getty Images
LeBron James unveils the LEBRON 12 on September 16, 2014, in Portland, Oregon.

Nike unveiled 10-time All-Star Lebron James' signature shoe late Tuesday. The LeBron 12 debuted at an event at the company's headquarters in Beaverton, Oregon.

"This is Nike at its best: We take insights from a world-class athlete in LeBron James to inform forward-thinking designs and create the most innovative shoes," said Kelly Hibler, Nike basketball VP of footwear.

But despite the buzz surrounding the launch of one of the most acclaimed players, it's unlikely to have much of an impact on the overall basketball shoe market. LeBron-branded shoe sales top those of any active NBA players, but shoes branded in Jordan's name still top the overall market, despite the fact that the former Chicago Bull quit the game for good in 2002.

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"LeBron may be the highest-selling active basketball player but (he) represents only about 10 percent of Jordan brand sales in 2013," according to Matt Powell, an analyst at SportsOneSource, a portal for sporting goods professionals. "It's really a drop in the bucket."

James' sneakers brought in $300 million in sales for Nike in 2013, a tiny fraction of the company's $28 billion in revenue.

SportsOneSource estimates that James' shoe sales are up 25 percent in 2014 year-over-year, but that number still pales in comparison to the Jordan Brand. Jordan's namesake brand—also owned by Nike—still commands a 58 percent market share and has $2.5 billion in annual sales.

While LeBron's latest shoe may not be needle-moving for Nike's bottom line, Eric Tracy, footwear analyst for Janney Capital Markets, said it's still very important for the brand.

"It's critical in terms of sustaining the strength of the line, the brand and basketball category," he said.

Tracy said Nike has been refreshing the pipeline faster for James' signature shoes, which helps extend the cycle and keep customers coming back.

The release of the Lebron 12s is James' first shoe release since his return to Cleveland, a fact that may not help his shoe sales.

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"I see Cleveland being a negative. It's a small market. James' shoe sales were much smaller (when he played in Cleveland before) than in Miami," Powell said.

Sales of basketball shoes, a $4.5 billion market, have been on the rise. The category has seen double-digit growth over the past two years, which Tracy attributes to innovation and pricing by Nike.

LeBron 12s go on sale on Oct. 12 and will retail for $200.

—By CNBC's Jessica Golden.