Houston Rockets' P.J. Tucker, the NBA's 'Sneaker King,' nears new endorsement deal with Nike

Key Points
  • Houston Rockets forward P.J. Tucker, the NBA's "Sneaker King," is a sneaker free agent.
  • Tucker's deal with Nike expired Oct. 1. 
  • Since then, he's received interest from Adidas and New Balance.
PJ Tucker #17 of the Houston Rockets is defended by Caris LeVert #22 of the Brooklyn Nets at Barclays Center on November 01, 2019 in New York City.
Steven Ryan | Getty Images

Houston Rockets forward P.J. Tucker, the NBA's Sneaker King, is close to signing his next endorsement deal since his contract with Nike expired Oct. 1, he told CNBC in an interview.

Tucker, 34, has been with Nike throughout his career and has been in negotiations with the company since his deal ended last month.

Tucker also received interest from Puma, Adidas and New Balance, his agent Andre Buck of Arete Sports Agency confirmed in an interview. The 34-year-old player is expected to command a multiyear, six-figure sneaker deal that would be the largest endorsement deal of his career.

"He's been happy with the level of interest from the various brands," Buck added when contacted by CNBC. "So much of the sneaker culture, even beyond basketball, is a part of his life."

Nike spokesman Josh Benedek declined to comment on the potential deal, citing the ongoing negotiations.

Los Angeles Lakers star LeBron James is currently the highest-paid active NBA player on the sneaker income bracket, earning roughly $32 million per year from Nike, according to Forbes. NBA All-Star forward Kevin Durant is next on the list at $26 million. Tucker's teammate, James Harden, is racking up roughly $14 million annually with his Adidas deal.

Another notable recently completed deal includes Lakers forward Kyle Kuzma's five-year, $20-plus million contract reported by ESPN.

Part of the intrigue of signing Tucker is the North Carolina native's massive shoe collection, labeling Tucker the "Sneaker King." Its estimated Tucker has more than 5,000 pairs of sneakers in his collection, and since the NBA lifted their sneaker rule in 2018, he attempts to wear a different pair each game.

With Tucker's sneaker appeal and massive following, previous deals have been mostly product-driven, with Nike providing Tucker the freedom to wear any model of his liking, including access to their full vault of sneakers. Tucker is one of the few NBA players allowed this privilege as most deals involve companies supplying players with sneakers they want to promote.

To boost sales of a particular shoe, Nike will ask its players under deals to wear James' or Durant's line or the new "Nike Zoom Freak 1" sneaker, the debut signature shoe designed for Milwaukee Bucks star Giannis Antetokounmpo.

"They're selling products, so they want you to wear certain things," Tucker told CNBC in an interview last month. "But for me, they let me wear anything I want. Everybody can't do that, especially if you're under contract.

"With that blessing," Tucker said he can wear a variety of lines, including the Kobe Bryant 4 model, his all-time favorite game-sneakers. Off the court, Tucker favors the Air Max 1 line, owning multiple versions and colors of the Nike product.

The ability to wear other brands on the court during Tucker's sneaker free agency has been intriguing for the defensive specialist, but deciding on a new deal before 2020 has always been the plan. According to sneaker marketing executives, companies are getting a "highly-marketable" figure in Tucker, who is earning roughly $8 million this season, the third of a four-year, $31 million deal he signed with the Rockets in 2017.

 PJ Tucker of the Houston Rockets switches his sneakers before Game One of Round One of the 2018 NBA Playoffs against the Minnesota Timberwolves on April 15, 2018 at the Toyota Center in Houston, Texas.
Bill Baptist | Getty Images

"Super engaging, super personable," said Eutel Wallace, manager of the famous sneaker consignment store Flight Club in Manhattan which Tucker visits when in New York. "He's a guy who is a staple of this (sneaker) culture."

Josh Abba of Sports Media World, who advises Tucker on marketing issues, said "the interest in P.J. Tucker is at an all-time high. With the rise of social media and the convergence of his fashion and rare sneaker collection, fans and sneaker enthusiasts are glued to every sneaker choice he makes before games, which increases his visibility and value to a sneaker brand."

Once Tucker agrees to a new deal, the next step is finalizing insurance coverage for his sneaker collection. Tucker is using insurance advisory firm NFP to seek a specialty provider to protect the valuables.

Tucker relocated sneakers from three storage facilities across the country to prepare for the completion of his multilevel "sneaker only loft" in Houston.

Before covering the collection, the insurer needs to assess the risks of insuring it, including the number of pairs, location and level of security. The provider will then complete a physical valuation of Tucker's collection – all part of transitioning Tucker's "Sneaker King" title into a brand.

"This is a business for him as his next journey happens," Tucker's business advisor Jason Cole of the firm Off Court Management said. "At this point, the sneakers are an investment."