Correction Appended: Oct. 26, 2012
Derrick rose of the chicago bulls is often thought to be the heir to Air Jordan. Two seasons ago, he became the youngest-ever league MVP, at 22. Last year, though, he blew out his knee in the first game of the playoffs; the Bulls were blown out shortly after. So when the point guard takes the floor this season, he'll be shouldering huge expectations from Windy City fans.
He'll also be carrying a shoe company on his back. Rose's comeback after surgery and rehab is being supported--if not produced--by Adidas. The German sporting-goods multinational is not only introducing the newest Rose-model basketball shoe, the D Rose 3, but also granting him the ultimate accolade: his own brand and logo. The campaign features a five-episode Web miniseries documenting Rose's return, and the logo, not surprisingly, is a rose--with three petals, for his three brothers, and a 1 in the center for his mother.
The human logo is the biggest risk a sporting-goods company can take. Kobe Bryant was a bust for Adidas, and Lance Armstrong's association with Nike is now disgraced. Nevertheless, Adidas is eager to take the risk with Rose. Adidas already has plenty of street cred: classic models like its Stan Smith tennis shoes have been repopularized by hip-hop star Jay-Z. And Adidas is a power in soccer and running--categories it all but created.
But despite total global sales of $17.5 billion last year, Adidas lags behind its American rival in hoops, a sector that Nike still owns courtesy of its relationship with Brand Jordan. Basketball shoes represent a $4 billion global market that's only getting bigger, and Adidas says it has the right guy and the right product to make some noise. "Icons and innovations are the most important things to being a global brand," says Lawrence Norman, Adidas' vice president of global basketball. "When it comes to icons, we feel good about having what we feel will be the No. 1 icon in basketball."
Adidas has been scouting Rose since he was a teen, and the company waited two years before bestowing brand status on him. Although Rose's basketball skills are otherworldly, to be front man for a brand involves other calculations: the position he plays, the city he plays in, how good the team can be, his off-court style and whether he represents the brand's values. "You put all that into a bucket and hope to get the most of it," Norman says. Plus, the athlete has to appeal to teenagers, because high school kids are the main buyers of hoops shoes. Adidas says Rose, only 24, clicks with that vital group. The styling also has to click with that coterie, which is partly why design is an 18-month process from concept to manufacturing. (Nike's stylists were known to rummage through Michael Jordan's closets looking for style cues.)