Think the sneaker wars aren't heated? You're wrong
Posted: Monday July 18, 2005 3:23PM; Updated: Monday July 18, 2005 5:16PM
Kevin Love (right) got to take his game up against the No. 1 high school player in the country, Greg Oden (left).
Michael J. LeBrecht II/SI
Love, shown here in the ABCD underclass All-Star game, was rated the No. 3 player in the entire camp.
Michael J. LeBrecht II/SI
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Kevin Love's celebration dinner was interrupted by a ringing cell phone. It was only a few hours after he had been named co-Underclassman of the Week (along with O.J. Mayo) at the Reebok ABCD Camp in Hackensack, N.J., on July 8 -- and Nike was calling Kevin's father, Stan, at the restaurant table. And Nike was not pleased.
See, Love, a 16-year-old who is arguably the second-best high school junior in the country, had, up until this July, been a "Nike kid." The 6-foot-9 forward lives in Nike country (Lake Oswego, Ore.); his dad played for what is now Nike's flagship university (the Oregon Ducks) before heading to the NBA; and Kevin played on a Nike AAU team (the Portland Legends) and attended past Nike summer camps. And he was expected to attend the 2005 Nike All-America Camp in early July.
Kevin, however, started sizing up the potential ABCD camp roster -- which included marquee names such as Greg Oden, Bill Walker and Mayo, all of whom Love hadn't played against in his young career -- and told his dad, "I want to face those guys." Love's decision to spurn Nike's camp for Reebok's -- they took place at the same time -- was not a sneaker-label defection. It was merely motivated by a desire to change up his summer routine. "You shouldn't be restricted by a shoe company at 16," Stan Love said of his son. "Any competitive guy who wants to be a player is going to want to play the top competition." So Kevin did just that -- he brought his wide body and old-school game to Jersey instead of Indy, eschewed the swoosh for the G-Unit script, and finished as the No. 3-rated player in the ABCD camp behind Oden and Mayo.
It was, as young Kevin would tell his father, "the greatest basketball experience of my life." He planned to head to Augusta, Ga., the day after the celebratory meal to join his Nike-sponsored AAU team at the Nike Peach Jam. That was, until his dad answered his cell at the restaurant. A Nike traveling basketball rep, Don Crenshaw, was on the other end, and as Stan recalls, "[Crenshaw] said because Kevin attended the ABCD camp, they didn't want him to go to the Peach Jam -- and that 'Nike will no longer be associated with Kevin Love.'
"Kevin didn't have two hours of happiness to enjoy his player of the week [honor]. The call ruined our dinner -- it was bad timing and it was disgraceful on their part."
Crenshaw, when reached by cell phone late Friday, declined to speak about the situation. Nike basketball representative Rodney Knox, to whom Crenshaw referred calls, was unavailable for comment.
Still, the message implied in Nike's action is both obvious and weighty -- that Love, three years away from being eligible for the NBA Draft and an actual shoe contract, is expected to be the de-facto property of one shoe brand, regardless of if that relationship prevents him from showcasing his talents against the Odens and Mayos of the summer-camp circuit. "In Nike's mind, they think they lost Kevin to Reebok, when they didn't lose him to anybody," Stan Love said. "He's 16 and he's going to be a junior in high school. It's crazy."
Oregon, a Nike-sponsored athletic program, wants to see Love, the state's No. 1 prospect and the son of a former Duck star, play in Eugene, but the feeling at present is not mutual. Love does not include the U of O on his list of potential colleges -- and while his disinterest in the Ducks more likely can be attributed to shaky state of affairs in the their hoops program, rather than the logos on their shoes, Nike's latest move did nothing to improve Oregon's standing. The Ducks are widely considered to be the Nike athletic program -- U of O alum Phil Knight, Nike's Chairman and founder, is a major booster, and the company's Beaverton headquarters is just a 100-minute drive from the Eugene campus.
"If Oregon is so tied in with Nike, Kevin wouldn't consider Oregon if Nike is going to treat my kid like that," Stan Love said. "But Oregon has its own problems going on right now. Just the fact that Kevin doesn't list Oregon anymore tells you where that's at."