North Carolina basketball is one of the biggest brands in college sports. They’ve won six NCAA national championships, been to 20 Final Fours and put dozens of players in the NBA. One of those players, Michael Jordan, just happens to be regarded as the best to have play the game, not to mention be the most important athlete ever in marketing.
That makes them a very important program to Nike, which outfits the school. In light of the scandal rocking college basketball at the moment, in which an adidas employee is accused of funneling money to a prospect’s family, all relationships between athletic departments and apparel companies are under scrutiny.
“They’ve never helped me get any player, never insinuated, never done anything,” Williams told ESPN.
“I’ve dealt with Nike and Jordan Brand since I came back here, but we never even discuss things like that. So I know it’s foreign to me.”
Certainly, to expect a coach at any school to say anything other than that regarding an apparel company would be pretty silly and naive. This is a chance, however, to explore the word “help” in terms of shoe company influence.
The FBI investigation and subsequent charges documents allege to expose a pretty blatant and, according to the justice department, illegal way apparel companies can “help” schools get players. Paying a player is as direct a way as it gets. But it’s not the only way.
What if Nike (or any shoe company) decides to expand the budget of a grassroots program it sponsors with a wink and a nod that the program pushing its kids to high-profile Nike (or any shoe company) college program would be a nice way to keep everybody happy (and paid).
Maybe the least nefarious way an apparel company can help is simply doing what they pay schools to do. Hook them up with cool gear.
I’d have to imagine that being one of just a handful of teams that rep Jordan Brand has to have some appeal to prospects. I know getting a pair of national championship Jordan shoes, of which only 25 were made, is pretty dang cool. That might “help” a prospect come to the conclusion North Carolina is the place for him.
So maybe Nike has never “helped” UNC get a player like Williams said and in the context in which he said it. But the Swoosh has certainly helped North Carolina get players.