Where does Jordan Brand success leave Nike in basketball?

Ad Age did a brief case study on the Jordan Brand last week, revealing that it has eclipsed the sneaker sales of Reebok and addidas. That surprised me for a minute, but not when you look deeper at the roster of athletes it has assembled. Dwayne Wade, Carmelo Anthony, and Chris Paul are arguably the next three most marketable players behind Lebron and Kobe, so add all of their sneaker sales with the line of Air Jordan’s and you can see why the sales numbers are where they are.

My question is what does Nike plan to do moving forward. Jordan Brand has limited distribution, premium pricing and positions itself as the Mercedes (or fill in the luxury brand) of the industry. One look at their website indicates what the brand strives to be – the lineup of athletes dressed in fine suits lounging in a room no sign of sneakers, basketballs, or uniforms. Jordan Brand also poached Derek Jeter and CC Sabathia, a few prominent football players, and boxer Roy Jones. Again, all top of the line public figures in their respective sports.

Will Nike take Jordan Brand to other sports and continue to carry it as the premium play it is now, or will extend vertically in basketball, expand distribution, and offer products at various price points? From there, what is the end game for brand Nike? If they allow Jordan Brand to expand within basketball, which I don’t feel is the strategy, does Nike shift its focus away from basketball all together. If it horizontally expands Jordan over to baseball, football, and beyond as the premium brand, does it start to target lower price points or will it compete directly with Jordan risking some cannibalization to house maximum market share under the same Beaverton, Oregon roof?

I don’t have any answers, but it’s a testament to the power of MJ on how fast this entity grew and the lineup of stars it immediately attracted. At a time when Under Armour is trying to enter the sneaker business, Nike continues to get stronger, and with Jordan Brand now successful on its own, brand Nike can shift its efforts to other sports and other products to cut into the strengths of Under Armour, Reebok, and addidas.

Truth Will Cost Josh Howard

Finding out an NBA player – anyone for that matter, be it pro athlete, presidential candidate, or union worker – smokes marijuana is not earth shattering news. Josh Howard, previously suspected of marijuana use as far back college, admitted to smoking pot in the off-season on “The Michael Irvin Show” on the local ESPN Radio affiliate in Dallas last Friday. Commend Howard for his honesty, however probably cost himself millions of dollars, and created an unneeded distraction for his time.

You have to question his timing, selecting the day of a playoff game to discuss marijuana use. Already down two games in the series, an off court distraction is the last thing Dallas needed as a team, or for one of its star players. The Mavs did answer the bell Friday night, beating New Orleans, but lost convincingly last night, and now sit one game from elimination, down 3-1 in the series. Howard played like he had a cloud over him, shooting an abysmal 8-32 from the field in the two games, only scoring 6 points on Sunday.

Howard’s marijuana admission marks the second major PR hit for the Jordan Brand roster of stars this month. Earlier this month, Denver police arrested Carmelo Anthony on DUI charges. Anthony, fresh off a $60 million extension with the Jordan brand, probably hurts the brand more, but Howard’s double whammy does not help. Without knowing the intricacies of his contract, I wonder if the Jordan brand will try to distance themselves from Howard after his comments.

His agent and PR team will need to do a lot of spin work to rebuild the image Josh Howard has created for himself before he gets another endorsement. Sponsors are increasingly wary of signing athletes with the recent spate of off the field problems, afraid an athlete can taint the image of the product. A former All-Star, Howard cost himself future marketing dollars with this public admission.

Losing out on money is not new for Josh Howard. Back in 2003, the reigning ACC Player of the Year fell to 29th in the NBA Draft party due to suspicion of marijuana use contributing to an already questionable public persona due to his association with various entourages and discipline problems at Wake Forest. His skill warranted border-line lottery status. That year Howard received a 3-year, $2.56 million rookie contract as the last pick of the first round, while the last lottery pick, Marcus Banks, signed for $4.58 million for three years. Right there, Howard left two million on the table, though he since compensated with a 4-year, $40 million extension. Nonetheless, lost money is lost opportunity.

The NBA gave no indication if they will reprimand Howard. Mavs owner Mark Cuban stated the team would deal with the issue internally. Needless to say, in a league rebuilding its image, David Stern and the league office cannot be happy with Howard disrupting the playoffs with another story that creates a negative perception among fans.

Again, its befuddling why Howard would go out of his way to bring up the marijuana topic when Irvin did not probe him about it. Honesty is the best policy, but sometimes silence is smarter. This underscores the fact that agents and teams need to coach players on interview skills, and monitor them off-the-court more than ever.