Let’s talk about why the 17-year-old’s new sneaker endorsement could play a significant role in determining his next chapter after high school.
High school basketball phenom Mikey Williams has been in the national spotlight for a few years despite just beginning his junior year, and with high school athletes in his home state of North Carolina allowed to profit off of their name, image, and likeness rights, the Vertical Academy star has been able to sign endorsement deals. On Oct. 28, Puma announced it signed Williams to a sneaker and apparel deal with its basketball branch, Puma Hoops.
“Mikey joining our Puma family is exciting news for our brand,” said Adam Petrick, the company’s global director of brand and marketing in a statement. “His talent on the court and his ability to connect with young athletes and fans alike will help drive hoops culture forward and inspire the next generation of athletes.”
Neither side shared the numbers behind the agreement. But more than the money, the most intriguing aspect of the NIL pact is what it means for where Williams will take his talents after high school — and where he likely cannot.
The Mikey Williams Brand
- Instagram Followers: 3.3 million
- Twitter Followers: 60.5K
- Agency: Excel Sports Management; became first prep player with major sports agency representation
- Key deals and partnerships: Puma, 2K Sports, Topps, LaceClips, Leaf Trading Cards
The Puma deal creates two paths for Williams after high school. He could choose an emerging, alternate path to the NBA by following in Jalen Green’s footsteps and head straight to the G League Ignite program. Nothing’s stopping him from going to college, generally speaking — but he choose to go the NCAA route, there is potential for a conflict depending on which school he prefers.
There’s no unifying federal law or NCAA guidance regarding NIL, and rules vary state by state (and sometimes school by school). But we’ve never before witnessed a pre-college athlete inking a sneaker deal that directly conflicts with that of the university he’d otherwise opt to attend. This has never been put to the test, but at the very least, he would absolutely not be allowed to wear Puma sneakers on the court at a school sponsored by one of Puma’s competitors.
As it stands now, there is no school that a 5-star recruit would traditionally consider that wears Puma. The landscape has been long dominated by Nike and Adidas, with Jordan Brand gradually increasing its own market share.
This does not mean that Williams cannot attend college, or that he would have to put 100% of his deal on hold, but it’s possible he’d be relegated to repping Puma on his own time — as opposed to on national television in a prime time game — which almost certainly affects the value and parameters of the partnership as it currently stands.
Is Mikey Williams Going Pro?
A player of Williams’ caliber has the option of beginning his pro career a bit early not just with G League Ignite, but also Overtime Elite. Williams has already had a brief dalliance with Overtime, teaming with them for the reality web series “Superteam,” though he did not join OTE for its inaugural season.
G League Ignite plays a handful of games against other G League teams, giving the players a chance to face the pros. Players also receive a six-figure signing bonus, and 2020’s Ignite team produced current NBA rookies Jalen Green, Jonathan Kuminga, and Isaiah Todd. By choosing this route, Williams wouldn’t need to worry about any pushback for his Puma deal, just like any other G League or NBA player.
As it stands, Williams says he won’t be making any decisions on his future until 2023, his graduation year, which suggests that Overtime Elite isn’t so likely. 2024 would be the earliest he can be NBA Draft-eligible, but the Puma deal is a multiyear one, allowing for him to continue to grow his brand and make money one way or another without any draconian preemption NCAA or undue pressure to turn pro as soon as possible.
Puma started re-emphasizing basketball in 2018, and has looked to add young hoopers since. Players include DeAndre Ayton and LaMelo Ball in the NBA, with Skylar Diggins-Smith and Breanna Stewart highlighting their WNBA roster.
Matt Davis, Vice President of Excel Sports, recognizes Williams as one of the potential leading influencers of Gen Z.
“We treat Mikey like he’s the future No. 1 overall pick,” Davis told Boardroom. “He already has five million followers across social media. We’re not looking for regional deals. We’re looking for national and global deals.”
Davis says that while the long-term goal is to build towards a signature shoe with Puma, fans can soon expect to see Williams in retail store ads across the world.