T-Mac signaled a sour relationship with Adidas during his session at the Hashtag Sports conference. After 25 years, will perceived slights mark the end of the lucrative partnership?
After more than two decades with The Three Stripes — dating back to his breakout summer session at ABCD Camp where he leapt from a last-place 175th ranking, to the No. 1 player in the country and an eventual 1997 NBA lottery pick — “T-Mac” told a crowd that he’s in a “rocky” place with the only brand he’s ever known.
“I’ve been with Adidas for 25 years — I think we’re coming to an end,” McGrady transparently said on Thursday at the Hashtag Sports conference in Las Vegas.
Of course, any time an athlete openly discusses their unfiltered expectations about a pending contract’s expiration is a big deal. That’s especially true at a live conference in today’s social media era.
“Tweet it. Put it on Instagram. Whatever you want to do, I don’t give a s–t,” McGrady said, laughing.
McGrady, who helmed six signature models during his rise with Adidas in the early 2000s, signed multiple shoe deal extensions with the company since retiring from the league in 2013.
Even in retirement, his first three T-Mac models and the T-Mac 5 remained successful retro models throughout Asia, where McGrady’s star power has lived on in part due to his association with iconic Houston Rockets teammate Yao Ming. Adidas has more than 10,000 stores in China, which helps.
The brand also created two editions of modernized silhouettes that drafted off of his T-Mac 2 and T-Mac 3 models, adding in the esteemed Boost cushioning. The new models spawned a new “T-Mac Millenium” franchise worn by Boston Celtics star Jaylen Brown and several other up-and-coming players in recent years.
When Mac made the Hall of Fame in 2017, an onslaught of retro releases were ready to go, helping to illustrate his evolution as one of the NBA’s most prolific and talented scorers in league history.
More recently, Adidas re-released the T-Mac 1 and 2 (and the Pro Model 2G) in green and gold Saint Vincent-Saint Mary colorways, worn originally not by McGrady, but rather a high school-aged LeBron James in Akron, Ohio.
In the global product plans, the T-Mac series has remained a pivotal priority. Regardless, over the course of the last decade, according to McGrady, he felt underappreciated.
According to both McGrady on stage and sources with an understanding of the internal dynamics, it didn’t go unnoticed when T-Mac’s upstart 1-on-1 tournament concept — officially dubbed the Ones Basketball League, or “OBL” for short — didn’t get the belief and support from Adidas he anticipated.
“This is why I have that attitude,” he continued. “When I started OBL, I was told I couldn’t pull this off — by Adidas. So, that’s why I feel that way.”
Conversely, in 2018, the prior Adidas Basketball leadership team had invested heavily into a multi-year, multi-million dollar sponsorship deal of Ice Cube’s professional three-on-three league, the BIG3. That deal only just recently expired, with Adidas coming away unmoved by the value derived from the sponsorship and branding.
If T-Mac and The Three Stripes indeed split, it would mean that Adidas’ two most successful signature basketball series — Kobe Bryant’s and McGrady’s — would not have the estate or athlete under contract in any official way.
For the last twenty years since Bryant’s well-reported split from Adidas after the 2002 NBA Finals, the brand has used a “Crazy” naming convention in place of Kobe’s name on several shoe models they’ve continued to release.
The re-badged retro Kobe sneakers since released by Adidas include the likes of the Crazy 97 (EQT Elevation), Crazy 8 (KB8), Crazy 2 (KB8 2), and Crazy 1 (The Kobe.)
It’s far too soon to tell if Adidas would continue to retro T-Mac models without any official association with McGrady, which would likely similarly launch under a revamped model name. As it stands, the “rocky” relationship between the two clearly has the partnership in the balance.
“The treatment that I’ve gotten from them over the last ten years, it is what it is,” McGrady added with a sigh. “I deserve better. So yeah, I think it’s coming to an end.”