Nike Basketball announced last Monday that it has inked NIL endorsement contracts with five well-recognized high school and college basketball players including three top high school prospects – Juju Watkins, Bronny James, and DJ Wagner – and two standout women’s college basketball players — Stanford’s Haley Jones and Iowa’s Caitlin Clark.
In 2021, all athletes of the NCAA and certain high schoolers (depending upon their state of residence) were given the ability to profit off their name, image, and likeness. Luckily, California and New Jersey, where James, Watkins, and Wagner reside, permit high schoolers to sign NIL deals.
Since signing UCLA women’s soccer star Reilyn Turner in 2021, Nike signed a deal with Stanford women’s golfer Rachel Heck and Stanford women’s soccer commits Gisele and Alyssa Thompson — twins who attend the prestigious Harvard Westlake in Los Angeles. While Nike has taken its time building its NIL roster, a pattern is emerging and it has become clear that Nike is interested in two types of players: women and high schoolers.
Nike now endorses two Sierra Canyon High School basketball players, Bronny James and JuJu Watkins. Watkins, a senior guard, is the No. 2 player in the 2023 class, per ESPN. She is also a two-time USA Basketball U17 Gold Medalist and two-time Championship MVP. Watkins dominates on the court with her strong scoring and rebounding abilities, but she has also dedicated a lot of time off the court to help her community as she volunteers with Watts Labor Community Action Committee and youth basketball camps. Following Nike’s announcement, Watkins said: “My family’s always given back to the community and now it’s my turn. With Nike’s support, I know I can make a difference. I can’t wait to share my love for the game with young athletes in Los Angeles – especially in the Watts community – and around the world.”
Bronny James, the son of NBA star and longtime Nike athlete LeBron James, is a 4-star prospect and the No. 45 overall player in the class of 2023, according to 247Sports’ composite rankings. The James name has been associated with Nike for a long time, as LeBron signed his first deal with Nike in 2003 when he was 18. Bronny, a high school senior at Sierra Canyon, joins his father LeBron, who signed a lifetime deal with Nike in 2015 that is reportedly worth more than $1 billion. Bronny plans to use his deal with Nike to continue supporting the LeBron James Family Foundation, which aims to create generational change for kids and families in Akron, Ohio through education and co-curricular initiatives. Following Nike’s announcement, Bronny said in a statement: “For as long as I can remember, Nike’s been a part of my family. Getting a chance to team up with them and continue my family’s legacy both on the court and in the community is wild — it really means a lot to me.” While Bronny has yet to decide on whether to attend college next year or enter the professional ranks, Memphis, Ohio State, and USC have offered him scholarships.
However, Bronny and the rest of the 2023 class are looking up at top prospect DJ Wagner, who is the No. 1 overall recruit in the class of 2023, per 247Sports’ composite rankings. Like Bronny, DJ comes from an NBA family. His father, Dajuan Wagner, was the 6th overall pick in the 2002 NBA Draft and his grandfather, Milt Wagner, had a successful college career at Louisville before joining the NBA as a second-round pick in the 1986 NBA Draft. DJ, a senior point guard from New Jersey’s Camden High School, is looking to become the first third-generation player in NBA history. Off the court, DJ has established an annual community giveback program that provides book bags filled with school supplies to thousands of kids in Camden. Following Nike’s announcement, DJ said: “I’ve seen the impact this game – and the people who play it – can have on the community, and I’m looking forward to taking it to the next level with Nike in Camden and beyond.” While Wagner has not committed to a college program, he has taken official visits to Kentucky and Memphis, both sponsored by Nike.
While Watkin, James, and Wagner may eventually establish themselves as collegiate stars, that is something Clark and Jones have already done. Clark, a sophomore guard, stars for the Iowa Hawkeyes women’s basketball team and has established herself as a solid offensive weapon as she led the nation in points and assists per game last season, averaging 27 points, 8 assists, and 8 rebounds per game. In 2022, she was named the Big Ten Conference Player of the Year and the Nancy Lieberman Point Guard of the Year. She also received the Dawn Staley Guard of the Year Award and was a first-team All-American. Following Nike’s announcement, Clark said: “I grew up watching Nike athletes across all sports play their game. They have inspired me to work hard and make a difference. I’m humbled to be part of this first Nike basketball class and passionate about inspiring the next.”
Jones, a senior guard at Stanford University, is a two-time USBWA All-America and an AP All-America recipient. She was the 2021 Most Outstanding Player of the NCAA Tournament and last season’s Pac-12 Player of the Year. Last season, she averaged 13.2 points, 7.9 rebounds, 3.7 assists, and 1.1 blocks in 30.8 minutes per game. With her deal from Nike, Jones is looking to help her community through youth engagement in underserved communities. Following Nike’s announcement, Jones said: “Basketball has given me so much over the years. I’m excited about the opportunity this partnership presents — to give back to my community in more ways than I ever imagined possible.”
A statement released by Nike read: “Each athlete is recognized as a player who is paving the way for the next generation on and off the court. These athletes push Nike to think about new ways the game can break barriers, bring people together, build community and shape the future.”