It’s hard to think of a greater vote of confidence in an athlete: Nike, the world’s largest sportswear brand, has signed LeBron James to a lifetime deal.
The company announced the news today. ”We can confirm that we have agreed to a lifetime relationship with LeBron that provides significant value to our business, brand and shareholders,” Nike said in a statement. “We have already built a strong LeBron business over the past 12 years, and we see the potential for this to continue to grow throughout his playing career and beyond.”
Nike has not offered details on the size of the deal. But ESPN reported that it is the “largest single athlete guarantee” in Nike’s history, and said a source revealed that it “easily surpasses” the 10-year, $300 million deal that Nike signed with NBA star Kevin Durant of the Oklahoma City Thunder last year.
Currently, James, who is signed with the Cleveland Cavaliers, makes $44 million per year from all his endorsements, for a total yearly income of $64.8 million, according to Forbes.
It could be a risky move. Nike is betting big that James won’t do anything to damage his brand for basically the rest of his life, though James hasn’t been prone to tabloid-worthy behavior.
Other brands have signed such deals on rare occasions. Adidas, notably, has lifetime contracts with the NBA’s Derrick Rose and David Beckham. But Nike has never signed such a deal before, at least not officially.
Nike, of course, has had a strong business relationship with Michael Jordan since it signed him in 1984, and that partnership seems extremely unlikely to end anytime soon. Jordan brand, now its own Nike subsidiary, currently does about $2.25 billion in sales, and Nike sees that figure doubling by 2020.
Those sales also explain Nike’s new deal with James. LeBron James is arguably the greatest player in NBA history. He’s been called better than Jordan, and while his sneaker sales aren’t quite at Jordan’s level, he’s currently the top salesman in the NBA. James’s signature Nike sneakers sold an estimated $340 million in 2014, nearly double the amount Durant—the second-highest seller—brought in, and an increase of 13% from the previous year.
Nike reportedly doesn’t intend to break out James’ brand into its own subsidiary just yet, but as Jordan has shown, a brand like that can be profitable well past retirement.