To date, Lonzo Ball has yet to step foot on NBA hardwood.
But, if you listen to his Dad, Lavar, he’s the greatest thing since Stephen Curry. Or greater. Right now, however, the UCLA point guard, who played just one season with the Bruins, is the third ranked prospect (according to CBS Sports) for the draft.
What’s even more puzzling about all the hype surrounding this kid are his own line of “ZO2” shoes by Big Baller Brand that retail for the princely sum of $495. We can’t imagine any inner city kids, much less any from more affluent areas, ponying up that kind of dough for kicks. We think anyone wearing them will be a target for theft.
Lonzo Ball, however, is not alone in the world of self-serving promotional and endorsement deals.
Many athletes endorse products and services that only rich people like themselves can afford. Or they endorse suspect corporate citizens, shilling goods that make average people fat and diabetic, or stuff that is just useless and where the money could be better spent.
Here is a list of what we think are already rich athletes turning a blind eye to corporations they know may not be good corporate citizens and make suspect products, just to make even more ridiculous bucks.
Lewis Hamilton, F1 – Bombardier/Monster Energy
Lewis Hamilton is one of the best — and richest — drivers in the world. Currently second on the F1 circuit behind Sebastian Vettel, he hardly needs endorsement money. Heck, he makes over $20,000 every time he tweets. His endorsement deal with Monster Energy Drinks, one of four lucrative pacts, has a bit of an odor to it, though. Many scientific studies have show energy drinks, particularly the Monster brand, to be bad for the consumer. They don’t improve athletic performance, are highly acidic and have caused health problems with systemic use. The other suspect deal Hamilton has is with Bombardier. Of late, this aerospace and transportation giant has come under fire for poor performance (they are way behind on many contracts) as well as compensating top executives royally (up to 50 percent) while the company laid off thousands of workers.
Cristiano Ronaldo – Herbalife/Nike
Ronaldo is a brand unto himself, being the most followed athlete on social media, who also makes over a quarter million dollars per tweet, according to opendorse. He has gigantic endorsement deals that enrich him more away from the pitch, than on it, to the tune of about $32 million per year. In fact, he has a lifetime $1 billion deal with Nike, which puts him right up there with Tiger Woods and LeBron James, to name two. The problem with endorsing Nike is that the company has most of its products made in sweat shops in places like Thailand, Malaysia, Sri Lanka and Mexico. All that profit comes on the backs of people making about $3.50 per day, which is what Nike has been reported to be paying over 100,000 workers in Indonesia. Herbalife, on the other hand, is a MLM nutrition and weight management company that has been suspected in the past of being a pyramid scheme. The company has also had myriad consumer complaints against it, including allegations of health problems associated with its products.
Drew Brees – P&G/Pepsico
Drew Brees is an elite level quarterback who makes a nice living from playing in the NFL. Off the field, he’s also one of the game’s more marketable stars, raking in about $12 million annually. If only his choices about endorsements were just a little more humble. Procter & Gamble is a household products giant that flogs name brands like Old Spice, Pampers and Febreze. P&G, though, has been fingered as unethical for the contribution to rapid deforestation of such places as the Sumatran jungle, home to endangered species like the Sumatran Tiger and Orangutan. As for Pepsico, the multi-billion food and beverage company, they have hardly been good corporate citizens either. The company that flogs sugar, salt and fat laden brands like Pepsi, Mountain Dew, Doritos and Fritos has operations all over the world, where they have been accused of using too much water in drought stricken areas like India, as well as for issues concerning packaging and recycling and carbon footprint.
Floyd Mayweather – Burger King
We all love fast food and when we want it, the Burger King brand stands out. Floyd Mayweather Jr., one of boxing’s more recognizable names and now a promoter, makes about $12 million for endorsement deals, one of which is with the home of the Whopper. One would think, however, that for a guy who espoused fitness and nutrition while racking up titles would have rethought shilling for a global fast food giant whose products aren’t generally all that nutritious. The amount of fat, salt, and calories in a Triple Whopper with Cheese alone has 1,020 calories and 65 grams of fat, about a whole days worth of both for the average person. Most of the food, too, is sourced from factory farms and is laden with preservatives. So much so that hermetically sealed foodstuffs like french fries don’t begin to deteriorate until years later. Of note, Burger King actually paid Mayweather $1 million for the “King” to walk him out to a fight.
Dwyane Wade – FanDuel
The Big 4 and legalized gambling have a love-hate relationship. Gambling cost Pete Rose a shot at the Hall of Fame, while it has also caused many an athlete to lose his/her shirt and credibility. The presence of FanDuel and DraftKings on the internet has also helped create legions of gambling addicted fans all too willing to plop down their hard earned bucks, to their detriment. That Dwyane Wade, a respectable baller who has won a few championships, endorses FanDuel takes his credibility stock down a notch or three. While FanDuel and DraftKings cannily got around federal regulations about the illegality of gambling with the exemption that they promote online games of skill that users reap financial rewards from by drafting teams. The fact that FanDuel and DraftKings were investigated by the FBI on allegations of insider training just plain stinks. Wade, who earns $12 million in endorsements annually, hardly needs to be associated with a gambling concern that makes money off his play on the court.
Peyton Manning – Nationwide
That Nationwide jingle sure is an ear-worm. While the insurance giant likes to come off as an “aw, shucks” family friendly service provider, it sure has done some unscrupulous things to sully its name. And Peyton Manning, who was the NFL’s most marketable name as of 2016 — he earned $16 million off the field — is the face of their sports marketing concern. Nationwide didn’t do Peyton and his football brethren any favors by running an ill-conceived commercial about a dead kid during Super Bowl XLIX between New England and Seattle. Nationwide also had to settle a $140 million lawsuit in 2014 for some shady revenue sharing agreements that resulted in huge losses and breaches under ERISA. On top of that, a former regional vice president at the company filed a sexual harassment lawsuit in 2016, alleging she was subject to years of abuse while Nationwide did nothing about it.
James Harden – BBVA
The bulk of James Harden’s endorsements, the likes of which include Adidas, BodyArmor and New Era, pay him handsomely enough off the court. Which is why we cast aspersion on his pact with Spanish banking group Banco Bilbao Vizcaya Argentaria. BBVA, as it is widely known, was rocked in 2011 when the Paraguayan unit replaced it CEO and board of directors after allegations of a multi-million dollar Ponzi scheme being run there surfaced. In 2002, long before James Harden signed his multi-year deal with BBVA in 2013, the company was involved in a major scandal that said its Spain operation stashed $200 million in off-shore accounts. The slush fund was allegedly used to manipulate politicians, pay off the “revolutionary tax” to Basque terrorist organization ETA and open the door for business deals. Harden couldn’t have done his homework on BBVA, either, as it was further alleged that the slush fund also aided Venezualan strongman Hugo Chavez’s bid for president and funding a spy master for Peruvian leader Alberto Fujimori.
Maria Sharapova – Evian
Maria Sharapova and the Evian water brand have one thing in common. They have both been exposed as being less than advertised. In rich tennis great Sharapova’s case, she failed a drug test in January 2016 and was eventually suspended for 15 months. That Sharapova is now identified as a cheat will stain her name for the rest of her career. Tennis has enriched the Russian star to the tune of $20 million per year, although Tag Heuer didn’t renew her contract during the suspension and Porsche and Nike suspended promotions featuring Sharapova. Her endorsement of Evian is fitting, considering that the expensive bottled water purveyor, in cahoots with others like Nestle, have also been discovered as frauds. Numerous studies have indicated that bottled water is no better than ordinary tap, despite these company’s protestations and marketing to the contrary. Evian makes millions selling the very same water people source from their own kitchen sinks. Evian, spelled backwards, is naive.
Neymar – Unilever/Red Bull
The proliferation of sports “energy” drinks began with Red Bull, the Godfather of such beverages. This highly caffeinated concoction is marketed as a cure all for the blahs, but that whole “Red Bull gives you wings” has cost the company dearly. And we’re quite sure that Brazilian superstar footballer Neymar, whose $6 million endorsement earnings include those from Red Bull, doesn’t guzzle the stuff wholesale before hitting the pitch with Barcelona. One enterprising American sued Red Bull in 2014 for $14 million, contending that it was false advertising for the company to use that catch-phrase, as he had neither given him “wings” or enhanced athletic or intellectual performance. In addition to shilling for Red Bull, Neymar is also in bed with consumer products giant Unilever (think Hellman’s, Lipton, Knorr and Vaseline). Like its competitors at P&G, Unilever has been accused of unethical business practices, including the use of child labor (some as young as eight) in Indonesia.
Serena Williams – JPMorgan Chase
In the dictionary, under banking scandal, it says “see JPMorgan Chase.” The sign on the business just reads “Chase” which probably makes Serena Williams thinks it is all on the up and up now. However, JPMorgan Chase has had a hand in every major banking scandal in the last decade. The biggest of which was the corporation turning two blind eyes as Bernie Madoff bilked scores of Americans out of many, many millions of dollars. JPM took a $2 billion bath on that scandal, no doubt recouped elsewhere within their operation since. Serena mustn’t sleep well at night knowing, too, that JPM had a hand in overcharging active duty US military personnel on their mortgages, including those serving in hell holes like Afghanistan. And we won’t even get into the whole mortgage-backed securities sales that begat the 2008 crisis and recession in the U.S. Serena Williams is a tennis marketing gold mine, but should act with a bit of tact when picking endorsements.
Jason Day – Net Jets
We like Jason Day, don’t get us wrong. But, when you affix your good name to a tony private aviation firm that caters to the elite like NetJets, you’re going to get tarnished with the same bad brush. NetJets, owned by Warren Buffett’s super-corporation Berkshire Hathaway, had a lawsuit launched against it in 2012 by the federal government for about $366 million in unpaid taxes and penalties. Kind of funny that it happened to one of Buffett’s business concerns, in that the multi-billionaire has always championed government taxing rich folks more, not less. Jason Day is well compensated by his endorsements, but his conscience must have taken a beating knowing that NetJets recently had to settle on federal charges that it discriminated against immigrant workers, requiring them to provide extra documents to prove their employment eligibility. Any way you slice it, the whiff of scandal still perpetrates one of Day’s chosen marketing opportunities.
Russell Westbrook – Mountain Dew And True Religion
Russell Westbrook should win the NBA MVP award for being the best basketball player on the planet, bar none, this past season. However, for his choice of corporate sponsorship, he gets least valuable. Not for the fact that he makes upwards of $9 million in his endorsement deals, but for just who he shills for. Mountain Dew, which comes in at a whopping 31 grams of sugar in a 12-ounce can, has no doubt contributed to the increasing incidence in diabetes in America, not to mention tooth decay and gastro-intestinal issues associated with ingesting too many carbonated beverages. True Religion jeans, for who he is the biggest celebrity endorser, are some of the highest priced jeans on the market. As most of his fan base are inner city folk with less means than he has, hawking pants that cost in excess of $250 could come off as just mean-spirited. Heck, some of their t-shirts sell for over $100.
Phil Mickelson – ExxonMobil
According to opendorse.com, Phil Mickelson is the third highest corporate compensated athlete on the planet. True story. He rakes in $50 million per year stumping for KPMG, Rolex, Callaway, Barclays and most interestingly, ExxonMobil. Yes, that ExxonMobil of Rex Tillerson infamy. When the company was just known as Exxon, it was involved in one of the worst environmental disasters of all-time, the Valdez spill that ran aground spilled thousands of barrels of oil into Prince William Sound in Alaska. The toll on wildlife and ecosystem aside, Exxon shamefully fought a class action suit all the way to the Supreme Court, taking original damages from over $5 billion to less than one-fifth that amount. The Mick sure can pick ’em. He also has to know that ExxonMobil, under Tillerson, was and is a major climate change denier. They have lobbied extensively against any regulation concerning emissions and and funded think tanks to spread disinformation, when they knew that climate change was a real thing.
Jordan Spieth – Coca-Cola
Still just 23, PGA Tour superstar Jordan Spieth is not only influential on the golf course, but off of it as well. He already rakes in $32 million a year in endorsements, from the usual suspects Titleist and UnderArmour to Rolex and AT&T. Where he could have picked his spots better, considering he’s a voice for the younger generation, was his choice of shilling for Coca-Cola. The world’s third most valuable brand is highly profitable, for sure, but as a sugar and caffeine filled beverage, does nothing for the average consumer but make them addicted to it, as well as contributing to obesity and diabetes. While it tries to project that all-American image thing, don’t forget for a moment that Coca-Cola is a corporate giant that has been accused of engaging in some pretty shady stuff around the globe, including excessive water intake. Take for example the Colombian death squad allegations. The company was sued by Sinaltrainal, a Colombian food and drink union, who alleged that Coca-Cola was indirectly responsible for “contracted with or otherwise directed paramilitary security forces that utilized extreme violence and murdered, tortured, unlawfully detained or otherwise silenced trade union leaders.” Coke denied it, but considering the history of Colombia, not outside the realm of possibility.
LeBron James – McDonald’s
We get it, when McDonald’s beckons, big celebrity endorsers line up to hawk Big Macs. Thus, LeBron James isn’t unique in pressing the flesh on behalf of the world in the name of the world’s biggest fast food concern. But, he can’t be oblivious to the fact that the food from McDonald’s, while very tasty, has some of the highest fat, sodium, calorie and sugar content of any like food out there. Anyone wishing to know it’s effects should watch the seminal documentary by Morgan Spurlock, “Super Size Me.” As well, the sourcing of the chicken, beef and potatoes that go into McDonald’s offerings has long been documented and called into question. Eric Schlosser’s great tome, Fast Food Nation, laid bare the unsafe and unhealthy industry that churns out millions of beef patties a day, among other things. LeBron is a great baller with the second biggest portfolio of any athlete ($54 million annually). One would think he might just give companies like McDonald’s short shrift, since he doesn’t really need their millions.