It’s not an exaggeration to say that Alex Caruso might be the third-most popular player on the Los Angeles Lakers.
After LeBron James (5,922,554) and Anthony Davis (3,075,499), no other member of the team finished with more fan votes for the 2021 NBA All-Star Game than Caruso (371,648), and while he won’t be getting a trip to Atlanta for the plague exhibition, Caruso may have gotten some even better news on Thursday night: He finalized a multi-year deal with the Chinese shoe company ANTA.
Nick DePaula of ESPN, who is essentially the Woj of shoe reporting, broke the story shortly after the Lakers tipped off against the Nets:
The next time someone tries to tell you market size doesn’t matter in the NBA anymore, point them to this. Caruso has a great story and is a valuable player, but with all due respect, he’s not getting this deal if he’s a fan-favorite on the Timberwolves. He’s just not. This is the power of the Lakers.
Unfortunately, not all the news is good. The type of deal Caruso is signing is the mid-tier of NBA shoe deals: A cash deal. These are one level below a signature shoe deal, which would — exactly like it sounds — reward Caruso with a signature shoe, and one above a merch deal, which is essentially just a free supply of shoes to wear in games. Per DePaula’s report and the fact that Caruso was wearing Klay Thompson’s signature sneaker, it doesn’t sound like an Air Caruso is in the offing. At least not yet.
Still, this means Caruso is joining semi-elite company. From a HoopsHype explainer on the types of NBA shoe deals:
There are roughly 70-to-100 players around the NBA who are on a cash deal. These players can make anywhere from $200,000-to-$300,000 per year on the low end and $2 million-to-$3 million per year on the high end, per DePaula. They have a base salary, a wide variety of incentives and a product allowance (that allows them to order gear for free).
These are players who are notable enough to pique the interest of a shoe company, but they aren’t deemed marketable enough for their own signature shoe. However, many of these players do have PE (player exclusive) sneakers. Bradley Beal is an example of a player on a cash deal since he’s an All-Star-caliber player and Nike gives him PEs with his own logo and custom colorways.
That noted, this doesn’t mean that Caruso can never get a signature shoe. I mean hey, another former scrappy white LeBron point guard in Matthew Dellavedova got one, albeit mainly because the company he signed with was trying to launch in his home country of Australia.
Still, the Caruso news clearly had the internet buzzing about ANTA. I mean, look at the suggested Google searches when you type in “anta shoes.”
That’s right. That’s the power of Big Balder Brand. So while ANTA’s website does not yet have the Caruso 1’s available, if Gordon Hayward and Rajon Rondo can get a signature shoe with them, it’s probably only a matter of time until Lakers fans bully them into giving Caruso one.