News of Adidas's $3.8 billion deal to purchase Reebok began rippling through amateur basketball circles Tuesday night, leaving surprised summer league coaches speculating how the merger will affect the sport's already competitive culture.
The merger is expected to help Adidas and Reebok mount a stronger challenge to Nike in the $57 billion-a-year footwear and apparel market. But it is uncertain what long-term impact it will have on the high-stakes summer basketball circuit, which has included shoe companies funding teams of teenagers that compete in tournaments nationwide.
One way or another, central to the outcome will be Sonny Vaccaro, whose falling out with Adidas two years ago prompted him to join forces with Reebok and intensified the annual courtship of elite high school players to participate in shoe company-sponsored events.
In a telephone interview yesterday, Vaccaro said he intends to honor what he called his "long-term agreement" with Reebok but acknowledged that "curious" individuals, not necessarily shoe companies, have recently called inquiring about his long-successful events. Some sources, including a person close to Reebok's grass-roots basketball operation, said Vaccaro might team up with a different company or pursue another high-profile basketball-related venture.
"I don't think there is any question that I am going to be involved in" Reebok's new enterprise, said Vaccaro, who is considered among the most influential basketball figures over the past 30 years. "I want to. My goals have been, and always will be, the events that we do. That's basically what my life has turned into. I see no glitches."
If Vaccaro chooses to run his events under the umbrella of another company, coaches said, top teams and players will follow. That could include the most well-known high school player, Ohio junior O.J. Mayo, who has played in Vaccaro's events since middle school and is viewed as the best guard since LeBron James.
Also consider Mississippi's Renardo Sidney, a 6-foot-9 point guard who is considered the country's best high school freshman and who this summer participated in Reebok's primary events for the first time. Sidney's summer team begins a contract with Reebok in 2006, his father said, and figures to play prominently in the company's grass-roots effort the next few years.
"I don't know what happens now," said Renardo Sidney Sr., who coaches his son. "We'll definitely go where Sonny goes. It could be Fila, whatever. If Sonny is there, we're there."
Some coaches wondered whether Vaccaro could again work with Adidas, with one well-known coach noting, "Adidas and Reebok are at war." In response, Vaccaro said he would have no problem working with Adidas.
Vaccaro said he left Adidas because he disagreed with how the company handled shoe contract negotiations with James, the NBA's top draft pick in 2003. Vaccaro's departure allowed Reebok to enter into the so-called "sneaker wars" over luring top players to events, competition that previously had included only Adidas and Nike.
The three-way competition for players seemed to peak over the last two summers. In 2004, coaches from Adidas and Reebok privately alleged opposing coaches "stole" players at the 11th hour before camps began. And this July, Nike reportedly told a top Oregon player he could no longer play on its team after the player competed in Vaccaro's highest-profile event, ABCD Camp, that month in Hackensack, N.J.
Coaches said only a few high-ranking representatives in either company were aware of the proposed merger before Tuesday. In fact, Sidney Sr. first heard the news when a reporter told him in a telephone interview yesterday.
Jimmy Salmon, a New Jersey-based coach whose team has been with Adidas since 1993, said the merger will not immediately affect summer basketball because the culture is "similar to the WWF -- cult-like in that it only matters to those involved. . . . The merger is so far over our heads."
Nike has long been the industry leader in footwear, earning a reported $14 billion in its latest fiscal year compared with combined global sales of $12 billion for Reebok and Adidas.
"They are going after Nike, there is no question about that," Vaccaro said of the merger. "I think we woke up Nike."