Derrick Rose no longer at his sneak peak with Adidas

Written By BY RICK TELANDER Sports Columnist Posted: 04/15/2014, 10:46am

Remember Derrick Rose?

Adidas barely does.

The giant shoe company that signed the onetime Bulls superstar to a 13-year, $185 million endorsement deal back in 2012 — a ‘‘lifetime’’ contract that was inked mainly so Adidas could kick Kobe Bryant’s and LeBron James’ Nike butts in China — seems to have moved on.

The company just signed the Trail Blazers’ Damian Lillard to an eight-year contract, said to be the biggest since Rose signed his.

The problem here for Rose?

Lillard, a point guard, plays the same position. He’s the same size as Rose — 6-3, 195. He was the NBA Rookie of the Year in 2013, like Rose was in 2009. He was an All-Star this season. He performed in an astounding five events at the 2014 All-Star Weekend — from the slam-dunk contest to the three-point shooting contest — before playing in the game.

He also has led his largely unnoticed Portland team to an excellent 53-28 record. Lillard is averaging almost 21 points, to go with 5.6 assists and 3.6 rebounds. He’s the glue that bonds the team.

In so many ways, he’s just like Rose. Except for three things: He has played in all of the Blazers’ games his first two seasons (Rose has played in 10 of the Bulls’ last 163 regular-season games). Both his knees are good (Neither of Rose’s is). He is 23, in his second year in the league (Rose is 25 and is in his seventh NBA season).

Time waits for no one, and it seems doubtful Rose will come back as good as he was at his peak three years ago. He’ll be 26 in October. That’s a kid in almost any career except boy bands and pro basketball.

Adidas was all in with Rose until his knees blew out.

You can’t blame the company. How do you promote your latest Rose models with a guy on crutches?

Nor are shoe endorsements the full measure of any athlete. They do mean something, however, when it comes to popularity with fans and premier performance and just being fresh and cool, with a brand that gets attention. Consider that Michael Jordan’s Air Jordan Nike brand has done close to $2 billion in sales and rolls onward yet. Jordan, retired for 11 years, still makes $80 million a year from his brand.

Fine, that’s Michael Jordan. You say you’ve never heard of Lillard? Or you’ve heard of him, but he means nothing to you, no image comes to mind, no bells ring?

Not surprising. Lillard played four years at Weber State in Ogden, Utah, and led the Big Sky Conference in free-throw percentage (.887) in 2012. Well, he did a lot of other terrific things in college hoops, too, but who knew?

And now playing in the far northwestern corner of the country, he doesn’t get a lot of airtime here in the Midwest or the New York market. Adidas plans to change that.

Adidas head of global basketball sports marketing Chris Grancio highlighted why the company decided to make the move.

‘‘Damian has proven to be not only an amazing basketball player, but a great partner, member of the community and someone who creates excitement for our products,’’ Grancio said. ‘‘His leadership and commitment to success on the court and his ability to interact and relate to fans . . . make him the perfect fit to be one of the cornerstones of the Adidas brand.’’

Hmm. Sounds like a description of Rose four years ago.

There’s a bit of pain and irony here. Last month, Adidas brought out a Portland-themed ‘‘Rose City’’ shoe for Lillard — Rose City being the city’s unofficial nickname — and you wonder if they sent a pair to Rose just to taunt him.

Portland, of course, was the place where Rose injured his right knee last November, not long after having returned from rehabbing his damaged left knee.

Adidas has missed a bunch of times in its endorsement attempts. First, there was Tracy McGrady in 2002, a rising star who blew out his knee, had back and shoulder injuries and missed many games. Then there was Dwight Howard, who has been on three teams in three years and lost his glitter. Adidas once had young Kobe Bryant under contract but lost him to Nike. And, of course, there is Rose.

Andrew Wiggins, Jabari Parker and other young stars likely will come into the league next fall, and the baton will get passed down even further.

It will be sad if all Rose can do is watch.

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