The NBA : Magic Apparently Wants More Than Foot Support From Shoes

If nothing comes between Brooke Shields and her Calvins, the same can generally be said for a professional basketball player and his sneakers.

And although the shoe may not make the man, it certainly can make him a whole lot richer. National Basketball Assn. stars make hundreds of thousands of dollars in endorsing their footwear. Athletic shoe companies market those endorsements into millions of dollars in sales.

That's why it's of no small interest when Magic Johnson decides to switch shoe companies, which the Laker guard says he's in the process of doing.

Johnson, who has been with Converse since coming into the NBA in 1979, said he is trying to get out of his contract with the Boston area firm.

"I'm going to leave (Converse)," Johnson said at a recent Laker practice. "I have to get a different shoe. I'll go to one of the other ones--Adidas, Reebok."

Converse recently designed a special shoe for Johnson to wear to alleviate the pounding on his left Achilles' tendon, but Johnson said he isn't happy with it. His foot is still sore and the shoe isn't helping.

Interestingly, Boston's Larry Bird--a Converse client who has done a series of TV commercials with Johnson promoting the shoe--also is suffering from Achilles' tendinitis, in both feet. A recent survey, however, indicated that the condition is a common one in the NBA.

Johnson's dissatisfaction with Converse predates his foot problems. Lon Rosen of Firsteam Marketing, who handles Johnson's endorsements, said they have been negotiating since June with Converse.

According to industry estimates, Converse ranked third in athletic shoe sales last year, with $200 million in sales. Reebok was first with $841 million, and Nike was second with $536 million.

Rosen declined to say what Johnson is paid by Converse, but one source said Bird and Johnson each receive close to $500,000 annually, including royalties.

According to Rosen, Johnson is unhappy about the way he is being marketed by Converse. Among Converse's other clients are Julius Erving, Kevin McHale, Isiah Thomas, Mark Aguirre, Steve Alford and Tyrone Bogues.

"We want Converse to be more aggressive," Rosen said. "Market him more--more billboards, more commercials."

Converse is planning to introduce a new line of basketball shoes in February--the Cons, which a spokesman said will have different prices and features--but Rosen said that they're not happy with the plan.

"Converse is going in the right direction, but Earvin doesn't feel they're going far enough," Rosen said.

Bird's agent, Bob Woolf, said the Celtic star has no plans to switch shoes. Aguirre, the Dallas Mavericks' All-Star forward and a close friend of Johnson's, said he has no plans to do so, either.

Said Woolf: "We have no problems."

There may be another reason Johnson is switching shoes, according to one source: the lucrative deal Michael Jordan has with his Air Jordan line of Nike shoes. With royalties, estimates of what Jordan is getting from Nike are in the $1-million range.

"This all stems from Michael Jordan," the source said. "My personal feeling is it's an ego thing."

Add Johnson: His other endorsements include Spalding basketballs and Edge shaving gel, and Rosen said there are several more in the works. In addition, Johnson is planning his own clothing line, beginning with a T-shirt and sweat shirt of his own design. There also are plans for an over-30 basketball camp to be conducted by Johnson and General Manager Jerry West on Maui next summer.

Bombs away: With 14 three-point baskets in his first 10 games, former UCLA star Reggie Miller is on a pace to finish with 115 three-pointers in his rookie season with the Indiana Pacers. That would shatter the NBA record of 92, set by the Utah Jazz's Darrell Griffith in the 1984-85 season.

At the moment, Miller is shooting 50% from beyond the three-point arc--14 of 28--and the single-season record for accuracy is 48.1%, set by the Portland Trail Blazers' Kiki Vandeweghe last season.

Thanks for nothing: An ugly little episode came to a close in Chicago last week when the Bulls released forward Gene Banks, who became something of a pariah after rupturing his Achilles' tendon in a summer league game in Philadelphia.

Banks failed to get permission from the team to play summer ball. He was barred from team practices and was told he couldn't sit on the bench during games. The team canceled all his promotional appearances.

"I don't understand this," Banks said. "I broke one rule, and they're treating me like a murderer."

The Bulls and Banks finally reached a financial settlement. They will pay him $247,000, which is $100,000 less than his contract called for before he was hurt. Team Vice President Jerry Krause said it was in Banks' best interests to be released.

Said Banks: "If this is in my best interests, I'm sure glad he (Krause) wasn't my father."

Who me, pass? They're great at dunkball, but the Atlanta Hawks' big men aren't inclined to pass the ball around. Tree Rollins--who is playing on bad knees and has yet to score this season--averaged one assist every 80 minutes last season. Kevin Willis averaged one assist every 42.3 minutes. Cliff Levingston had 40 assists in 82 games. Jon Koncak had 31 assists in 82 games.

Add great trades in NBA history: Any votes out there for the 1985 draft-day trade in which the Cleveland Cavaliers sent the rights to Charles Oakley to Chicago for Ennis Whatley and Keith Lee?

Oakley, who played college ball at Virginia Union, has become one of the league's top rebounders for the Bulls--he's leading the league with an average of 16.6. In his first seven games, he had four games of 19 rebounds or more, including 24 against the Washington Bullets.

Neither Lee nor Whatley, meanwhile, are still with the Cavaliers. Lee has a bad back and is on the New Jersey Nets' injured list. Whatley is out of the league.

As if the Golden State Warriors don't have enough problems--you try starting a front line of Rod Higgins, Jerome Whitehead and Ben McDonald--Chris Mullin missed a practice last week.

Said Coach George Karl of Mullin's absence: "It's further than distressing. It's mind-boggling, really."

Center Joe Barry Carroll is scheduled to return tonight against the Clippers, wearing a foot brace, but the Warriors sorely miss rebounding forward Larry Smith, who isn't close to being 100% with a muscle tear in his right thigh. And sixth man Terry Teagle reinjured his left hamstring.

Golden State hasn't had a practice since the beginning of training camp in which the entire roster has been able to participate.

Notes How reluctant is Larry Bird to talk about his sore Achilles' tendons? Well, Sunday night, when Boston Celtics trainer Ed Lacerte was asked for an update on Bird's condition, Lacerte said he didn't know. He tried calling Bird all that evening, but his phone apparently was off the hook. . . . The Celtics, who didn't shoot less than 40% in 105 games last season, counting playoffs, had three straight games under 40% last week against Cleveland, New York and Philadelphia. That included an 0-for-19 second-quarter stretch against the Knicks, a game they won, coming back from 25 points down.

Portland's Clyde Drexler, after blowing a breakaway dunk against the Lakers last week, said to Don Greenberg of the Orange County Register: "That's something that happens once a year. At least, I pray to God it happens only once a year." . . . Milwaukee's Terry Cummings, asked about the difference between Don Nelson and new coach Del Harris: "I've taken the saddle off already." . . . Indiana guard Scott Skiles, the former Michigan State star who missed almost all of last season with back problems, is back on the injured list with a severely sprained left ankle.

Coach Doug Collins of the Chicago Bulls, who has a radio call-in show, finally snapped at one of several callers who criticized him for not ordering Isiah Thomas to be fouled with the Bulls ahead by three points and seven seconds left to play. Thomas made a game-tying three-point shot, and Detroit won in overtime. Collins should have had Bull guard Rory Sparrow on as his guest. Sparrow, who was guarding Thomas at the time, recalled the same situation in a Piston-Hawk game in 1981. Sparrow, then playing for Atlanta, fouled Thomas while he was firing an off-balance heave. The shot went in, and Thomas made the free throw for a game-winning four-point play.

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